WHAT IS SELF ESTEEM?
As we arrive in adulthood, our level of self esteem reflects how nurturing and supportive the people around us were. The way our parents, teachers, family and friends regard, judge, love, value, respect and behave towards us helps to create how we regard, judge, love, value, respect or behave towards ourselves. This includes people who have social, cultural and political power over our well being. None of these people exist in a vacuum so their behaviour towards us will have been influenced by their own experiences, beliefs, cultural, religious, political and social norms. So, we receive messages about ourselves from many different people for many different reasons but that doesn’t make them true and such messages ARE NOT SET IN STONE!
We may not have had control of how other people viewed and treated us but we can take control of our future view and treatment of ourselves. We can choose to get to know our strengths, skills and positive aspects and we can choose to build on these and learn to love, approve, accept and care for ourselves the best we can.
For many of us self esteem takes a pounding during the process of childhood, especially given the pressures that exist in schools, family life and in Society as a whole. There is much emphasis placed on ‘performance’. There is pressure to achieve at younger and younger ages: goals and grades; assessments and inspections. Children have become highly measured commodities. The fear, uncertainty, self doubt and negativity which can be generated by such a system can be a breeding ground for low self esteem. Many of us have learnt to exaggerate our mistakes and excel at self doubt and self criticism. Many children are having to deal with the stress and trauma of poverty, loss and separation, abuse, ill health and the results of war.
How can we turn this around and build self esteem. It is a freedom for us to emphasise what we ARE achieving, what we ARE capable of, what we ARE doing well and how loveable and amazing we are. Challenges, change, mistakes and crises are a part of each of our lives and it is from such experiences that we learn our best coping strategies and become aware of our many human strengths and abilities. We need appreciation for this from ourselves and from other people. It helps us to build confidence in ourselves if we acknowledge our strengths and positive skills, at least to ourselves!
REGAINING HIGH SELF ESTEEM:
One of the major tasks for us as maturing adults is to become wise and it is wise for us to build the best possible relationship with ourselves. Some of us have high self-esteem in some areas of our lives and maybe not in others. To feel good about ourselves leads us to to be powerful in our lives and can help us to transform outdated negative beliefs and behaviours into positive beliefs and behaviour. As we increase our self esteem and our confidence to do things better – it builds on itself! If you nurture and feed a plant it grows strong and healthy and produces the best flowers, fruit….we are the same, we become more more able to develop talents and gifts to take out into the world – we blossom!
The first step of regaining self esteem is to notice how we talk to ourself. Sometimes I have worked with clients in counselling and I notice that they have used the word ‘stupid’ about themselves several times in the first 10 minutes of the counselling. Often people are really surprised about this when it is pointed out to them. I’ve noticed too the number of times we may all say, ‘I can’t’. This can be disempowering and is often untrue. It helps us to become aware of how we speak to and about ourselves.
The most important relationship in our life, the longest lasting and most intimate is our relationship with ourself. In our relationship with ourself we are constantly talking to ourself. It helps us to notice how we speak to ourself, how we speak about ourself to other people, how we treat ourself, how we feel about ourself. Notice whether we can be more positive and kindly towards ourself. We all need love, support and encouragement. We need to become our own best friend. When this relationship is good, other relationships, our life in general, runs more smoothly! We need to emphasise our strengths, the things we do well and what we like about ourselves. We need to promote ourselves to ourselves and to the world in the same way that we would a friend.
BUILDING A SOLID CENTRE:
One way we can build a solid centre inside ourself is to imagine a tall solid tower running through the centre of our bodies from our feet to top of our head, made of bricks. Every time we do something positive for ourselves: reward ourselves for something we have done well; buy ourselves a treat; visit somewhere we’ve always wanted to visit; phone a friend who encourages us; do something that gives us joy – listen to lovely music, read something that inspires us, buy a single flower to admire, take time to walk somewhere beautiful, visit an art exhibition which inspires us, make ourselves a lovely meal…imagine that this adds a solid brick to that tall internal tower, strengthening us at our very centre. Then, imagine that when we do something that harms ourself: put ourself down, put up with something or someone that harms us, smoke, eat, drink too much so that we feel bad, hoard too many things around us so that our space is uncomfortable….this takes a brick out of that centre and weakens the strength and power of that brick tower which can make us feel more vulnerable and weaker in our very centre. Then think of more positive things to do. The more commitment we make to ourself, the better we will feel. We are worth it!
It can be helpful for us to use affirmations. If we think of a positive statement that is the opposite of how we might normally think about ourself and just say it over and over again to ourself as we are walking along, as we are waiting in a queue. When we do this and notice what happens in our body, we can feel a lightness of step, a lift of energy. Just as when we smile or laugh it has a real ‘feel good’ effect. By using positive statements, we can re-programme new messages into our self awareness and consciousness which can build our self esteem.
It can be helpful to give a few minutes to think about what we are grateful for about ourself. Gratitude about our many gifts, good health and well being is a vital part of moving forward positively. We could buy a special card, with a picture that we identify with in some way and write in it a list of things we enjoy about ourself and keep adding to it. How better to fall asleep than to think of a few positive things we have done that day, before we go to sleep. Often we can be good at dwelling on any negatives but the positive things might make you fall asleep with a smile on your face!
You may like to choose one of the following positive statements to say to yourself
a few dozen times. You could breathe it in slowly as you are sitting in a relaxed place or just before you go to sleep. Notice your energy levels change and keep going even if it sounds awkward at first.
Positive Statements to begin with until you can create your own!
I can handle anything that comes my way
I trust myself and I trust the process of life
Life is sweet and so am I
I welcome risks that expand my life
All is well inside and outside of me
I know this (meeting/seminar/presentation/interview) will go well
I belong in the world as a equal
I am loving myself more each day
I recognise my own successes
I am alive to joy, play and laughter.
I am powerful and I love it
It can take effort and work to regain a realistic and positive perception of ourself. If we allow ourself to know and recognise what we are good at and realise our potential in different aspects of our lives, then we may begin to recognise what a gift we are to the World and then we may take our space.