Improve your low self-esteem

How to have healthy self-esteem

Following my recent post What you really must know about self-esteem here, I took a short break. I’d had a major issue with WordPress that took 2 full days and nights to remedy, so sleep didn’t happen and my mood plummeted! I’d been changing my URL and WordPress made a huge error so, anyone clicking on my old website mental health from the other side won’t find me.

That site is now a dead-end and I’d really appreciate if anyone with my old links would now change it to mentalhealth360, and thank you to those who already have. Even more infuriating is, in their wisdom, WordPress decided they’d add only the last twenty of my 139 posts to the reader of my new site. I could cry. Anyway, swiftly moving on:

How can we improve our self esteem?

This is what we covered in my last post (here), ending with what

White background with a circle and black writing with red arrows showing a circle of low self esteem
Low self-esteem circle
  • is self-esteem
  • is low self-esteem
  • causes low self-esteem
  • effect does self-esteem have on us, and
  • is low self-esteem a mental illness

So, I guess this is the bit you’ve been waiting for. For this part, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, so I’ve chosen to use the following exercise number 1 from our wonderful NHS:

1. How to have healthy self-esteem.

You’ll note my comments in green.

Healthy self-esteem — Image by pngfuel.com

This activity takes time and cannot be rushed. The purpose of this activity is to help you get into the habit of finding the positive in all things. It also helps you get in touch with the negative things you tell yourself. Remember, by constantly changing your thoughts, you will change the way you feel.

To boost your self-esteem, you need to identify the negative beliefs you have about yourself, then challenge them. You can do this by marking out two columns on a sheet of paper, at the top write Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and Positive thought replacement.

Now, in the first column, write down a few of your ANTs.

An example might be, you messed up your presentation at work and your first ANT might be “everyone thinks I’m an idiot”, so in the next column, you challenge that by asking is that true? Probably not, now look for a positive thought i.e. “The rest of my presentation went well so, no, they didn’t all think I’m an idiot”

You may write you’re “too stupid” to apply for a new job in the first column, for example, or that “nobody cares” about you. Next, write some evidence that challenges these negative beliefs, such as, “I’m really good at cryptic crosswords” or “My sister calls for a chat every week”.

Write down other positive things about yourself, such as “I’m thoughtful” or “I’m a great cook” or “I’m someone that others trust”.

Also, write some good things that other people say about you i.e. “you’re kind and really funny – you’re my best friend.” Great, she wouldn’t have you as a best friend if you had no positive attributes, would she?

It will take time to change your long-held views and negative thoughts. Just think tho’ — you wouldn’t be able to pass your driving test after just one lesson, would you? You have to practice. Be patient with yourself and do your best. Repeat as often as you can to help develop a more positive outlook on life.

Aim to have at least 5 positive things on your list and add to it regularly. Then put your list somewhere you can see it. That way, you can keep reminding yourself that you’re Okay. I used to use little colour post-it notes and stick them on my bedroom wall, so they were always visible.

2. Self-acceptance

Book cover - Six Pillars of self-esteem written by Nathaniel Branden
I have no affiliation with this book

“The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we may deny or disown our shortcomings, but that we deny and disown our greatness — because it frightens us.”

Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

This next exercise “Big I, Little i” is about working on self-acceptance, another way to help boost your self-esteem.

Self-acceptance is not the same as self-esteem. Though it’s related, self-esteem refers to how worthwhile and valuable we are. Self-acceptance, on the other hand, is accepting ourselves holistically. For example, we recognize our limitations and weaknesses together with our strengths and capabilities, but in a positive way. We don’t let them interfere with how we accept ourselves.

A Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) technique, the Big ‘I’ and Little ‘i’ worksheet, acts as a tool to help you accomplish self-acceptance.

