Tips to Overcome Low Self-Esteem

It’s not what you think you are that is holding you back. It’s what you think you are not.

Anonymous

Do You Struggle With Your Self-Esteem?

I have struggled with low self esteem for as long as I can remember. Not feeling smart enough, thin enough, strong enough…the list goes on and on. I constantly receive feedback from others in my life that due to my low self esteem, I let others get away with treating me poorly. Low self-esteem and poor self-image can and most likely will create a variety of problems that affect everything from the way you view your career to the way you act in relationships. Here are some of the most common problems low self-esteem can cause – and some tips to overcome them:

Not Liking Yourself

While there are times when we all dislike who we are, hating yourself can cause anxiety and depression, and alter the way you view your life. Self-hate is characterized by feelings of anger and frustration about who you are, and an inability to forgive yourself for even the smallest of mistakes.

TIPS

Change your internal dialogue: An internal critic fuels self-hate, so step one is to silence the voice in your head by consciously making yourself repeat a positive response for every negative thought you have. Why be your own worst critic? If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself.

For example, instead of thinking “I’m so stupid, I will never figure this out” try fact checking and rewording the thought to something like, “I might struggle to learn things as quickly as everyone else, but eventually I will get it. Click here to get a list of common cognitive distortions.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes: Everyone and I mean EVERYONE makes mistakes. Don’t ruminate about it and keep beating yourself up. Forgive yourself and move on.

Challenge your negative self-beliefs: It’s likely that your sense of who you are is outdated and has been passed to you from others such as your parents, ex-partners and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to rewrite your own script – it’s your life. This will enable you to take the power back from others that don’t deserve it.

Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionism is one of the more destructive aspects of low self-esteem. A perfectionist is someone who lives with a constant sense of failure because their achievements, no matter how impressive, don’t ever feel quite good enough. Turn things around!

TIPS

Set realistic expectations for yourself: Consciously think how reasonable and manageable your goals are before starting on achieving them. Start with small goals that get you started on your path. Overtime, reaching small goals will give you the confidence you need to keep going. For example, I have a goal of writing a book. If I measured my success of writing a book right now, I would consider myself a failure. But I set a smaller goal of starting a blog, and doing so has given me the courage not to give up on my dream.

Recognize there is a huge difference between failing at something you do and being a failure as a person. Don’t confuse the two. 

Stop sweating the small stuff: Perfectionists tend to nitpick at insignificant problems. They forget to view the bigger picture and take pride in that. If you only focus on the negative, you are missing out on all of the wonderful things that are happening as well.

Being Critical of Your Body

A negative body image is often linked to low self-esteem and vice versa. This means it can affect everything from how you behave in relationships to how you behave at work. It can even prevent you from looking after your health, as you feel unworthy.

TIPS

Avoid comparing yourself to others: Comparison is the thief of joy, and leads only to insecurity. Accept that everyone is different and remember where your strengths lie. Do not define your worth by your weight, you are so much more than that. In reality, others don’t spend their time criticizing you over how you look, so you shouldn’t either.

Look after your health: A healthy diet and exercise will not only make you feel physically more able, but also leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones. This is also being kind to yourself. Instead of yo-yo dieting try “Mindful Eating”. Click here for a pdf that describes mindful eating.

Take care of your appearance: People with a poor body image often stop making an effort, believing there is ‘no point’. Do three positive things today for your looks. I am very insecure about my body, so I make myself wear make up to work and it really helps.

Thinking That You Bring Nothing to the Table

We all doubt our ability in certain areas of our lives, but a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness comes from believing that somehow we are not as valuable as others. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to understand that feeling worthy isn’t something given to us by others, but something we have to build ourselves.

TIPS

Accept we all come with our own unique talents: We have to take pride in these to believe we are worthy people. Take a minute and write down three things you do well, if you are having trouble coming up with some, ask a close friend or family member.

Stop thinking others are better than you: While it’s fine to think highly of others, it’s irrational to translate this as meaning they are ‘better’ than you. Admire others’ traits, but not at the expense of your own.

Be aware that we teach others how to treat us: Practice projecting yourself as someone whose opinions are just as valid as others, and your sense of self worth will begin to rise. Parents, remember that your children are looking to you to model this behavior. If all they ever hear you say are negative things about yourself, chances are they will grow up and do the same to themselves.

