Life is often a demanding struggle, requiring great courage and strength; the lower your self-esteem, the harder that struggle will be. And the effects of poor self-esteem on the individual, the family, even the wider society, can hardly be overstated. Violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, poor academic achievement, inability to hold down a job, such things can often be traced back to a sense of worthlessness. Prisons and addiction centers are filled with people who do not believe they are worth anything better.
So what is self-esteem? In essence, it can be reduced to two things: a sense of competence and a sense of worthiness. People with healthy self-esteem believe in themselves. They feel they can rely upon themselves. And when they go out into the world each morning, they do so believing they will cope with any challenges that come their way. People with strong self-esteem also feel worthy of happiness, love, and pleasure — of life itself. Children who never felt loved or wanted, by contrast, often grow up feeling their presence in the world is somehow unjustified.
1) Don’t turn a small failure into a general truth about yourself. Everyone fails at some point, but people with poor self-esteem use a failure (in an exam for example) as an opportunity for self-torture: “why do I fail at everything? God, I am so stupid. I bet everyone else beat me” and so on. Try to rationalize such failures and place them in context.
2) Beware of extremist thinking. Many people make simplistic, black and white statements about themselves. They will say, for example, “I never win at anything. I always lose”, or “No one likes me”. Be aware of this. For many, such ways of thinking are unconscious and automatic.
3) Remember, no one is universally liked. Even the funniest, cleverest, most charming individual has been disliked by someone — even if only for being too perfect!
4) Everyone fails. You must learn to see failure not as a dreadful vindication of your useless, incompetent self, but as an inevitable part of life. It may be a cliche, but so-called winners are not the ones who never fail, they are people who fail, then pick themselves up and keep going.
5) Learn to see thoughts not as facts but as something your brain does. All negative beliefs and thoughts are limited, relative interpretations. Get in the habit of standing back from negative, self-loathing thoughts and seeing them as something you do rather than ‘the truth’.
6) Do not adopt unrealistic goals. Alfred Adler, associate of Freud and the man who invented the phrase ‘inferiority complex’, found that patients with poor self-esteem developed unrealistic ambitions to compensate. So, for example, a bullied adolescent living in a small town may reassure herself that one day she’ll pay back those who mocked her, that she’ll move to New York, or London, or Paris and become a famous musician or artist. Adler argued that these ambitions are often so outlandish and unattainable that the individual can do nothing but fail, thus re-enforcing their view of themselves as feeble and incompetent.
Of course, something so fundamental as your self-esteem cannot be transformed over-night. No single article will ever be adequate, but the above tips are a good place to start. Commitment is the key.