Send you negative thoughts to the naughty corner!
So far this week we have looked at what self-esteem is; the value we place on ourselves and how we see ourselves in general, what low self-esteem is; when we as individuals hold deep-seated negative beliefs about ourselves, and how we can work toward improving these beliefs through altering our perceptions of who we are.
First, by focussing on the things that bring us pleasure (rather than pain) and secondly, on how it isn’t narcissistic to love our individual gifts and talents.
Today, we look at our experiences.
As many people who suffer from low-esteem may relate to, I spend a lot of time living in the negative space of my life. All day, every day, I am constantly reminding myself of all the things I have done wrong; of when I let my friends down, of when I failed to get a publishing deal for my book, of what I did to deserve being abused, of my time living on the streets, of every minor mistake and error I’ve ever committed. Rarely, do I look at the positive experiences I’ve had.
But to increase self-esteem we have to look at these experiences, for endlessly replaying the negative is merely feeding the vicious cycle of self-hatred that is fuelling our low levels of self-esteem. By focussing on the positive times we reprogram our brain to think of these first, relegating the negative into the annals of history to be forgotten.
One way to do this is, when you catch yourself dwelling on a negative, twist it around. For example, using the five examples above:
i) Instead of thinking of when I let my friends down I should think of the far more examples of when I was there for them however I could be.
ii) Instead of thinking of when I failed to get a publishing deal for my book I should think of when I had my short story published or that I had the courage to submit the book to publishers in the first place!
iii) Instead of thinking of what I did to deserve being abused I should be thinking fuck you, I didn’t do bloody anything to deserve such vicious treatment!
iv) Instead of thinking of my time living on the streets I should be thinking of all the things this period taught me about life. And that I survived.
v) Instead of thinking of every minor mistake and error I’ve ever committed I should be thinking of every major moment of brilliance I’ve ever performed!
The only problem is that not only is this very difficult to do, quite often we lacking in self-esteem don’t think about the positive things we’ve done in our lives.
Which is why our exercise today is all about that; our personal positive experiences.
Personal positive experiences…
1. Take out a clean sheet of paper and a pen of your choice.
2. Divide the paper into eight sections: Courage, Kindness, Selflessness, Love, Sacrifice, Wisdom, Happiness, Determination.
3. Under each section write about positive personal experiences that come under that category.
4. You don’t have to limit yourself to one example for each, the more you can think of the better!
5. Keep the paper somewhere handy so that (a) you can read it frequently and (b) you can add to it whenever you fancy.
My Personal Experiences…
As with the other exercises this week, I lead by example.
NB: These are just the ones that came to mind, there’s probably more buried deep within me somewhere…I hope!
In 2012, after an eighteen month absence, I began blogging and tweeting to try to reconnect with the world.
In 2010, I happened upon a man who was assaulting his girlfriend. He claimed she ‘deserved’ to be punched and as a man I should understand that. I didn’t, because as a man, I fervently believe no-onedeserves to be punched in the face by their loved one. Rather than walking on by I stood up for what I believed in and ended up having the shit beaten out of me whilst thinking at least he’s not beating her.
In 2009, I became homeless. If you don’t think this requires courage, I suggest you head out and live on the streets for a week and then get back to me.
In 2009, I sent short stories and novel manuscripts to publishers. Given I am someone who constantly fears people reading his work this was a huge and courageous step for me. Although the novel went nowhere, I did have a short story published, which I’ve always been proud of.
In 2007, I began a blog that opened my entire life up for the world to see.
In 2007, on 11 October I chose life.
In 2007, despite Glandular Fever, anxiety and pre-existing mental health problems, I made a concerted effort to re-enter tertiary education. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2002, I boarded a plane bound for Australia.
In 1999, I had the courage to follow my heart and begin backpacking.
In 198?, I stood up to schoolyard bullies who were mercilessly picking on my sister.
And it should go without saying…from now, until the day I die, I will be living with bipolar; that requires courage!
In 2011, despite homelessness, I felt compelled to donate to the appeals raising money for victims of the Queensland and Victorian floods.
In 2010, I gave a person new to the streets my blanket, some food and the last of my money as they had nothing. The next day I took them to organisations that would help them access housing and services.
In 2009, I tried to help Stephanie through her depression and suicidal thoughts.
In 2006, I spent nearly fifteen hours making a playlist for my friend’s 21st as no-one else was willing to do it. No music, no party!
And when I had friends I always tried to remember their birthdays and get them a present (however small it may have been!)
In 2010, I turned down accommodation so another homeless person (who appeared worse than I) would have somewhere indoors.
In 2008, I turned down the chance to experience something I’d always wanted to experience as I knew it would impact negatively on a friend.
In 2007, I cancelled an important hospital appointment I’d waited months for because my friend needed emotional support. It was three more months of worry before I was able to get another one, but I’ve never regretted it as my friend was upset.
In 2006, I phoned in sick/opted out of four shifts at work so I could be there for my glandular fever suffering girlfriend. (Note: at the time I was on an extremely low-income and needed all the money I could get, but her health and wellbeing were more important to me.)
In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, I put my own Christmas wishes aside to try to give my backpacking clients the best day possible.
In 2008, I always tried to be there for my girlfriend during her depressive episodes, regardless of my work commitments, regardless of how triggered I became and the subsequent fallout to my mental health as I knew how much worse it would be if she was on her own.
In 2007, I spent eight hours cooking and preparing a three course candlelit meal for my girlfriend before paying my housemates to bugger off for the evening so my girlfriend and I could have some alone time. (Note: she phoned ten minutes before she’d agreed to come over and told me if we didn’t go to the restaurant she wanted to go to she wouldn’t see me that night.)
In 2006/07, I wrote a personalised interactive novella to give my girlfriend as a birthday present (Note: she broke up with me suddenly before I had the chance to give it to her)
In 2006, I organised a surprise day of fun for a friend who was going through a bad-time; we began with the circus, then went ice-skating, a picnic in the park, swimming/sauna/spa/water slides, a theatre trip and then a late dinner in Lygon Street. It cost me a small fortune, but the smile on her face was worth it.
In 2004, I imported an engagement ring from Scotland because I wanted my fiance to have a ring that was unique, special and meaningful.
In 2002, I emigrated to Australia.
In 2002, I lived in my childhood bedroom whilst my girlfriend traveled Europe and returned to Australia eighteen months before her visa for the UK was up, even though it killed me to do so, it was the only way I was able to afford to save for Australia.
In 2001, even though I’d known her for only five days, I let my girlfriend move in with me as she had nowhere else to go.
And I always tried to be there for my partners and friends whenever they had a problem.
In 2005, I cancelled two adult education courses I wanted to undertake as they clashed with my employment commitments.
In 2002, I sacrificed my family, friends and country of birth to emigrate to Australia without knowing if I would ever see them again.
In 2001/02, I turned down a university course so I could move to Australia to be with the woman I loved.
In 2011 and 2010, I did whatever I could to impart advice to fellow homeless people who were new to the street (e.g. where they could go to get help, how best to keep warm, best places for food etc.)
In 2009, I wrote a newspaper opinion piece containing several pearls of wisdom I’d picked up over the years.
In 2007, I started writing a blog that I hoped would help share the lessons I’d learned with the rest of the world.
In 2010, I cuddled a wombat, and thus fulfilled a life long dream!
In 2007, after a lifetime of hard work to get myself into that position, I returned to college.
In 2004, my girlfriend and I were going to get married. (Note: she called the wedding off as she didn’t want to get married until same-sex marriage was legalised. I still think it had more to do with not loving me/not wanting to commit, but what do I know?)
In 2001, I was living in the best flat I’ve ever had.
In 2000, I spent three months traveling Canada.
In 1999 ann 2000, I spent six months traveling in Scotland.
Umm, really? Refusing to give up…even after giving up! Constantly trying to work toward a better me. Endlessly fighting mental illness with little to non-existent support. Giving stigma the spanking it deserves, regardless of the damage it does to my life. Three years living on the streets. Writing this blog on/off for five years. Challenging myself and the way I think. Never giving up on my dreams. Pushing myself each and every day to get out of bed and keep on going in the hope that someday, preferably before I’m too old to enjoy it, I no longer have to prove how fucking awesome I am to the world, or myself – we’ll all just believe it and eat chocolate cake instead!
Note: At the end of yesterday’s post I indicated that today we would be getting an article about emotional abuse and the effect it had on my self-esteem. After last night’s bout of insomnia and the stream of consciousness that erupted from it, I decided to change tact for today’s self-esteem post. So apologies for anyone who was looking forward to emotional abuse discussion, it will probably be here tomorrow :)
Other articles in this series:
- Building positive self-esteem (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Exercises to Build Self Esteem: #1. Pleasure and Happiness (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Exercises to Build Self Esteem: #2. Love your talents and gifts (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)