Self-Esteem – How To Improve It

People with low self-esteem have what we used to call “an inferiority complex” and say or think negative things about themselves. They minimize their achievements and do not talk about them to others because they usually think other people are better than they are. They find it hard to accept compliments and are overly critical of themselves. Low self-esteem can be associated with low mood, anxiety, guilt, anger and loss of confidence.

Self-esteem is the value you put on yourself and is not the same as confidence because confidence can be acted out, but underneath you may still not believe in yourself.

You will be more successful if you take time to focus on yourself and be persistent with self-development and understanding. Remember your health and wellbeing is the most important thing in your life. You cannot help others, including your family, or achieve your own goals if you are unhappy or unwell.

People who do not take enough time to take care of themselves are often very nice people who always put others first to their own detriment. Quite often this starts in childhood and can be a learned behaviour. One child may be expected to quash their own needs for the sake of others in the family just to keep the peace. It is always instigated by one of the parents and sets up a dynamic that can last a lifetime. It can take a long time before someone feels comfortable saying a much needed “No.”

I find the topic of self-esteem a fascinating one as it affects our life’s potential in such a profound way. Self-esteem is based on the way you see yourself and the value you put on yourself and in reality can be such a fragile thing. I have found that self-esteem in many clever and talented people whom I know can be very low, although this may not be obvious.

In the modern world, many people base their self-esteem upon changeable and material things such as:

  • How successful they are in their career
  • How much money they make
  • How prestigious their work is
  • If they have full time and well-paid employment
  • How many friends they have
  • How many assets they have
  • How they look
  • Their body weight or shape
  • How society and their circle of associates and friends view them

Self-esteem is often incorrectly measured against the stereotypes of modern society. For example, a beautiful woman is portrayed in the media as incredibly slim and glamorous and able to afford fashionable clothes. This gives many young women an impossible standard to which they must aspire to feel attractive and therefore valued. This is the reason that we have such a high incidence of eating disorders in women, especially younger women. The condition of hating one’s own body and/or appearance is called “dysmorphophobia” and the desire to change one’s appearance becomes a self-obsession. This was seen quite dramatically in the continual surgery that the pop star Michael Jackson subjected himself to.

The media could do a lot to help overcome the stereotype of beauty and success by using more models and actors of different shapes, sizes and ages. Our society is very ageist and does not place enough value upon the experiences and the ability of older people.

Paradoxically, self-esteem problems are far more common in young people who in reality are in the physical and mental prime of their lives. Young people often turn to drugs and alcohol to overcome their low self-esteem and present a brave front to the world.

Many problems with low self-esteem originate in childhood where our self-image is shaped. Parents and teachers need to become more sensitive to the children they have and educate, so that self-esteem issues can be picked up early. Children need to be given positive feedback on a continual basis so that their opinions and concerns are listened to. If a child develops a behavioural problem or inexplicable physical symptoms such as poor sleep, abdominal cramps or peculiar symptoms such as hair pulling or strange muscular movements, it is important to realize that this could be a sign of hidden anxiety or depression. Children need to be told positive things about themselves, and their unique personality and characteristics should be encouraged. Broken families, abandonment and sexual abuse issues are situations where self-worth may become severely damaged. In such cases extra care and counselling are vital.

Techniques for improving self-esteem

Interestingly, I have observed that it is often the nicest people who suffer from low self-esteem. This may be associated with depression and anxiety and feelings of guilt. It is common to find that those with poor self-worth often feel guilty or ashamed and may believe incorrectly that they are responsible for the problems of other people in their family or circle of friends. Conversely, most mass murderers such as Hitler had huge egos and never suffered any guilt for the suffering they caused.

True self-esteem is not based upon how others value you; it is based upon the value you put on yourself as a human being.

For those with poor self-esteem, it can be hard for helpers to break down the emotional and mental barriers and get inside the person to change their way of thinking. This is because as Sigmund Freud first described, the mind is like an iceberg, and as we are only consciously aware of the tip of this iceberg, hidden below the surface of the water is the subconscious mind where the past and the present interact with our deepest needs and ideals. Our ideals and morals are based upon the “good person” that we have been educated via religion and society, to become.

In contrast, the part of our subconscious mind that is seething with need and desire wants to be satisfied. Our conscious mind is equipped with defence mechanism to negotiate and cope with the conflicting objectives of these two parts of our subconscious mind.

Defence mechanism can include:

  • Suppression of painful feelings and experiences
  • Conversion of painful feelings into physical symptoms
  • Rationalization of negative experiences

In the early days of modern-day psychiatry, we did not have pharmacological medications to influence the function of the mind. Professor Sigmund Freud developed the technique of medical hypnosis to relax his subjects. This enabled him to reach into their subconscious mind. This is how he was able to discover that the mind was like an iceberg with the subconscious mind holding the key to a greater understanding of human behaviour.

Today medical hypnosis is a well-recognized and respected specialty and has been able to help many people who suffer with low self-esteem. It can also help with eating disorders. Your local doctor or a professional counsellor is the best person to refer you to a hypnotherapist.

Improve your general health by following a regular exercise program and eating a healthy diet. This will improve your energy levels and is the beginning of self-respect for your body. It will give you a sense of being in control of your life if you see your energy levels and appearance improve as a result of your own efforts. Take the time for your body to become healthier, which may take some organizational planning. The number one priority is your health.

Don’t waste too much time stressing about other people’s behaviour, as this will take time away from you improving your physical and mental health. It is very easy to become stressed and frustrated by the actions and words of others, and you find yourself expending lots of energy trying to change other people. You will find that if you put this same energy into improving yourself, that you will see much greater benefits in your life.

If you are overweight, contact someone who specializes in weight control such as our Weight Loss Detectives. Then you can learn to understand the emotional and physical reasons that keep you overweight. Perhaps you are hiding behind a protective coat of armor in the form of fat?

Make the best of what you have got – in other words, if you have nice skin, enhance it with a good moisturizer and makeup. Wear clothes that highlight your good features and are an expression of yourself. Dress to please yourself and not others. If you are the cuddly type, then enjoy it, as it is not always flattering to appear too thin, especially as you get older.

Start to live your life as an expression of yourself and not as an explanation. It is impossible to please all the people all the time, and if you are not happy within yourself, then you will find it harder to cope with demands from others.

Direct communication with other human beings is VERY important and it is wise to seek out the company of positive and happy people. If you have a need to express yourself on a deeper level, seek out the services of a good counsellor or psychiatrist. It is not a stigma to do this, as most people who visit these professionals do not have a “mental illness” but rather just need to be able to communicate with someone who can be objective and has the training to be able to pinpoint the problem areas.

Think about taking up something new and perhaps challenging, which could be a physical, creative or an intellectual pursuit that you have always wanted to do, but thought that perhaps could be too difficult for you. This will develop a new extension of your old self and increase your confidence.

If you suffer from a severe form of anxiety and low self-esteem that is resistant to all non-pharmacological therapies, then talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about anti-depressant medications called Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which increase the level of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Many people with poor self-esteem, anxiety and/ or depression have very low levels of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and biogenic amines) in their brains. This is a chemical imbalance and has little to do with willpower or the power of positive thinking. If you have such a chemical imbalance, it may become worse over time, especially if you find that environmental stresses remain high.

Clinical trials have found that the use of the SSRI anti-depressant drugs can:

  • Overcome shyness
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Reduce anxiety and depression

SSRI medications when used in low doses do not slow you down or cause a reduction in mental performance. Indeed, reducing anxiety enables better concentration and this improves the intake of information and memory.