“Big I, Little i” technique (Arnold Lazarus), Journal of Human Development and Communication, Volume 7, 2018 [61-70] 63

Imagine your boss asked you to complete a task by the end of the week and you miss the deadline. So, you’ve made a mistake. What normally happens to us when we make a mistake, is that we make an over-generalised self-appraisal of ourselves like “I’m useless!” That “I’m useless!” is a negative self-statement that implies zero value in all areas of our lives. We’ve crossed out the whole of the Big I.

However, we only made a single mistake so that’s one little ‘i’ but what we do instead of crossing off that one little ‘i’, is cross our whole selves out. Essentially we’ve crossed out the whole Big I. We’ve made an over-generalised self-appraisal that’s self-blaming and self-damning. Eventually, this type of over-generalising will result in anxiety, depression, and guilt.

Your turn

Coloured image - five pairs of hands, making a heart shape with a small tree growing inside
Kind and caring nature — Image by Pinterest

Now, click on the Big I, little i picture above and scroll down ’til you see the diagram. You’ll note that it’s a Big I filled with hundreds of little i’s and this is your worksheet.

The Big I is you, in total. The hundreds of little i’s are all the various parts of you; your thoughts, actions or characteristics like your empathy, compassion, kindness, honesty, and caring nature.

So whenever you make a negative self-appraisal, cross out only one little ‘i’. You can continue in this way all day and for every ‘error’, cross out another little ‘i’. I doubt you’d even be able to cross out a whole line of little ‘i’s let alone the whole Big I, which is you. So the Big I (you) remains intact because you’ve only crossed out one line of little i’s.

Just think, lying to a friend once doesn’t make you a liar forever. This is you evaluating yourself based on your characteristics, thoughts or actions rather than overgeneralising. Whenever you refer the ‘I’ as yourself, you should remember that the ‘I’ is not totally you but it’s just a part of you.

3. Build Positive Relationships

There are certain people, certain friendships and relationships—that make you feel better than others. If you have people in your life who make you feel bad about yourself, try to avoid them.

Build new/other friendships with people who’ll cheer you on, encourage you, and make you feel good about yourself. Get rid of those friendships that pull you down.

4. Learn to Say No

Coloured image of man in blue shirt and tie, head in hand looking at bills
self-assertiveness to self-esteem — Image by pngfuel.com

People with low self-esteem sometimes find it difficult to stand up for themselves or say no to others.

Have you ever felt over-burdened at home or at work, because you don’t like to refuse anyone or anything? Yes? Did you know that developing self-assertiveness will help to improve your self-esteem?

Trust me, I know this one’s never easy. I used to look after my niece two nights a week to give her single dad a break. She’d stay overnight and I’d take her to school with my sons in the morning. However, he’d taken to asking me to pick her up from school on other days, calling later to ask if she could stay.

I’d been reading about self-assertiveness and how when you say ‘no’, mean it and don’t feel you have to give any excuses for why you said it. I’d been building up the courage to tell my brother-in-law that I couldn’t keep his daughter overnight, again!

He called to ask one Friday evening and with my heart thudding and my mouth going dry, I said ‘No, not tonight Ron.” Silence….. Then he stuttered, “Oh.” The silence was palpable and painful, but he went on “Oh, okay. What time do you want me to pick her up then?” I gave him a time and we hung up.

Oh my word, I felt awful. I wanted to call him back and say, it’s okay and that I’d do it. But as I sat down I realised that he’d just accepted it. There was no harm done, the sky wasn’t about to fall down on me.

If I’d stuttered like “Um, er…” or given excuses like “I erm, I was going to……..”, he’d have been in there, recognising my usual people-pleasing and interrupt me with “Oh, go on, just this last time?” I didn’t, I said ‘No’, and he accepted it.

See, even small improvements help develop our self-esteem and help us live better lives.

Me?

Grey scale picture of two hands making the heart shape with the sun shining through
I accept myself as a human being who makes mistakes

I like myself.

No like I really like myself.

