Self-es­teem es­sen­tial

Voice in head needs to get on pos­i­tive track

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

HAVE you ever looked in the mir­ror and didn’t like what you saw? Have you ever felt un­happy with your­self, and the feel­ing lin­gered for days? Do you of­ten com­pare your­self with oth­ers and feel you are not good enough? Are you con­stantly telling your­self you’re stupid or can’t do any­thing right? Or, have you been ter­mi­nated from a job and chas­tised your­self, think­ing you must be a fail­ure?

If these de­scrip­tors match some of your thoughts and you are con­sis­tently re­peat­ing these de­struc­tive words, you are prob­a­bly suf­fer­ing from low self-es­teem and a lack of self-con­fi­dence.

Low self-es­teem oc­curs when in­di­vid­u­als have low opin­ions of them­selves. They judge them­selves in a neg­a­tive light, con­stantly put them­selves down and de­value their over­all be­ing.

As a re­sult, they may shrink from reach­ing out to oth­ers and be­come fol­low­ers in­stead of lead­ers. They may feel they are vic­tims and brush off any pos­i­tive com­ments. At the ex­treme end, they may be sad and de­pressed, and be­come so neg­a­tive about them­selves and life in gen­eral they turn away po­ten­tial friends who can’t deal with their neg­a­tive views. They may even dress the part, in that they don’t look af­ter their phys­i­cal well­be­ing ei­ther.

On the other hand, some in­di­vid­u­als with low self-es­teem work so hard you may think they are over­achiev­ers. They fear fail­ure and push them­selves to per­form, yet they will qui­etly crit­i­cize their work, be­cause noth­ing is good enough. At the same time, this type of in­di­vid­ual will en­gage in sig­nif­i­cant dress-for-suc­cess ini­tia­tives to put on a show for the out­side world. They need to ap­pear to be per­fect in pub­lic, but when they are at home they may drink to ex­cess to drown their sor­rows.

It is nat­u­ral for an in­di­vid­ual to lose some self-es­teem when they lose a job, get di­vorced or lose out on a pro­mo­tion. How­ever, it is not nat­u­ral to lose your self-es­teem and self-con­fi­dence for a long pe­riod of time. If that’s the case, it’s time to seek help. You need to fight and com­bat your neg­a­tive thoughts. That’s be­cause self-es­teem is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal and es­sen­tial for your long-term psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing and your sur­vival in the work world.

In or­der to move for­ward and re­gain self-es­teem, you need to rec­og­nize what is re­ferred to by psy­chol­o­gists as the “patho­log­i­cal critic.” This is es­sen­tially the “voice” or in­ner di­a­logue that goes on in your head. This is the voice that un­der­mines your self­worth on a daily ba­sis. It whis­pers those neg­a­tive words and phrases into your ear.

You might even be able to rec­og­nize this in­ner voice. It will be an adult fig­ure from your early life such as your mother, father, teacher or re­li­gious fig­ure. No mat­ter what, the voice is al­ways toxic and blam­ing, and al­ways puts you down. Your task is to over­come this crit­i­cal in­ner voice and re­place neg­a­tive com­ments with pos­i­tive state­ments. The fol­low­ing three strate­gies will give you a good start.

First, work on mak­ing an ac­cu­rate self­assess­ment of your­self by jot­ting down all the fea­tures of your phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, how you re­late to oth­ers, your per­son­al­ity and your cur­rent per­for­mance at school and/ or work. Doc­u­ment what you know peo­ple think of you. Make a list of your strengths and ar­eas of chal­lenge.

More im­por­tantly, make a list all the pos­i­tive things you can think about your­self. Ex­am­ine your achieve­ments, no mat­ter how small. Look at the chal­lenges you have over­come. Ex­am­ine prob­lems you have re­solved. Ask your friends what pos­i­tives they can iden­tify. Start a jour­nal of pos­i­tive think­ing. Sim­ply through list­ing pos­i­tive de­scrip­tors, you will start to ex­pe­ri­ence an in­crease in your self-es­teem. Keep track of pos­i­tive things that hap­pen ev­ery day, and en­ter them in your jour­nal.

Se­condly, as you were grow­ing up, you adopted a set of rules and as­sump­tions learned from your par­ents and other adult fig­ures. Look at your rules for suc­ceed­ing in school and at work, for de­vel­op­ing and sus­tain­ing friend­ships and for hav­ing fun. Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to state­ments that use the words “should” or “ought to.” As soon as you hear these words, you know they are rules. Make a list of rules that no longer ap­ply and which you want to chal­lenge.

De­ter­mine where these out­dated rules came from and why you feel they no longer ap­ply to your cur­rent life. Think care­fully about what rules would pro­vide you with a more flex­i­ble and bal­anced life. Once you chal­lenge and re­write a per­sonal rule, plan to put it into ac­tion. Then, the next time a neg­a­tive thought from your crit­i­cal in­ner voice at­tacks, you can rec­og­nize the neg­a­tiv­ity and stop it in its tracks. It takes prac­tice, but it works.

A third strat­egy for over­com­ing a lack of self-es­teem is to prac­tice vi­su­al­iza­tion. Ath­letes do this all the time. They see them­selves rac­ing across the fin­ish line. They vi­su­al­ize them­selves stand­ing on the award podium with the gold medal. Vi­su­al­iza­tion is a pow­er­ful and proven tech­nique any­one can learn. And the rea­son it works is our minds and body re­act to imag­i­nary scenes the same way they do with real ex­pe­ri­ences. In other words, your sub­con­scious mind does not make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween real and imag­i­nary.

Self-es­teem is crit­i­cally im­por­tant for suc­cess in life. When a per­son suf­fers from long-term low self-es­teem, it is typ­i­cally the re­sult of years of con­di­tion­ing and/or a sud­den trau­matic event. But no mat­ter what, low self-es­teem can in­deed be over­come. For those who have suf­fered a long-term lack of self-es­teem, I rec­om­mend get­ting pro­fes­sional help.

For those who have ex­pe­ri­enced an un­for­tu­nate trauma such as job loss or miss­ing a pro­mo­tional op­por­tu­nity, per­haps talk­ing with a coun­sel­lor and/or read­ing about self­es­teem in a self-help book is all you might re­quire. How­ever, if low self-es­teem lingers, please get pro­fes­sional help.

One of the most im­por­tant things to keep in mind is each of us needs to con­tin­u­ally self-mon­i­tor our moods and our thoughts. We need to be very much aware of how we think, how we be­have and why we be­have in a cer­tain man­ner. When we rec­og­nize this, we can suc­cess­fully man­age our ca­reer and our per­sonal lives. Re­mem­ber, you are what you think.

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