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Understanding and Improving Self-Esteem

Self-esteem refers to the value we place on ourselves. It's a self-imposed judgment of our own worth. It follows that self-esteem is something that comes from within. We can't look to others for it, we can't pay for it, and it can't be gifted to us. When our self-esteem is up we feel pretty good about ourselves. It's that sense of feeling comfortable in our own skin, of acknowledging that we're not perfect but being able to live with ourselves despite the flaws. We tend to treat ourselves kindly and we learn to trust our own beliefs, values and behavior without looking to others for approval or guidance. We're not closed to suggestions or feedback but our confidence remains high as we adapt to new or challenging circumstances.

Contrast this with low self-esteem and the differences become clearer. Low self-esteem is fraught with difficulties. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could be like them, or even 'be' them. It's a lack of personal control and a nagging need for greater personal strength and confidence.

Self-esteem isn't fixed. We can't, for example, go on a course or read a book and develop self-esteem in the way we might develop muscles through exercise. It's true that guidance can help enormously but the point is our esteem is a dynamic process that can increase or reduce according to circumstances. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event will tend to feel self-esteem reduce. When, for example, we're forced into actions we might not choose it means control is taken from us and placed in someone else's hands. We become victims of circumstance and we feel bad as a result.

It's therefore important to understand that self-esteem ebbs and flows, but this doesn't mean we can't have an abiding sense of self worth. If we become victims of circumstance our lives being reactive rather than proactive. We constantly look to others for approval and our lives become fearful in case we go wrong, in case we're disapproved of, in case we're not liked. Almost inevitably we can't sustain such an approach. There will always be times others disagree with us, don't want to speak to us, turn their backs on us. What's left is a desolate sense of rejection and resentment and low self-esteem becomes reinforced

Improving Self-Esteem

Our inner voice is the one critical issue to get into check. We've all got an inner voice. It's the thing that says, 'maybe I shouldn't because I'm not good enough,' or 'I'd better not in case I fail or embarrass myself or other people'. Let's unpack what's going on here.

What is the content of this inner voice? Is it very general in nature or does it tend to focus on a very few things? Where has it come from? Is it some bad experience you had years ago or is it what we might think of as anticipatory anxiety?

Our inner critic tends to be ruthless. It operates in black and white terms where everything is a disaster, a failure or perfect and brilliant. Oh yes, real life is that, isn't it? Put your inner critic under scrutiny. Who says it's accurate? Is it able to predict the future? Can it mind read? Or is it stirring up your emotions based on nothing more than - well, emotions?

For every negative statement you can think of its important to counter it with a positive and more logical alternative. So 'she'll think I'm stupid,' is replaced with 'everyone asks questions, why should mine be less worthy?'

This is just a start, but it's a way to understanding how self-esteem operates and what you can do in order to turn things to your advantage.


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