But it never used to be this way. In fact, I used to be my least favourite person. Like many of you, I’ve hated myself for long periods of time and I’d crossed myself out totally. I’ve felt worthless, useless, hopeless, ugly, bad and any other term I could degrade myself with.

Now, with techniques like “Big I, little i”, I’m able to maintain healthy self-acceptance and self-esteem. I accept myself as a human being who makes mistakes, who has bad days or bad moods and gets p’d off with people.

I spend lots of time practising techniques, blogging, clearing my mind, reading and self-reflecting in order to become the best me possible.

Over to you

Big white question mark with little character white man leaning against  it
Clipart.com

Self-esteem is a huge area and I’ve only given you a few techniques that might help, so I hope you’ve been able to take something positive from this post. I look forward to your thoughts on the techniques for improving self-esteem and any questions.

What you really must know about self-esteem

What do you know about self-esteem?

Red roses on a large grey slate saying Love yourself --- self-esteem
Love yourself — What to know about self-esteem— Annie Spratt unsplash.jpg

Do you or someone you know have low self-esteem, and has it impacted on your daily life? Yes? Okay, just for a few minutes, think about the question What do you know about self-esteem. Hold that thought and let’s move on.

The idea for this post began with a fellow-blogger asking for tips on books to read about mental health, and self-esteem in particular. Perhaps I can respond to her request, but first I needed to find out a bit more so I asked her the following questions.

  • Can you tell me what is self-esteem to you?
  • How do you rate your self-esteem?
  • What do you want to be able to do when your self-esteem improves?
  • How will you feel when it’s improved?
  • How will you know that your self-esteem has improved?

She replied saying “I think I’m going to have to think about this question some more”. For me, that’s really to good to hear. Sometimes I still have my mental health nurse’s hat on, and the more I know, the better I can help and support.

In the meantime, I might be able to provide some answers here, so let’s start with

What is self-esteem?

Colour image of lots of words like values, beliefs, acceptance and self control
Self-esteem, values and beliefs

But before we go any further, let’s just clear something up………..

“The terms self-esteem and self-confidence are often used interchangeably when referring to how you feel about yourself. While they’re very similar, they are two different things. It’s important to understand their roles when looking to improve your overall sense of self.

Self-esteem is how we value and see ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves. Self-esteem starts to form in childhood by experiences with family, friends or peers, and by situations that have shaped how you view yourself today. Self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities to interact with the people around you, deal with challenges or solve problems. As with self-esteem, self-confidence can also can vary from situation to situation.

According to self-esteem expert Morris Rosenberg (1965), self-esteem is quite simply one’s attitude toward oneself. He described it as a “favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self.”

When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel good about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.

What is low self-esteem

Colour image man wearing polo neck, jean Jacket and black jeans. Looks sad.
Man with low self esteem —Sorin Sirbu at Unsplash.com

Low self-esteem is characterized by feeling badly about oneself. People with low self-esteem often feel awkward, unwanted, unattractive or unlovable. Furthermore, people with low self-esteem are “hypervigilant and hyper alert to signs of rejection, inadequacy, and rebuff,” according to researchers Morris Rosenberg and Timothy J. Owens, who wrote Low Self-Esteem People: A Collective Portrait.

We experience the negative feelings of low self-esteem when we believe that we are inadequate and less worthy than others. We tend to catastrophise all our little failures, which all roll into one long and constant stream of patheticness. We’re frequently reminded of just how pathetic we really are.

For some reason, the negative messages that you received in childhood or from ex-partners, at school i.e. you’re not good enough are the ones that stays with you.

Personal experience

My childhood life was fraught with low self-esteem. Mum and dad kept moving around and splitting up, so we moved a lot and went to so many different schools and it was difficult to fit in. Everyone always seemed to laugh at the new kid, maybe I wasn’t fashionable enough in trendy areas like London?

