Recognising and Overcoming Low Self Esteem

We all experience problems with our self-esteem at times, but if your overall view of yourself is consistently low, it might be time to make some changes. Low self-esteem has been defined by Psychologist Marilyn J. Sorensen as “an irrational and distorted view of self that affects the person’s assumptions, interpretations, perceptions, conclusions & beliefs about himself or herself as well as others” and is now recognised as a stand-alone condition.

When you have healthy self-esteem, you are able to feel good about yourself and are less vulnerable to the opinions of others – whether real or perceived. If your self-esteem is too low, you place too little value on your own opinions and beliefs, and may be self-critical and negative. Low self-esteem affects every area of your life. In relationships; insecurity, defensiveness, and a tendency to overreact can create situations that heighten the fear of making mistakes. This furthers the cycle of anxiety as perceived concerns can become real issues. Hypersensitivity is a common side effect as sufferers feel so inadequate they are convinced that others must be seeing them the same way. As a defense mechanism, those with low self-esteem are likely to look for signs that this is happening as a means of protection, leading them to be overly sensitive and reactive.

Usually, once a sufferer has acknowledged their overreaction, the realisation that they may have been acting irrationally further instills the opinion that they ‘must be stupid’ or ‘an inadequate person’, leading to feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. Sorensen observes ‘self-esteem attacks’ that can occur when a sufferer believes that he or she has said something or done something incorrect or that others may perceive as such. As a result, periods of self-loathing can follow with “excruciating anxiety, remorse, embarrassment, depression and/or devastation.”

These periods can last for hours, days, weeks or months.

So where to from low? It is important to note that although your particular views of yourself appear to be fact, they are merely opinion. Through past experiences and learned behavior, your self-image and the stories you tell yourself have been conditioned. If your past experiences of failure have been negative, it’s likely that your view of self will be too. If the authority figures in your life such as parents, teachers or peers have been unnecessarily critical of you, it is likely that you will continue to re-enforce these negative beliefs in adulthood. But like any habit, these beliefs can be changed with practice.

Make some personal commitments:

Perfectionism is a Trap

It’s ok to make mistakes. Failure is both an option and a likely outcome when any risk is taken. Make mistakes. Just learn from them. Nothing and no one is perfect. Any attempt to be such will only feed feelings of inadequacy.

Learn to Say No

Maybe you grew up in a dysfunctional family. Perhaps you were made to play peacekeeper and this has carried into your adult relationships. It isn’t your responsibility to be anyone other than who you are. Don’t change your nature to please people. While this will take practice, and will likely be terrifying the first time, it is ok to disagree with people who don’t see things your way. When you can finally be yourself, feelings of guilt or shame will be replaced with those of freedom.

Set Your Own Expectations

It is up to you to write the rulebook for who you are and what is important to you. Set your own expectations for who you should be and do everything in your power to achieve the things that matter to you. The naysayers in your life may cry “you can’t do that job” or “you can’t run that far!” What they really mean is “I can’t do that job,” “I can’t run that far” and to see you do it would only make them feel less accomplished.

Set the bar at the height that works for you.

Stop Punishing Yourself

You will fall down, likely often, and the negative thoughts will creep back in. Recalibrate. Go for a walk, run, swim, meditate. Do whatever it is you need to do to bring your thoughts back in line with who you actually are rather than who you irrationally perceive yourself to be. Pick yourself up. Objectively evaluate what went wrong and why. Plan measures to prevent reoccurrences and try again.

You already possess all of the skills and strengths you need to become the person you want to be. Find it in yourself and be it.