The Problem of Low Self-esteem
Source: This essay was originally published in the book “Think Success, Essays on Self-help” by Jayaram V under the title, “How to Improve Your Self-esteem," and reproduced with publisher's permission.
Nandita came from Bangalore. When she was a child, she always felt bad when she had to travel by train in the economy class to visit her grandparents who lived in New Delhi. During her journeys, whenever she had to walk by a first-class coach, she would feel uneasiness and avoid looking at the passengers who were traveling inside. She did not know then that the people who traveled in them were not necessarily rich and might be travelling at the expense of their employers, customers, or the government. Her parents were rich enough to afford first class fare, but they wanted her to travel in the economy class and save money which could be used for a better purpose when she was with her grandparents. They also wanted her to know the value of money and the virtue of humility.
The economy class compartment was like a mini India on rails. It offered a grand spectacle of people from all wakes of life, who were hard working, spoke different languages, and accepted the conditions life offered to them with dignity and tolerance. When they saw a young person traveling alone, they readily offered whatever food and treats they had and made her feel at home in their company. However, none of it gave her solace as she felt that finding herself amidst them lowered her status, while she deserved to be in the first class with better people.
Nandita was a normal child. She grew up to become a chief technology officer in a prestigious technology company. She now travels regularly in the business class, and has lot of friends, and admirers. She still feels that her achievements are few, her looks are average, and she is not attractive enough to deserve a happy marriage or a good-looking husband. She constantly keeps looking for approval and appreciation from her peers and colleagues and feels depressed when it is not forthcoming. Nandita has all the things in the world, other can only dream of.
Yet, she is not comfortable with her achievements or her looks. Her problem is not about having or not having riches, status, or looks, but low self-esteem, which is common to many people, who feel limited by circum-stances and personal drawbacks and judge themselves negatively and rather harshly in their own esteem. They focus upon what they do not have or what they lack, which makes them unhappy. It is a burden, like the cross of Christ, which many people carry in their hearts for their whole lives. They suffer from an emptiness, an inner vacuum, that cannot be filled by any amount of riches or achievements. Since the problem is internal, they alone can resolve it.
Self-esteem is the way you feel about yourself, treat yourself and measure yourself against the standards set by society or your peers. It is how you define yourself and hold yourself in your own esteem and how you relate to the world and others. It is not only how you value yourself but also how you think others perceive you. Your self-esteem does not have to depend upon reality. It is what you make of it and how firmly you believe in it. In most cases, it is an illusion you solidify and preserve due to the value system and the authority of parents peers you replicate in yourself.
Without feeling good about yourself, it is painful and difficult to continue your existence. Everyone expects to be treated well, but most do not realize that more important than how others treat them is how they treat themselves and how much respect they give to their own thoughts and opinions. When you feel rejected or disapproved by your own judgment, you make life difficult for yourself and others. To avoid the feelings caused by it, you erect your own walls of defense, which makes it even more difficult to address the real problem and resolve it.
Your wellbeing, inner happiness, attitude, thinking, actions, expectations, relationships, failures, accomplish-ments, social skills, courage and confidence depend on your self-esteem. It influences the way you respond to your life's challenges, other people's opinions and your own inner critic, who keeps nagging to you constantly about how incomplete and inadequate you are according to the best standards he chooses for you. Your inner critic is your friend as well as your enemy. Whenever you make mistakes, his voice grows louder and he keeps reminding you how far you are from the ideal life and behavior you are expected to cultivate.
You may get away from unpleasant friends and relationships, stay away from threatening or disturbing situations, but you cannot escape from your core beliefs about yourself and your inseparable inner critic. Your experiences shape your values, beliefs, and the way you think and feel about yourself. In this regard, societal and parental influences play a crucial role. They create your inner critic and bring him to life, with commands and instructions that become part of his value system and thereby yours. Neither our education system nor our competitive environment directly addresses this problem.
Your self-esteem is a product of your circumstances. However, it does not mean that you can do nothing about it. You can improve your circumstances by improving your self-esteem. Here lies the hope as well as the solution. People with low self-esteem tend to show some of the following behavioral patterns.
- They develop low expectations about themselves.
- They believe that they do not deserve good life.
- They try to impress others, if necessary by putting themselves down.
- They are quick to blame themselves and feel guilty about it.
- They avoid taking risks, since they lack self-confidence.
- They suffer from fear of failure and fear of rejection.
- They seek the approval of others to compensate for their feelings of worthlessness.
- They give more weight to the opinion of others since they do not believe in themselves.
- They do not make effective leaders as they try to impress everyone.
- They become too defensive or aggressive in conflicts and discussions.
- They suffer from self-doubt, fear, anxiety and stress.
- They enter unhappy and unequal relationships.
- They find it hard to persevere and keep up their resolve.
- They react emotionally rather than rationally in difficult and challenging situations.
- They hesitate to express themselves honestly in the company of others.
- They rarely live in the present.
- They have a problem saying 'no' to others.
- They have a problem accepting 'no' from others.