Even the teachers laughed at me and made fun of my different accents in front of everyone. And that’s stuck with me; even today, I don’t like my Cockney accent, formed by living in London for around 40 years.

Those negative messages plagued me for years I still felt it when I first became a mental health ward manager and had to deliver training programmes to our mental health nurses. I had to do a lot of work, but it’s definitely helped. I love me now.

I do, honestly. I love the person I’ve become.

I dare say that we’ve probably all had times where we didn’t feel good about ourselves, such as not joining in the discussions at a team meeting or in college. That’s okay. But when our low self-esteem turns into a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health and our activities of daily living.

Recognizing the signs of low self-esteem your own worth is an important step in gaining a healthy self-esteem. We’ll come to the how later, but first let’s take a look at

What causes low self esteem?

Coloured image of a little girl on floor with elbows on her knees. Man kneeling down, pointing at her and shouting
Child abuse, a cause of low self-esteem — image from Vedicus

Experiences you had in childhood, or maybe your current relationships with your partner or family members, all impact your self-esteem.

Some of the countless causes of low self-esteem may include:

  • unhappy childhood where parents were quick to criticise
  • relationship problems, separation or divorce
  • domestic violence
  • experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma
  • ongoing medical problem such as disability, chronic pain, chronic or serious illness
  • mental health problems, stigma and discrimination
  • poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence
  • being abused or bullied perhaps at school, college or at work
  • experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma
  • redundancy, being fired or difficulty in finding a job
  • problems at work or at school, college or university
  • ongoing long-term stress
  • financial difficulties
  • poor housing and environment
  • worries about how you look and body image

It’s possible you’ve had many of the above, or you may have had other problems that aren’t listed. It’s never just one cause, more likely, an accumulation.

An important note is that self-esteem is not fixed. It’s a continuum and it’s measurable, meaning it can be tested and improved upon.

What affect does self-esteem have on us?

Colour image of lady looking in the mirror and putting cream on her face
Look after your own needs first —Humphrey Muleba unsplash.com

Mind writes “The things that affect our self-esteem differ for everyone. Your self-esteem might change suddenly, or you might have had low self-esteem for a while​ – which might make it hard to recognise how you feel and make changes.

And while it might sometimes feel really hard to change, you can still improve self-esteem by understanding yourself, and the value you really do have.

Your self-esteem can affect whether you:

  • like and value yourself as a person
  • know that you deserve happiness
  • believe you matter and that you are good enough
  • show compassion to yourself, self-soothing
  • take time to look after your own needs first
  • move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
  • are able to make decisions and assert yourself
  • recognise your strengths and positives
  • feel able to try new or difficult things

Is low self-esteem a mental health problem?

No, it’s not in itself but it’s closely linked. Generally people with a mental illness i.e. anxiety or depression, have a low self-esteem. And having a low self-esteem can lead to mental health problems, due to the underlying cause i.e. financial difficulties, redundancy, losing your home.

How can we improve our self esteem?

Coloured image of naked lady covered in paints the colours of LGBT rainbow
Health self-esteem, LGBT Flag — Image by Sharon Mccutcheon unsplash com

Okay, so far we’ve glimpsed at:

  • what is self-esteem
  • what is low self-esteem
  • what causes low self-esteem
  • what effect does self-esteem have on us, and
  • is low self-esteem a mental illness

So, I guess this is the bit you’ve been waiting for — but, if you’re anything like me, your attention span’s starting to wane and you’ll not take much more in.

Over to you

The question at the beginning was What do you know about self esteem? Having read this post, do you think you’ve you learned anything new?

Clipart.com

What are your thoughts on the concepts of self-esteem? Have you experienced it or do you know someone that does? I’m looking forward to any comments or questions. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of where we’re heading next, and we’ll carry on tomorrow. I’m sure one or two of you know what this?

“Big I, Little i” technique (Arnold Lazarus), Journal of Human Development and Communication, Volume 7, 2018 [61-70] 63