By Suzanne E. Harrill
Happiness, self-empowerment, satisfaction in work, good relationships, and success are all built on a foundation of healthy self-esteem. Love, respect, forgiveness, and tolerance for self and all others are valued. Healthy self-esteem is based on an internal frame of reference.
High Self-Esteem is a quiet, comfortable feeling of acceptance and love for yourself as you are. It is respecting yourself while honestly seeing your good and not-so-good qualities. High self-esteem is characterized by congruence between inner states (beliefs, feelings, attitudes) and outer states (behaviors, relationships, health).
Remember, most people have room to grow in the process of loving, respecting, and accepting themselves. The first step in healing low self-esteem is to recognize where the problems hide. Most people benefit from changing negative self-talk and updating beliefs.
Many people have a self-esteem problem and do not even know it. Let us look at a few of these hidden reasons, view a list of signs of low self-esteem, and then discuss several ways to improve self-esteem.
Ways Low Self-Esteem Hides:
- Some people with low self-esteem are overachievers who believe that a high IQ, physical beauty, winning at sports, or being Number One assures emotional well-being. They are often motivated by feelings of inferiority that propel them to seek validation of worth (their own and other’s) in outer manifestations; such as, money, power, or praise. Note: a person can also have high self-esteem when attractive, a good athlete, or high achieving. Emotional well-being is dependent on one’s inner acceptance of self.
- Some people make a practice of devoting all of their time and energy to family, friends, and volunteering and little to themselves. Often they give for the wrong reasons, with hidden agendas and expectations; such as, to be loved, admired, or needed. Unfulfilled people are secretly needy and give conditionally. Giving is a great trait and the world works better when we go beyond self to help others. Just remember to give from the overflow, so as not to deprive ourselves of proper self-care.
- Some believe that they can only be loved by earning love and doing something. They then evaluate their worthiness based on what they do, not on who they are. It is important to feel our innate worth, similar to how we love and accept a new born baby.
- Some base their self-worth on the opinions of others or on outside indicators, such as the value of their portfolio in the stock market. An external locus of control is turning power outside of self to feel good Here it is easy to feel like a victim of circumstances instead of in internally powered, creative human being.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
- Self-blame, self-criticism, or constantly putting others down through guilt, blame, shame, or faultfinding. Finding forgiveness difficult.
- Over- or under-achieving, -eating, -working, -doing, etc.
- Playing the victim, rationalizing that outside circumstances are the causes of your problems.
- Not taking responsibility for your own life; turning power over to another to make decisions for you, then feeling victimized if the results are not to your liking.
- Taking too much responsibility for the lives of others, dominating and making decisions for them.
- Fear of change and reluctance to take risks. Or too much change, taking dangerous, unwise risks.
- Constant negativity or being so optimistic that reality is denied.
- Reacting to others with extreme emotion or no emotion.
- Boastfulness, lying, embellishing, exaggerating, and overbearing behavior around others.
- Inability to maintain integrity during interactions with others.
- Demanding to be “right,” needing to have agreement or have your own way most of the time, or constantly acquiescing to the will and opinions of others.
- Constantly comparing yourself to others, thereby feeling inferior or superior.
- Black/white, either/or thinking; e.g., believing that a person is either good or bad based on rigid standards of behavior.
- Having pervasive deep-seated feelings of fear, terror, or panic.
- Speaking with lots of shoulds, oughts, could haves, and yes,buts.
- Interpreting the hurtful words or actions of others as proof of your unworthiness.
Ways to Improve Your Self-Esteem
1. Change your negative self-talk. Everyone has a voice inside her/his mind that is continually commenting. The negative, critical, hurtful comments need to be changed. Begin listening to what you say to yourself and then talk back to your negative self-talk with the truth. Speed up the process by saying positive statements or affirmations; such as, “I like myself and am a worthwhile person, I forgive myself for not knowing/being/doing…, I deserve love, inner peace, and fulfillment.” Make a cassette tape, in your voice, of affirmations. Listen daily.
2. Visualize what you want to create in your life. Picture what you want to create, whether it is a new dress or feeling confident in new situations. When you combine an affirmation, with deep feeling, and with a positive mental picture you add power to what you want to create. Look for pictures in magazines that picture what you want to create and glue them into your journal.
3. Nurture yourself. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Enjoy the times when others are able to nurture you or meet your needs; watch the tendency to set yourself up for disappointment with unreal expectations.
4. Build a support system. You deserve to have at least one person to talk to who accepts you without judging you. Consider joining a group to meet new people.
5. Take time to be alone daily. Spending quality time alone allows you to listen to your inner self. It is time to think, read, write, pray, meditate, or listen to your intuition.
6. Use your talents. Develop your interests. Take classes, find a teacher to begin.
7. Keep a journal. Writing is a good way to get to know yourself, solve your problems, lower your stress level, and balance yourself emotionally. If you have never written before, begin by writing for 20 minutes a day for the duration of this course. Include your thoughts, feelings, and emotional reactions to people and situations that have upset or hurt you. Eventually, insights and wisdom, that under normal circumstances are hidden from you, flow onto the paper. Do not worry about spelling or grammar. Consider using different colored inks to write according to how you feel. Writing clarifies your thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, visions, values, goals, and priorities and helps you communicate better with others. At the end of this article is a list of questions to get you started.
Inner work is necessary to build self-esteem. It requires self-inquiry and re-patterning the inner structure of your belief system. May you find something of value in the ideas presented here that will help you stop negative thinking patterns that keep you stuck in low self-esteem. May you find nourishment to remember your innate worth. Remember, it is a process to build awareness that will improve your self-esteem. Over time higher self-esteem improves how you relate to others and achieving the results you deserve in life as well.
Journal Questions to Get You Started
1. Write about the people and situations that influenced your self-esteem, both positively and negatively, in your early life, as an adolescent, and as an adult? What would you like to say to them or about them right now?
2. Write about the things you are grateful for in your life? Update this often.
3. List your needs. Think about needs in five different areas: physical (healthy food, regular exercise), emotional (affection, one person to share intimately with that does not judge you), social (belong to a group, people to play with), mental (stimulating ideas to keep you growing, explore an interest), and spiritual (quiet time to be alone¾being instead of doing).
4. Write about significant emotional events that have affected you positively and negatively.
5. What does forgiveness mean to you? Where might you practice forgiveness?
6. Discuss three short-range goals you have for yourself? List the steps you see as necessary to achieve them. How will these goals affect others in your life?
7. What gives your life meaning? List your values (quality time with family, being debt-free and saving money, integrity, kindness) What do you like about your life? want to change?
8. Write about a close friend and/or mentor in your life. Describe their impact on your life. Is it easy or difficult to accept help from another? Write about this. How might you go about finding a friend or mentor if you do not have this in your life?
9. Discuss your experience with conditional and unconditional love.
10. Write about your wishes, hopes, and dreams.
11. Record your nighttime dreams. Write about your feelings, insights, and messages.
12. List things you are proud of and things you like about yourself.
13. Discuss your greatest fear and its effect? What do you want to do about it?
14. Write letters to people with whom you are angry, feel have hurt or neglected you, or anyone you feel you treated unjustly. These letters are not to send.
15. What are the major themes in your life? What lessons do you feel you have learned thus far within these themes? What do you still have to learn?
16. What did you learn about expressing your creativity from your mother? your father?
17. Write your autobiography, then how your past can positively impact your future.
This information is from, Inner Fitness for Creating a Better You, Six Lessons for Building Awareness, High Self-Esteem, Good Relationships, and Spiritual Meaning, by Suzanne E. Harrill.