Beating Low Self-Esteem

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Many people in Philadelphia suffer from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is characterized by having a generally poor opinion of yourself, and negatively judging yourself and your value as a person. Struggles with self-esteem can impact many areas of your life, including your relationships with others, your ability to succeed at work and school, and your day-to-day mood. Low self-esteem is common among people with depression, who often think that they aren't smart enough, aren't good enough, aren't loveable, or are otherwise lacking. Low self-esteem is also common among people who have anxiety, who are hyper-focused on themselves and may think that other people are focused on them as well. If you think everyone else is judging your worst qualities, it becomes very easy to judge yourself harshly. As a result of this, individuals with low self-esteem may experience poor body image, sexual anxiety or dissatisfaction, or issues related to identity.

Low self-esteem can take the form of self-doubt, self-criticism, or trouble mastering new tasks and life transitions. Self-imposed high expectations can make it difficult to take on new challenges or opportunities, and fear of failure can lead you to avoid new experiences altogether. Expecting other people to dislike you makes it difficult to reach out and build relationships with others. Telling yourself that you won't get a promotion at work might prevent you from applying for the position, or affect your ability to interview successfully. Over time, low self-esteem can lead to self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, creating a vicious cycle of failure and disappointment. In order to beat low self-esteem, some people need to drown out overwhelming negative thoughts about themselves with strong positive messages. Others may have a more positive overall self-image, but still need to gain a more realistic view of their balance of strengths and weaknesses. By taking concrete steps to change your thoughts and behaviors, you can break out of the pattern of low-self esteem.

Learn to recognize self-criticism

The first step to defeating low self-esteem is figuring out the qualities about yourself that you are the most critical of. Most people criticize themselves unfairly, placing higher expectations on themselves than they do on friends or family. This criticism becomes part of your self-talk, the inner dialogue of conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs that affects how we react to every situation. Negative self-talk may be specific to a particular issue (I'll never do well in this math class) or broad and overarching (I'm a failure). Begin to pay attention to your negative self-talk. At the end of every day, ask yourself,”When did I criticize myself today?” Look for common themes: maybe you always criticize your appearance, your abilities, or your intelligence.

Identify triggers for low self-esteem

As you gain awareness of your negative self-talk, you can begin to recognize the situations or interactions that most often trigger self-criticism and low self-esteem. Think about the specific instances where you were self-critical over the last week: When my friends cancel plans with me, I tell myself that it's because no one likes me. What do these instances have in common? Maybe you always criticize yourself while you're at work, or when you're around a certain friend or family member. Looking for the patterns in your negative self-talk helps you prepare for situations where you are the most likely to be hard on yourself.

Recognize your assets and abilities

Now that you're familiar with your patterns of self-criticism, make an effort to recognize some good things about yourself. Low self-esteem makes it difficult to acknowledge your strengths. In order to combat low self-esteem, you must work to consciously recognize your positive qualities and abilities. Make a list of qualities you like about yourself, and a second list of things that you know you are good at. These can be things someone else has pointed out to you or complemented you on, or things you see in yourself. They can be as broad or specific as you wish: I'm a good friend or I'm good at listening when my friends are upset. Sometimes it can be difficult to see these positive qualities for yourself; if you're struggling to come up with things, ask friends or family members what they see as your assets.

Practice self-affirmation

Some people have a harder time recognizing their strengths than others. When you only think about your flaws and weaknesses, they quickly become the only thing you believe about yourself. In order to counteract this, you must begin to add in positive thoughts about yourself to balance negative self-talk. If you struggle to see your strengths, positive affirmations can help you consciously recognize each day's successes. If your self-talk is overpowering your self-esteem, strong affirmative messages are a great way to drown it out. Think back to your patterns of self-criticism, and create affirming statements that you can daily use to replace these thoughts. Again, if it is hard to come up with ideas, ask your loved ones what they wish you believed about yourself. If your most common self-criticism is I'm a failure, create an affirmation related to success: I will be successful at work today. In addition to these daily affirmations, make a conscious effort to recognize three positive things about yourself at the end of each day. These may be specific to that day (I did a great job in my work presentation), or more general (I'm a good son).

Talk back to your insecurities

Once you begin to be aware of your strengths, you can use these to put negative self-talk in perspective. Practice replacing self-criticism with self-awareness. Every time you have an irrational negative thought about yourself, try to replace that thought with a more realistic or positive assessment of your abilities. When your negative self-talk is I'm not smart enough to be in college, remind yourself of a time you were successful: But I got accepted by the school. If you are being hard on yourself for lacking a specific skill, remind yourself of the abilities and skills that you do have: I'm not tall enough to be good at basketball, but I can run fast. Be compassionate towards yourself, and respond to yourself the way you would respond to a friend who expressed self-doubt.

Change what you can

Although we tend to be hard on ourselves for things we can't change, most people have room for self-improvement. Focus on one concrete thing you can do each day to change those things about yourself or your life that it is possible to change. Criticizing yourself, calling yourself names, or focusing on the things you can't change will distract you from achieving your goals. Rather than beating yourself up about being out of shape, take the same energy and go to the gym. You can decide that you are the worst employee and spend hours thinking about it, or you can spend the same energy and take on an extra project at work. If you're unhappy with your relationships, find a new hobby or activity that will help you meet new people. Making exciting, positive changes in your life will make it easier to avoid becoming overwhelmed by self-doubt and negative self-talk.

Strive for self-acceptance

Although raising your self-esteem may decrease the tendency to criticize yourself, very few people like everything about themselves one hundred percent of the time. When working on raising low self-esteem, it helps to set a realistic goal of self-acceptance, rather than aiming for absolute self-confidence. Practicing self-acceptance means acknowledging and embracing both your strengths and weaknesses without judging yourself for being flawed. Not everyone is born with great genes. Some people really do have a lower IQ, or aren’t as fast to learn a new athletic skill, or truly do have a big nose. Accept your weaknesses as part of who you are, and you will be able to stop focusing on them. You'll be able to spend your time and energy growing and strengthening yourself in productive ways.

Self-acceptance requires letting go of the need for perfection, and allows for a more realistic recognition of both mistakes and accomplishments. Viewing mistakes as opportunities for growth and change helps you avoid the tendency to find fault with yourself when things don't go as planned. By striving for self-acceptance rather than perfection you gain a sense of your strengths and begin to embrace your flaws, as part of who you are rather than something to be critical of.

Still struggling to overcome low self-esteem? Therapy can help! To find a therapist in Philadelphia, please call the Center for Growth at (267) 324-9564.