What is self-esteem?
Self-love, self-perception, self-confidence, self-[insert word of choice] are terms that refer to the way we view and think about ourselves. As human beings we all have the power of self-awareness; the ability to be aware of ourselves and place value on our thoughts, actions, appearance and personality. Self-esteem refers to the value we place on ourselves and how we see ourselves in general.
Exercise 1: How do you see yourself? Take a few minutes to write a description of yourself:
“The descriptions that come to mind whenever I think of myself are: fat, ugly, worthless, useless, a waste of space, pointless, uneducated, a terrible friend, stupid, talentless, weak, shy, anxious, unloveable, contagious and evil. There are many more: better off dead, boring, disgusting, perverted, unfashionable, unattractive, sick, fucked up, grotesque and I should probably stop there otherwise there’s a good chance I’ll either burst into tears and/or start beating myself with a stick as punishment for being the most repulsive human being to have ever existed in the span of human history.
Every now and then, in my weaker moments, I see the beauty within me; the strength in my soul to have persevered though all the trauma that has befallen me, the creativity that oozes from every pore of my being, the compassion that lies at the very core of my heart. But whenever I think of these things I am quick to dismiss them, to refocus on the negative, the criticism and my numerous failings.
It’s almost impossible for me to write a description of myself because I see myself as someone who is better off dead. Someone who has no worth as an individual and has no right to be considered a member of the human race. It’s been like this, to a certain extent, ever since I was a child. Hence my need to work on building my self-esteem and how I view myself.
Note: as I will be returning to this later in the week, each of the bolded descriptives above were things my abuser called me on several occasions, confirming my own negative beliefs and conditioning my mind to view myself in this way.”
What is low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem is when we as individuals hold deep-seated negative beliefs about ourselves. Someone with low self-esteem doesn’t place a high value on their worth as a person and often describe themselves using negative terminology (fat, ugly, weak, unimportant, useless, stupid, worthless etc). These beliefs are often viewed as facts and considered a true indicator of someone’s identity, even though this is rarely the reality.
Exercise 2: Do you have any of these negative thoughts that you didn’t include in the description above? Write these down now:
“I shall quickly add: hairy, selfish, soft, over emotional, cowardly, impolite, inconsiderate, lazy, weak-willed, indecisive, bone-idle, careless and again, bolded words were used by my abuser.”
As a result low self-esteem can have a severe impact on someone’s life. People with low self-esteem are quick to criticise themselves, talk negatively about their appearance, doubt themselves and are quick to dismiss compliments. Quite often they will ignore the positive aspects of their life and instead focus on their mistakes, taking the blame for things that were ultimately out of their control. Their negative self-view will often be the catalyst that causes them to ‘talk themselves out’ of pursuing the activities they wish to do whilst pushing themselves to overwork to make up for, or cover up, their perceived lack of skill.
Pleasurable activities will often be avoided as they believe they do not deserve to have any happiness in their lives. In relationships they will either overcompensate; bending over backwards to please friends, lovers, family or avoid intimacy and social contact altogether. Low self-esteem can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol to numb the pain or act as punishment for their inadequacies. Whilst personal hygiene can falter as the ‘why bother’ mentality sets in.
Exercise 3: If it applies, how has low self-esteem impacted on your life? Take a few moments to write down some problems it’s caused:
“Low self-esteem has caused so many problems throughout my life, as I’ve mentioned in other areas of this blog, that it’s safe to say it’s pretty much destroyed my entire existence. I’ve lost friends because of low self-esteem, chosen the wrong courses at A-level, been unable to connect on a social level, had employment opportunities slip away, made irrational life decisions, ended up alone and isolated, been unable to pursue my passions (writing, photography, art, sexual predilections) and missed out on social events that could have helped me.
Whilst I was in relationships I would always over-compensate (although partly because of my compassionate nature) and allow myself to be walked over (e.g. my first girlfriend’s European trip and subsequent ill-timed affair, my second girlfriend’s abuse, my third girlfriend’s infidelity) whereas with friends I’ve always been unable to connect on an emotional level because I lacked the confidence to do so whilst what friendships I did manage to make were also affected by overcompensation.
There are times when I’ve turned to alcohol to numb the pain, as well as self-harm, gambling and suicidal ideation. Personal hygiene (although not helped by my bipolar and homelessness) has been frequently affected as well as numerous ‘punishments’ that I’ve inflicted on myself for being such a worthless member of humanity.”
What can be done?
Having low self-esteem can have a severe, debilitating effect on someone’s life, but it need not be a permanent mental state. It is possible to develop self-esteem and increase the confidence we have in ourselves but, like with everything in life, it requires hard work and dedication.
Throughout this week I will be looking at exercises that can be undertaken to boost ones self-esteem, ways in which we can reprogram our mind and tasks that can be performed to begin viewing ourselves in a more positive light.
You’re more than welcome to join me, should you wish :)
Tomorrow…Ways to Build Self Esteem: #1. Create a pleasure list >>>