For Melanie Fennell, a British clinical psychologist, self-esteem is a short-hand for the collection of beliefs you have about yourself and the type of person that you are. When our self-esteem is positive then we often believe that we are good enough to manage the challenges we come across at work, with friends or in our relationships. When our self-esteem is low, we often believe that we are not of value, we are only as good as what people tell us or only as important as the work that we produce. When our self-esteem is low we often don’t value or appreciate ourselves as human beings.
Research over the last forty years has found that low self-esteem is associated with negative day-to-day behaviour, emotions, physical well-being, lower school and work achievement, poorer personal relationships, engagement with leisure activities or how well we look after ourselves.
These negative beliefs about ourselves often develop from negative early life experiences. The experience of being overly punished or emotionally ignored as a child, often leaves us believing that we are not good enough, or not worthy of love. Failing to meet high parental standards leaves us believing that we are only of value if we can achieve highly. Failing to meet peer group standards can leave us feeling that we are different and do not belong. Our self-esteem can drop later in life, if we have repeated experiences of failing, experience workplace bullying or abusive or negative relationships.
Out of these experiences, we often develop unconscious “rules for living” such as we should always work hard or we should never lose our temper. But there is a problem in this. In reality, we won’t always work hard; sometimes we will lose our temper. We are only human. But when we are critical of these moments of humanity, then our self-esteem just gets lower and lower. We become the bully in our day-to-day life that we might have experienced in our early life.
So what can we do? Because, low self-esteem builds up over years, it can take a long-time to improve it, but here are five quick tips to get you started.
1) Enhance self-acceptance
Start with a pen and paper. Write down what positive qualities you possess. Notice as you start this exercise the urge to move away the thoughts that pop in that say: this is stupid or how unnatural it feels to be saying something positive about yourself. Notice these urges to criticise and write something positive anyway. It doesn’t have to earth-shattering. If you bake a good brownie, then you bake a good brownie.
– Dr Keith Gaynor
Read more: Five Ways to Build Your Self-Esteem
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