I was going to write a post about self-esteem, but I doubt anyone will like it since I don’t think I’m a very good writer. Why waste my time on something no one is going to benefit from?
If this sounds all too familiar then read on, you may find this post timely.
Even the most positive people will find themselves being inwardly negative from time to time. In fact, those people who always seem to be happy often have very low self-esteem.
When it comes right down to it, the majority of us are way too hard on ourselves. We exaggerate our failures and mistakes into giant blunders that “prove” to us how worthless we are. Seems a bit much over one poor test grade, missed opportunity, or honest mistake.
I know I personally have struggled with low self-esteem all my life. You see I wasn’t born with the physical coordination required for sports. Give me a set of numbers and a problem to solve and I’m set but if you tell me to put a ball in a net you’ll be in for quite the chuckle. I remember receiving participation awards when I played sports and feeling terrible. “I’m so bad they have to give me this lesser award so I feel like I’m good?” I thought. Pretty pitiful experience.
I share this story to display the fact that our self-esteem can be affected by things as far off and distant as those in our childhood. Our personal self-image is an essential mind space for us to understand. Conquering low self-esteem is one of the best ways to enhance our quality of life. It is something that only we have control over, and that makes it a deeply personal and unique experience for each of us.
If left unobserved, the negative events in our lives can seep in and taint that image we hold of ourselves. The adverse side effects of allowing this to happen can get pretty ugly, pretty fast, so to start we will go over what we can succumb to when we experience low self-esteem.
Getting an Idea of Ourselves
Self-esteem is often confused with self-confidence because they are similar and related. There is, however, a distinct difference. Self-confidence is something we attribute to individual skills, whereas self-esteem is the overall opinion we have of ourselves.
Someone with low self-esteem may be confident that they can do certain things but still view themselves OVERALL as an inadequate person. For example, we may be confident in our ability to eat a whole pizza in one sitting, but not so confident giving a speech at the next family gathering.
So a person with low self-esteem may be just as capable as someone with normal self-esteem, the only difference being the way they view these capabilities and how they all fit together to create a singular self-image.
There are some serious implications behind this and those with unhealthy self-esteem are at risk of some severely debilitating conditions. Anxiety and depression are two common outcomes, and these can lead to self-destructive actions such as tolerating mistreatment, using drugs to self-medicate, developing eating disorders, becoming overly promiscuous, and many more.
Committing acts of self-harm feeds the negative self-image we have, resulting in a downward spiral that can be very hard to break out of.
As with all battles of the mental variety though, the first step to reform is awareness. Understanding how this balance works in our head can help clarify why we feel the way we do but doesn’t necessarily help to change it. First, it can help to gain a basic understanding of how and why we view ourselves so lowly.
It is almost a universal quality among humans to question everything. This means that when we are feeling down, we desire to determine the reasons for this mood change.
Personally, I find it interesting to pursue these questions and see if I can find some answers.
Even when we find some answers, they almost never make the problem go away. In fact, putting in the effort to answer these questions can very often make us feel MUCH WORSE. This is because when trying to solve these problems we are critically thinking about them. We really focus on the issue at hand and this can lead to the downward negative spiral of thoughts and emotions I just mentioned.
The next section will talk about some potential sources of our low self-esteem. If you believe you may be in a fragile mental state, dredging up unpleasant memories from the past may not be a very good course of action.
If this is the case, feel free to skip ahead to the “Considering External Sources” section in which I begin discussing strategies for improving self-esteem, and preventing it from being damaged.
Be Wary of the Past
Events in our past can continue to bring us down well into the future if we allow them. When we encounter a situation that makes us feel negative emotions, our brain usually starts recalling similar past experiences.
It does this to try to help us figure out a way to handle it better based on what we’ve learned, but often fails at this task. Most of the time there is nothing we can do to cure a bad mood except to let it pass. Trying to actively change it often results in lowering our mood even further.
I think some people may find some relief though if they can identify a major event in the past that is affecting them now. It helps to relieve the “What’s wrong with me?” question.
Try to think back to your childhood and any negative experiences that may have damaged your self-esteem over time. Abusive relationships, at home, work, or elsewhere can lead to us feeling like we are less than a person. This could mean emotional or verbal abuse, physical abuse, harassment, and any other kind of unfair treatment we may have received.
If we believe these people then we allow their words and actions to hurt us long after they were said or done. If we notice ourselves going down the rabbit hole to negative past events, we must do whatever it takes to stop our brain before it gets out of control. How to do this is something we will cover in the following sections.
Considering External Sources
Are the people or circumstances in our life feeding our low self-esteem? It’s an important question for us to ask ourselves.
