How to have healthy self-esteem
Following my recent post What you really must know about self-esteem here, I took a short break before publishing this post on how to improve low self-esteem. 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 low self esteem?
This is what we covered in my last post (here), ending with what
- 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.
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. Low Self-Esteem and Self-acceptance
“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.
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
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.
Low self-esteem… Me?
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
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.