Being Oversensitive

I can’t tell you how many times that I have been accused by others of “being too sensitive”. Being too sensitive is one of the more painful aspects of low self-esteem. Whether you’re angered by criticism or literally feel demolished by any comment that’s directed at you, it’s important to learn how to desensitize yourself.

TIPS

Really listen to what’s being said: This way you can evaluate whether a comment is true or not, before deciding how you feel about it.

Stand up for yourself: If the criticism is unfair, say you disagree.

Be proactive: If there is some truth in it, learn from what’s being said, rather than beating yourself up about it. Constructive criticism can be exactly that, provided you take the comments on board and make changes for the better.

Move on: Replaying over and over what’s upset you only anchors the memory to you – which won’t help.

Feeling Fearful and Anxious

Fear and a belief that you are powerless to change anything in your world go hand in hand with low self-esteem.

TIPS

Discriminate between genuine fears and unfounded ones: Challenge your anxieties with the facts. For instance, you may feel it’s pointless to go for a promotion because you don’t think you can get it. How true is this statement when you look at the evidence?

Build confidence by facing your fears: Draw up what’s known as a fear pyramid, placing your biggest fear at the top and your smallest fears at the bottom. The idea is to work your way up the pyramid, taking on each fear and boosting your belief in your abilities as you go.

Write down your worst case scenario: Think of what it is that frightens you and then write down the worst case scenario. For example, I have fear and anxiety when I have to have a “difficult” conversation with one of my supervisees. So, worst case scenario, I address my concerns and they get angry and quit. Is that the type of person I want working for me anyway?

Feeling Angry

TIPS

Learn how to remain calm: One way is to not let your feelings simmer away until you explode. Instead, express how you’re feeling at the time. There are also many journaling apps you can have on your phone, where you can write down your feelings and learn some coping skills. I use Moodnotes and Woebot and they have helped me tremendously.

Remove yourself: If the above doesn’t work, step away from the situation and breathe in long slow breaths to reduce your heart beat. Give yourself some time to calm down, and don’t enter back into the situation until you are clear headed. Having teenagers taught me the value of this. Walking away from an argument stopped it from escalating and I was then able to calmly discuss the situation with them.

Don’t over do it: People with low self-esteem often over commit then feel bitter as they struggle to cope. Try to take on only what you want and would like to do.

Being a People Pleaser

One of the biggest problems with low self-esteem is feeling you have to please others so that they like, love and respect you. As a result many people-pleasers end up feeling resentful and used.

TIPS

Learn how to say no: Your worth doesn’t depend on others’ approval – people should like and love you for who you are, not what you do for them.

Be selfish sometimes: Or at least think about your needs for a change. People with a healthy self-esteem know when it’s important to put themselves first.

Set limits on others: Feeling resentful and used stems from accepting things from friends and family that you personally feel is unacceptable. Start placing limits on what you will and won’t do and your resentment will ease.

Remember That You Are Not Your Circumstances.

Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D, author of The Self-Esteem Workbook, describes healthy self-esteem as a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. He writes, “Unconditional human worth assumes that each of us is born with all the capacities needed to live fruitfully, although everyone has a different mix of skills, which are at different levels of development.” He emphasizes that core worth is independent of externals that the marketplace values, such as wealth, education, health, status — or the way one has been treated.

Finally, learning to differentiate between your circumstances and who you are is key to self-worth. “Recognizing inner worth, and loving one’s imperfect self, provide the secure foundation for growth,” says Schiraldi. “With that security, one is free to grow with enjoyment, not fear of failure — because failure doesn’t change core worth.”

We are all born with infinite potential and equal worth as human beings. That we are anything less is a false belief that we have learned over time. Therefore, with hard work and self-compassion, self-destructive thoughts and beliefs can be unlearned. Taking the steps outlined above is a start in the effort to increase self-worth, or as Schiraldi says, to “recognize self-worth. It already exists in each person.”

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years working in Community mental Health. I currently Supervise the Behavioral Health Benefit for an insurance company. I speak publicly on issues that affect mental health in the workplace.

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