Humans are social creatures, and because of that, we are very susceptible to the thoughts and opinions of others. So if we surround ourselves with negative people, there’s a very good chance that their negativity will bring us down as well.
This can be as simple as having coworkers that do nothing but complain to us all day, or as serious as a supervisor or employer treating us like we are less than a human. It’s easy to see ourselves in a negative light when there is someone making more money than us telling us that we are worthless.
Now, the easiest thing we can do about this is to CHANGE our environment to be surrounded by positive people with healthy self-esteem. However, this isn’t always an option and no matter where we relocate ourselves we will always encounter those negative people. Instead, I suggest taking the route that we can always rely on, the way of the mind.
This is where we CHOOSE who we listen to and who we disregard completely. Thousands of years ago disagreeing with a superior meant there was a good chance you would be left in the wilderness to die. Today life has changed, and the opinions of others and what we make of them no longer determine our survival.
Am I saying we should go up to that grumpy boss of ours and give him a piece of our mind? Not quite. You see, even if they really deserve it, dealing with negative people using negativity will never get us anywhere. It just feeds the downward spiral and makes everyone feel worse.
Instead, listen to the berating and then immediately label it as having no solid backing. Simply choose not to put any weight behind those harsh words.
Those who regularly put down others are great examples of people with very LOW self-esteem. When dealing with these people, we must realize that they are putting down others just to make THEMSELVES feel marginally better.
This changes our viewpoint to one of pity for the other person and helps us see where these remarks are really coming from; not from our own inadequacy, but from the other person’s insecurities.
A good general rule of thumb is to ignore anyone who has anything overly-negative to say. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between genuine constructive criticism and excessive criticism. If we find ourselves unsure of which case it is, better to lump it in with all the other negative gobbledygook, or to ask someone we know to be level-headed if a certain criticism has valid reasoning.
We have the power to choose who we let affect our thoughts. Protect yours as though they are prized possessions and you will find life much more pleasant.
Your Story is Unique
I’ve noticed that there is a very common habit among us that is very detrimental to our personal progression. Almost everyone I talk to compulsively diminishes their own accomplishments by comparing them to those of others.
“No matter how hard I try I’ll never be as successful as him. We are the same age and he has achieved so much more than I have! Maybe I’m just not good enough…”
If you’re like the majority of us humans, then this probably sounds familiar.
However, if we really think about it we’ll realize that these thoughts are totally illogical for a variety of reasons:
- Everyone is born with completely different skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses that are unique to each of us.
- We do not choose the situation in which we enter this world, which opportunities are presented to us, or our ease of access to them.
- No matter how much we accomplish in life there will ALWAYS be someone who has done more. If we look for inadequacies through comparison we WILL find them.
Now to elaborate a bit on each point.
No matter how successful the person we are comparing ourselves to, there will always be something that we can do better than them. In fact, a common characteristic of successful people is the ability to accept their weaknesses and collaborate with others to compensate for those weaknesses.
The bottom line is we are all born with different abilities, and we can all learn something from every other person in the world that only they could teach us. That goes both ways, meaning that EACH OF US could teach EVERY OTHER PERSON something they did not know.
Such is the complexity of modern life. There are unlimited amounts of skills and knowledge we can attain, much more than any one person could ever learn in their life. This fact is what gives each of us the opportunity to add value to other’s lives. This is also how humanity has accomplished such amazing feats that would never be possible under the abilities of a single person.
Next are the circumstances of our past. Let’s take two people that hypothetically are born with identical skill sets. One of them is born into a wealthy, successful family with access to connections and opportunities. The other was born into a family in the grips of poverty. Times are tough and the latter individual has to spend the time most kids would be using to play or explore their passions, helping out around the house while their parents work multiple jobs.
Which individual has to work harder and longer to achieve the same level of success despite them starting with identical skill sets?
Life isn’t fair. We don’t get to choose how we come into this world and have no control over many of the external events that happen to us. This aspect of our lives makes comparing ourselves to others a totally inaccurate metric of our progress. There are simply too many variables at play for it to hold any accurate information.
Finally, there will always be someone further along the path of success than us. Our hunt for someone “better” than us will always be fruitful. Doing this just feeds the negative monologue that creates low self-esteem in the first place. Understanding that these thoughts are INACCURATE portrayals of our progress helps us to dismiss them whenever they pop up.
This dismissing process isn’t as easy as it sounds though. In the last couple sections, my goal was to open your eyes to some common ways we damage our self-esteem. However, these processes have been ingrained into our neural network throughout our entire lives. Understanding what’s going on under the hood helps show us where to start when improving our self-esteem, but it will take practice and effort to actually make the changes we need to control these negative thoughts when they arise.
