Self-esteem is defined as how we feel about ourselves and has to do with how we value ourselves. It has to do with almost all of the choices we make in life, from partners to jobs to choosing friends. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family it is likely that your self-esteem may have suffered or not been properly developed into a healthy sense of self. This is common.
Parents who are not able to validate your feelings, thoughts or ideas are unlikely candidates for developing self-esteem in their children. If you are called names, emotionally or physically neglected, constantly criticized or ridiculed as a child, chances are you didn’t feel great about yourself. This follows you into adulthood and may actually have changed the course of your life.
Low self esteem is one of the heaviest pieces of emotional baggage that we can carry. Imagine dragging a 50 pound ball tied to your leg from the time you are a child till you die. Thats a long time to be weighed down by something imposed on you. You didn’t create the ball or baggage, most likely it came from messages from caregivers or early negative experiences with peers and it has stuck around as their terrible messages became ingrained in your brain.
A simplistic example would be being bullied as a child on the playground. At the same time this bully was calling you names and making you feel small they were really tying this ball on your leg, therefore their cruelty has farther reaching effects than just that day. The experience may have been so painful that your brain took it in and decided not to interact with others in the future to avoid this kind of interaction. Maybe others laughed and therefore reinforced the message. Retreating was your brain’s way of protecting you but it then shaped how you saw possible human interactions. It shaped how you felt about yourself as you may be angry at yourself for not doing more to protect yourself in the moment. If it happened repeatedly these thoughts take root and influence how you see the world.
Many depressions and anxiety problems stem from self-esteem issues. If you don’t have the confidence to design a life of your choosing you may be living a life that is not truly about you. If you dislike yourself to the degree you feel unloveable you may be living alone when you would really would prefer a partner. You may not be socializing as you fear ridicule and rejection. You may feel so unworthy that you are chronically angry at the world.
There are many good resources on this topic and delving into it in great deal here is beyond the scope of this post. My aim is to provide you with a starting point and a feeling of hope that whatever course you are on can be corrected. We are all in this boat of life together and we all have doubts about ourselves at some point. Its a matter of not letting the doubts win out. It is about learning emotional tools that allow you to feel as good as the next person.
Because you are.
Here are 6 things to remember in beginning your journey to a healthy self-esteem:
- Recognize and respect your own resilience-You probably already possess some of this and don’t realize it. Just making it through a dysfunctional family background or other unfortunate event builds some resilience. You made it! We cannot control our backgrounds or families or the things that happen as we go through life, but we can control how we come out on the other end. Just having a healthy set of coping skills in place as well as a social support system can help you through tough times. Knowing you are a survivor already helps you to feel better about yourself.
- See life as a process not a one time occurrence-Look at your life as a journey. Your journey may have started slowly or unhappily, but luckily you aren’t stuck there forever. You have your future in front of you to control. You are not doomed to an unhappy life. You will have to do some extra work to learn the emotional skills necessary, but it is just learned material. You can learn or you wouldn’t be reading this.
- Everyone makes mistakes along the way–Everyone, no exceptions. Making mistakes is part of life and the journey. Mistakes can be corrected. If you suffer from poor self esteem you probably are afraid of making mistakes or you expect to make mistakes and therefore let others decide important things for you. The problem with that is that they bring their own baggage to your decision making and may be making bigger mistakes with your life than you would ever make! Your life will never feel genuine to you until you call the shots, mistakes and all.
- Face the fears-You may live in fear of many things. Decisions, as discussed above are usually a biggie. There is also the fear of being alone, being unloveable, doing things on your own, or just facing life in general. You may be so afraid that you are completely overwhelmed. It is ok to have fear but you cannot allow it to run your life. We all have some degree of fear and that is healthy. Too much is not healthy. You can be afraid of something but do it anyway.
- Ask yourself the right questions-Instead of asking yourself why you are depressed or how you came to be depressed or anxious, or why you are unloveable, ask yourself how you can eliminate these destructive emotions. Ask yourself how emotionally healthy people look at life or relationships or whatever you are struggling with and learn from them. Ask yourself what you can do everyday to feel better. Learning new emotional skills is what will help you turn the corner.
- Eliminate Cognitive Distortions-I also call these dysfunctional thinking patterns. These are ways of thinking that are nonproductive and actually inhibit you from seeing things in perspective. When the information you are taking in is not processed accurately then you are likely to experience an overly emotional reaction or an incorrect emotion, leading to more dysfunctional behavior or thoughts. One misperceived piece of information can lead to a downward spiral of mood and behavior, further lowering your self esteem.
You deserve a place in the world and the world deserves to hear your true voice, unencumbered by fear and low self-esteem. Allowing dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors to dictate and negate your life experience will never bring you joy. These thoughts and behaviors are again simply something you learned and they can be reprogrammed to a healthier way of living.
If you think that dysfunctional patterns are interfering with your life and self esteem please go to my website through the link below in my bio, take the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and download the Dysfunctional Thinking Patterns (Cognitve Distortions) free resource and checklist.
Feel Good For Life!