- They are easy to influence, dominate and control.
- They accept low pay and unhappy work situations since they undersell themselves and settle for less.
- They are their own worst enemies, since they sabotage their success with self-destructive thoughts.
- They minimize their successes and exaggerate their failures, which reinforces their low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a product of experience and circumstances. Very early in your life you form an opinion about yourself, which stays with you and becomes a part of your consciousness. Unless you change your thinking and attitude, it remains there and influences the course and direction of your life. If a child's self-confidence is constantly eroded through mindless criticism, negative comments, ill treatment, and unjustified comparison with others, eventually the child would suffer from low self-esteem and carry that feeling into adult life. If parents discriminate between their children and show partiality, it can impair the self-esteem of those who are less favored as they attribute the reasons for their parents' partial behavior to their own inadequacies.
A person's self-esteem may fluctuate from time to time, depending upon circumstances. People who migrate to other countries, either as refugees or in search of livelihood, people who live as minorities in their own countries and suffer from social disabilities and discrimination, people who are deprived of their jobs or income or status by circumstances, may suffer from temporary loss of self-esteem. So is the case with people who go through a bad marriage or an unhappy divorce. Unless a person is equipped with optimism and resilience, repeated failures, setbacks and abuse by others will erode his or her self-esteem greatly.
Basic honesty and unconditional self acceptance are the keys to a healthy self-image. For someone who has been tormented for years by self-doubt and nagging poor self-image, such blessings are hard to come by. The process of restoring your self-esteem has to begin with a brutally honest self-evaluation, followed by a course of action that should be implemented honestly and sincerely with great commitment. The following are a few proven ways by which you can deal with the problem of low self-esteem.
- Believe firmly that you deserve a good life and you are entitled to the best things in life like anyone else. Developing this conviction is not easy, but it is the key to restore your self-esteem.
- Develop a list of your strengths and weaknesses, with complete honesty. Focus upon your strengths to boost your self-confidence and use them frequently to express yourself and remind yourself that you have talents and abilities which set you apart as an individual.
- Dispute with your inner critic with healthy rebuttals until they become automatic responses to any negative thought that may arise in your mind.
- Develop a healthy and flexible mindset to deal with failure and rejection, by refusing to take them personally.
- Avoid the language of musts and shoulds in your thinking and communication.
- Learn to take risks, with a positive mental attitude.
- Empower yourself, by taking small and incremental risks such as trying a new restaurant, talking to a stranger, asking someone for a date or speaking in public.
- Accept what you are and what you can do, without judging yourself harshly.
- Focus on your achievements and your blessings.
- Whatever you do, give your best, without being driven by the need to be perfect or correct. Focus on doing the task, rather than achieving the result.
- Let go of your past and the unpleasantness that exists in your mind about people and situations. Forgive those, who treated you rather unfairly in the past.
- Pay attention to your health and physical appearance and keep yourself physically fit.
- Use positive affirmations and visualization techni-ques to boost your confidence and self image.
- Learn to accept yourself unconditionally, suspen-ding your judgment.
- Keep your mind focused on positive thoughts.
- Specialize in some branch of knowledge, without the need to be prefect or impressive.
- Improve your professional skills, and general knowledge of places, people and human behavior. It will boost your self-confidence and social skills.
- Learn to deal with friends on your terms as your equals, without expectations and the need to win their approval
- Cultivate assertiveness, either by reading self-help books about the subject or by taking class in assertive training.
- Avoid comparing yourself with others or the need to put down others to make yourself feel good.
- Practice mindfulness and learn to watch your actions and reactions, with complete awareness.
- Finish what you begin, however challenging may be the task.
- Read the biographies of people, who persevered during tough times, without losing faith in their abilities.
- Learn to love yourself unconditionally.
- Develop a nonjudgmental attitude, by controlling your habitual thoughts and reactions. Use the daily news or a similar program on television to cultivate nonjudgmental observation and awareness.
- Celebrate your success and learn from your failures.
- Help others, without expecting anything in return.
- Cultivate self-awareness, through observation and attentiveness.
- Get into action habit. Become more productive. Make yourself more useful to others. Find opportunities to prove your worth.
Self-esteem is all about feeling good about yourself and your achievements, without the compulsive feeling to impress others or depend upon them. You can achieve it by disputing with your inner critic, changing your rigid mindset, accepting yourself unconditionally, overcoming your obsession with perfection as compensatory behavior to impress others, suspending your judgment about yourself and the world, focusing upon your strengths, and learning to cope with your successes and failures with a positive mental attitude. Most important of all, you should believe that you are unique human being, with many strengths, skills, and positive qualities, who deserve a better life and the comforts the world has to offer. No one can make your feel anything unless you accept it and allow it to happen. No one can make you feel inferior or unworthy, unless you accept it and believe in it. Your beliefs and attitude are important to your self-esteem. Therefore, follow the guidelines mentioned here to empower yourself and rebuild your self-esteem, strength and confidence to manifest the destiny for which you are born.
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