That is where our good friend mindfulness comes in.
Fishing for Thoughts
Because these thought patterns have become the normal response, we often don’t even notice when we are being irrationally negative.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that WE ARE our thoughts. We start thinking negatively about ourselves, and then we BELIEVE those thoughts, bringing down our overall self-image.
By learning to identify when this is happening in the moment and dismiss it we can avoid much unnecessary rumination. To do this we have to take a step back and be aware of our thoughts through mindfulness.
Probably the most common and effective way to train our mindfulness is through a meditation routine.
This takes time and practice, but with diligence, we will find ourselves realizing, identifying, and dismissing irrational thought patterns with ease.
Once we do start becoming aware, we must quickly and efficiently deal with the thought before allowing it to snowball into a mental monster that will be much more difficult to deal with.
One thing I like to do is to immediately think of and repeat the opposite of whatever the negative remark was. Whether coming from within or from someone else, considering the exact opposite as an equally likely possibility helps to prevent us from putting too much weight on the thought.
- “I’ll never be able to complete this in the time allotted, I haven’t honed my skills enough.”
- “I can’t beat him. I don’t have half the experience he does.”
- “I don’t know the first thing about business. There’s no way I can become an entrepreneur.”
- “This is a challenge to test my skills! I can totally complete this project on time.”
- “He may have more experience than I do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t win!”
- “I may not know how to do it yet, but I also didn’t know how to do simple addition at one point. With perseverance, I can learn and improve, and ultimately achieve my goal.”
This technique is also a great way to develop an open mind. This is hugely important to controlling mental state as it determines how much weight we put on thoughts. No matter how logical and proven the thought or opinion, there is always a plethora of different ways to look at it.
Cultivating an open mind like this allows you to frame any thought, situation, or experience in any way you choose. This is a POWERFUL technique in the mindfulness toolkit, and a trait I believe ALL should work on acquiring.
Now that we’ve covered the most effective ways of lessening the impact negativity has on our self-esteem, let’s go over a couple ways we can improve it by favoring positive thoughts and perspectives.
Appreciate Your Wins
We spend a lot of time thinking about our shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures, but when is the last time we took a minute to remember our accomplishments?
It’s easy to feel mediocre when all we think about is how we could have done things differently for better results.
Sitting down with a pen and paper and writing a list of all the successes we’ve had in the past can help to rejuvenate our self-esteem when we are going through a tough period.
Another spin on this idea is to set ourselves up to achieve tiny wins. Basically, we set a goal that is so easy there’s no way we won’t complete it.
An example could be something as simple as not drinking any soda for one day. Even though this is a small, seemingly insignificant accomplishment, the fact that we saw a personal goal through to the end gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps nurture our self-image.
The trick here is to MAKE SURE the goal is SO EASY that we will DEFINITELY do it. If we set a “simple” goal and fail to complete it, then the opposite of the desired effect occurs and we’ll feel even worse about our ability.
I don’t care if it’s as easy as going on a five-minute walk one day this week. Showing ourselves that we can stick to our goals (even small ones) can have a huge positive impact on our self-esteem.
This technique is especially effective if we have recently had a number of failures that we are dwelling on.
The more tiny wins we can rack up the more positive MOMENTUM we will build up, while simultaneously assuaging the negative dialogue of our failures.
Focusing on the Positive
At the end of the day sometimes all we need to do is to step away and re-assess our situation. Every living human has been given an incredible gift: our brain. Every one of us has been blessed with the most powerful computational object in the known universe.
This means that no matter how bad of a situation we are in, we have the ability to improve it. 99.9% of the time SOMEONE in the history of humanity has had it just as bad or worse and still flourished.
The sum of our problem solving capabilities and our access to the library of all human knowledge (the internet) gives us endless options for growth. Treat life like a playground. Experiment until you find what makes you happy. Never settle for anything you’re unsure of.
It all starts from within, and no matter how negative a mindset we may find ourselves in, we can improve. Even if it is only one small step at a time, the important thing is that we ARE progressing in some way. Something as small as paying ourselves one compliment could be the catalyst that begins our journey to success and happiness.
Nurturing our self-esteem can only lead to beneficial results. The more time we can take out of our day to cultivate our mindfulness, the closer we will be to living a content and happy life.
If you enjoyed this post leave a comment below to tell me what you think!
Have a mindful day and remember, protect your brain from the unnecessary negativity of the world. No one else can do it for you.