Self-esteem can drastically affect our mental health. When it’s at its worst it can cause you to indulge in poor relationships, drinking/substance abuse. On the other hand a high self-esteem, a high sense of worth, leads to a course of action that is good for your well-being.
So we have low self-esteem (low feelings of self worth) and high self-esteem (feelings of empowerment).
The term ‘self-esteem’ is about your own personal assessment of yourself, how you view yourself. You are possibly your worst critic. If you have a negative view of yourself then, clearly you will suffer with a low self-esteem. You won’t make the most of opportunities that may come your way. You have your dreams, maybe about a job, but there’s no point because someone with that low self-esteem would not get the job anyway. You wouldn’t contemplate asking that special person out on a date. That would be way out of your comfort zone.
However, it is entirely possible to develop and, more importantly, maintain a strong self-esteem, even if you have suffered from a low self-esteem for what seems like forever!
Self-esteem is all about how we process experiences in our life. If you constantly have negative thoughts its inevitable you will suffer with a low self-esteem, a low sense of worth.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can very quickly alter that thought pattern, giving you a really good sense of worth, a high self-esteem. You can re-programme your thoughts and experiences, processing them differently.
It’s important to recognise that your low self-esteem is not due to negative situations but rather the way they have been processed. If, for example, you were not successful in a job interview, although possibly disappointed, you could change the negative thought, for example, “I’ll never get the job I want” to “It’s their loss. I know that another company will value me and what I have to offer.”
To give an example of self-esteem, take Jim Stockdale, a US pilot during the Vietnam War. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war for a number of years. The conditions were terrible and there was little hope of being freed. Although it would seem that these events had a negative effect on him he dealt with it in his own way: to quote his own words: “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience in to the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Although this would seem to be an extreme example of self-esteem, it shows that it’s often not the experience that has the damaging effect, but the thought processes that go with it.
If you change that process, the outcome changes and so does your self-esteem.
Stockdale retired as a Vice Admiral in the 1970s and went on to be a vice-president candidate in the 1990s. He could not have done that if he suffered from low self-esteem, even so far as being constantly reminded of what he had done when he returned home.
It’s very useful, on a daily basis, to pick out three things that really matter to you; for example, family, work and personal life. It’s helpful to take a few minutes to process the positive aspects of each one from the past two weeks – your self-esteem is likely to be based on experiences from the recent events.
For example, I took my sister out to lunch last week and had a great time. This is processed as spending quality time with a special person in my life. That means I’ve added another brick in my brick wall of self-esteem.
Imagine you went fishing and didn’t catch anything. That could be interpreted as negative, thus a brick missing from my brick wall. However, if you were to think of it as an enjoyable relaxing time by a beautiful lake, that’s a positive experience in anyone’s book, hence a brick added.
Think of your self-esteem as that brick wall I just mentioned, with positive thoughts (even in the face of what seem like negative events) you would add bricks and mortar to the wall and this very much underpins your general mental health.
With each brick it becomes stronger, bigger… unlikely to crumble. In fact you are quite literally building your self-esteem. Along with that you gain confidence, self-worth and having a positive outlook. You are thriving.
Understanding self-esteem was, for me, key in understanding myself. Negative thought processes had very much lowered my self –esteem but by using the technique, along with others, developed by The Thrive Programme, it has empowered me to take control of this aspect of my mental health. It’s not been difficult.