The most important quality necessary for success in one's relationship, work, friendships and life, is self-esteem, and the outcome of every significant thing we do in our life is determined to a very large degree by this factor. As a therapist, one of the most common problems I deal with in counseling people are feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.
Self-esteem is what people think about themselves-their own evaluation. People with high self-esteem generally feel they are lovable and competent, and have something to offer others. People with low self-esteem lack confidence, feel inadequate and have thoughts such as “If she knew what I was really like deep down inside, she wouldn't want to be with me,” or: "If they knew how inadequate I am, they wouldn't have hired me for this job.”
Self-esteem and self-confidence go hand in hand, so people who have low self-esteem are generally also subassertive and afraid to speak up for their needs. Or, in contrast, they may overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy by appearing arrogant, or adopt a “know it all” attitude as a cover-up for feeling they ’re really not okay.
How does our self-esteem develop? It’s the result of the feedback we received from our parents, siblings, teachers, relatives, peers, society and perhaps even the church, as we were growing up. A little child does not, of course, know who she is, and her personality is formed as a result of the statements which are made to her by the significant people in her life. If mommy or daddy constantly say things such as “You're really stupid!” "You can't do anything right!” "You'll never amount to anything," our self-esteem becomes impaired. Thus, a major influence in the formation of our self-worth is the atmosphere in the home, and is the result of internalized judgments about the way important people respond to us. Children also apply their own judgments to themselves, particularly if they experience loss early in life, such as divorce, or the death of a parent. A child tends to blame himself for such events and feel "mommy or daddy didn't love me or they would never have left me.”
Another major factor in the development of self-confidence is our experience in school, and the success or lack of it that we had both academically and interacting with our peers. A person who has had negative feedback about her academic ability as a child can experience a lack of self-esteem throughout life, despite later successes that clearly display the individual’s capability.
So many of the people in our lives, especially in childhood, chipped away at our self-esteem in so many little ways that eventually we began not to love ourselves anymore, not to respect ourselves, not to trust ourselves. And how can we love, respect and trust another when we cannot give this to ourselves? Finally, after a lifetime of such assaults on our self-worth, our inner critic takes over and mercilessly accuses, threatens and torments us in an interminable inquisition that makes us feel guilty for even the most trivial offenses. Thus, even as adults, still striving to win our parents’ approval, we measure our worth, not by our true value, but by the critical parental voice lurking in the depths of our subconscious. Thoughts that are buried in the subconscious are more powerful than those of which we are consciously aware. A major step towards the development of self-esteem is to fully realize that the negative evaluations about who we were in childhood, given to us by our parents, teachers and peers, usually have very little to do with the person we actual ly are.
Here are some suggestions for increasing your self-esteem.
* The first step is to make an objective appraisal of ourselves based on our own knowledge of the kind of person we really are; not judging ourselves harshly, but evaluating ourselves the way we would a dear friend. Take an inventory of what you’re good at, and acknowledge your abilities and strengths. Then, praise yourself for the positive aspects, and begin working on correcting any negative ones.
* One of the most important ways to improve self-esteem is to always talk kindly to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a lover, and never, never call yourself names, or denigrate yourself for your actions. Make it a habit to give yourself at least one compliment every single day, and acknowledge and praise yourself verbally. If you don’t do it, chances are no one else will.
* Whenever you achieve a victory, no matter how small, be sure and praise yourself for it. Appreciating our baby steps helps increase our self-confidence and encourages us to move on to bigger victories.
Increasing Your Self-Esteem, Marta Hiatt
* Stop fearful thoughts before they get embedded. Whenever one comes up, immediately replace it with a positive affirmation about yourself, such as, “I’m a capable person able to handle whatever problems life gives me.”
* Compliment others, and they in turn will want to compliment you. Finding the positive qualities of other people, helps us discover them within ourselves.
* Whenever you receive an email or note complimenting you, be sure to save it in a special file so that you can look at it frequently and remind yourself that others value you.
* Don’t let others take advantage of you! Learning to stand up for yourself will increase your confidence. If necessary, take an assertiveness training class.
* Brag a little. Instead of keeping your victories to yourself, share them with others and let people know you’re proud of your accomplishments.
* Finally, learn to relax. Try deep breathing when you feel anxious, or even meditate regularly to keep calm.
Following these suggestions will go a long way to increasing your self-esteem and appreciating yourself for who you really are!
Marta Hiatt, Ph.D has a doctorate in Psychology and is a retired California State Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is author of “Mind Magic, Techniques for Transforming Your Life,” and “Memories of Times Past, a Nostalgic Collection of Stories and Photos Recalling the 20th Century.” www.northernstarpress.com