One of the most frequent issues people bring when they make enquiries at Birmingham Counselling Services is how to deal with low self-esteem. We hope that this article will give you some insight into the ways of dealing with it.
We all need self-confidence – it supports us throughout our lives, and especially when we find ourselves in awkward or difficult places, those circumstances where we feel undermined because we don’t know what to do or where to start. We need to remember that there are ways that we can give ourselves a boost. First of all we can make sure that we know exactly what it is we want to tackle, so that we can avoid general and unwarranted panic. We should try to be very specific. It helps to write down whatever the task is, and then break it down into small steps – make a list. It is much easier and less overwhelming to take one step at a time, and it undermines the daunting power of the whole activity. When we have completed the first step and crossed it off the list we deserve to congratulate ourselves before moving on to the second. (NB: Keep crossing off steps as they are completed – it reminds you that you are successfully dealing with the situation. And don’t be afraid to change the order on the list, or to omit or change steps if they become unnecessary. As we work through a complex problem it very often becomes simpler.) Keep the completed lists of crossed-off steps in a file called ‘Achievements’, and watch it grow.
How do you see yourself? Do you keep putting yourself down? By constantly underestimating yourself you undermine yourself further. Do you blame yourself whenever something goes wrong in your life? It won’t do you any good. Try not to beat yourself up – after all, it is unusual for anything to be wholly one person’s fault (do you really have that much power in the world?) – and try not to dwell on the negative – most events have a positive aspect too. (So it’s raining – plants don’t have to be watered. There’s a power cut – while you are surviving by candle-light you are not paying for electricity. Silly examples perhaps, but they can show you what we mean.) Don’t let a superstitious fear get in your way: “If I acknowledge that I have done something right it will immediately make everything else go wrong. If things start to go wrong it will be because I deserve it.” If you allow yourself to see the whole picture, positives too, it should help you to feel more stable and secure.
Of course other people can have a great impact on how we see ourselves, improving or damaging our self-image. Too much negative criticism can be very harmful, so try to keep your distance from those who are always criticising, and if possible spend time with those you trust who see your good qualities and strengths and are able to name them. The belief in you held by these people can be a powerful tool in restoring and strengthening your self-belief.
Try to remember that you are unique, that you can and do have an impact on the world and other people in it, and that this impact might even be positive!
How do you react to the random events in your life? Try to consider yourself as a unique person with your own special place in the world. Then you will be able to start developing more positive attitudes, beliefs and values, qualities that can give you the self-confidence to take on new challenges. Don’t worry about the effect this might have on others. It is remotely possible (if very unlikely) that if you succeed at this you might even become over-confident, and stop listening to what others say. This won’t happen if you are able to listen to criticism, reject the spiteful and exaggerated, and filter out and note any points that might help you, for inner reflection later.
Try to become aware of your automatic responses when you are faced with a challenge. Do you immediately think “I can’t do that. I don’t know enough. I don’t have the skills” etc? Try to notice and challenge these assumptions. Remind yourself about your Achievements file of lists with steps crossed off. You have succeeded in the past and you can and will succeed in the future.
You could choose to keep a note of things that go well for you – another possibility for your Achievements file or for a notebook that you carry with you. Jot down what you have succeeded at and include anything which at first seemed challenging, even things as simple as finding the courage to ask a stranger for directions. One day you should also be able to make a list of your strong points, your skills and good qualities – you do have them – and celebrate them. Be very careful about the words you use: not so much of “I’m not bad at . . .” and more of “I’m good at . . . “ And it’s fine to start with one point on the list – what is important is to start.
You are doing nothing wrong and everything right if you recognise your own strengths and name them.
We hope that you have found this article helpful, and we would welcome feedback. If you feel that you need external support in getting to grips with this very sensitive issue please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team at Birmingham Counselling Services, on 0121 314 9903. Alternatively you can send us a message through the contact page on this website, where you found the article: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk