You know that inner voice you sometimes hear, the one telling you not to share that hilarious joke with a group of friends because its really not that funny? Or maybe it tells you that you won’t do a good job on that work presentation, even though you’ve been preparing for weeks? It’s that inner voice that slowly but surely breaks down your confidence every time you want to do something.
So you eventually cave and do as the inner voice tells you. You no longer contribute to conversations because what you have to share is not cool, funny or smart. You don’t volunteer to do things anymore because someone else will always do better than you. The thought of failing at every task makes you isolate yourself more and more. It feels like nothing you do is good enough. And heck - if someone praises you, rather than feeling happy, you feel like an imposter.
That Negative Inner Voice
Here is the good news. You aren't ''crazy'' because we all have that inner voice. At times, it can seem like that negative voice is the loudest and most prominent, and therefore, the most true. But the first step in dealing with it is figuring out where it’s coming from. That negative internal voice ties into the concept of self-esteem. If you’ve got low self-esteem, chances are you probably experience a lot of negative self-talk, which gets in the way of your confidence and makes your anxiety worse.
So What Is Self-Esteem, Anyway?
Thankfully, researchers have been studying the concept of self-esteem for decades so we have a pretty good idea of what it is and what it isn’t. Self-esteem is one part of our self-image – the way we see ourselves. In simple terms, self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves: are we good enough?
I often tell my clients, place your emotions on a rating scale (see image below). If you get a bad review at work, chances are you are feeling quite low, putting you a 2/10 on the scale. On the other hand, if you get a promotion, you are probably feeling a solid 12/10. Similarly, self-esteem exists on a scale as well. A person with healthy self-esteem is confident, self-assured, and accepts both their strengths and weaknesses. Someone with lower self-esteem often feels worthless, has a negative opinion of themselves and is ashamed of their weakness and discounts their strengths.
Signs You May Have Low Self-Esteem
1. Feeling that you’re not good enough, no matter how hard you try
2. The belief that other people are always better than you
3. Often using negative words to describe yourself (stupid, dumb, useless, annoying)
4. Difficulty accepting compliments
Fun fact: our self-esteem starts developing in early childhood. As a kid, learning what’s right and wrong, getting rewarded for good behaviours and punished for bad ones, interacting with our parents, teachers and friends – it all contributes to the way we feel about ourselves.
Why Do We Even Need Self-Esteem?
It turns out that having a healthy level of self-esteem is important because it affects our overall well-being, our job performance, life satisfaction, and our relationships. It also serves as a protective factor against the trials and tribulations of everyday life, protecting and maintaining our mental health. As dramatic as that may sound, research suggests that having greater levels of self-esteem protects us from anxiety. Any time our self-esteem is threatened, there’s a chance that we’ll feel anxious.
Self-Esteem: A Shield Against Anxiety
Think of self-esteem like a shield: a strong shield will protect you against everyday challenges - failing a test, getting yelled at by your boss or having a fight with your significant other. A stronger shield will protect your self-worth, prevent you from internalizing the negativity of these issues and in turn, decrease the potential anxiety you may feel. With a weaker shield (i.e., lower self-esteem), your self-worth will take a hit, you may internalize these “failures”, which increases your level of anxiety.
On top of that, research tells us that those with lower self-esteem are more likely to exhibit physiological symptoms of anxiety (increased heart rate, nervousness, insomnia, hand trembling).
Can Having Anxiety Cause Low Self-Esteem?
So we know that low levels of self-esteem cause anxiety, but what about the other way around? Can having an anxiety disorder cause someone to have lower self-esteem?
Research suggests that if you tend to be an anxious person, you’re more likely to have poor self-esteem. In fact, anxiety in social situations can cause significant damage to one’s self-esteem and vice-versa. For example, if you have social anxiety, you may internally criticize your behaviour as you interact with friends or colleagues. You judge yourself harshly, thereby lowering your self-esteem.
Additionally, you may seek and prefer negative social feedback that proves your negative self-judgments. Say, if no one laughs at a joke you just told, you may think “wow, this is proof that I’m not funny at all. I should never speak in public again,” instead of “I guess that joke wasn’t as funny as I thought. Oh well, better luck next time.” This sounds counterintuitive, but it can be easier to feed that negative inner voice than to find the strength to challenge it. This further lowers your self-esteem, thereby causing you more anxiety.
So How Exactly Do I Improve My Self-Esteem?
It sounds like self-esteem is kind of a big deal, but how are you supposed to improve something like that?
Think of increasing your self-esteem like working out – it will take a little bit of time at first and be challenging, and you may not want to do it like, but you’ll be glad you did. Working on building your self-esteem, increasing your self-worth and turning your negative inner voice into a more realistic one will take time and effort.
Lets look at some ways on how you can work on that self-esteem.
7 Ways To Improve Your Self-Esteem
1. Start tracking the number of negative self-judgments
Every time you call yourself stupid or think “I can’t do anything right”, mark it on a sheet of paper or on your phone. This will give you an idea of the number of times you judge yourself. Most times we don't even realize how often we negatively judge ourselves.
2. Track the "most common" judgments
Once you have started to log how often you judge yourself, the next step is to make a list of your judgments. Do you find yourself often saying "I am so stupid" or "I can't do anything right"?
By making a note of the negative self-judgments, you will start to notice a theme for your most common judgments.
3. Challenge the negative self-judgments
Once you have completed steps 1 and 2 (track the number of times you judge yourself and list your judgments). Challenge them by writing positive words/phrases that you can also describe yourself with, like “I’m a kind person” or “I have a lot of people in my life who care about me”.
Start by just listing 1 positive phrase a day. Try this 3-5x a week.
4. Instead of looking for negative criticism, learn to accept positive feedback
If you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to hyper-focus on negative feedback that confirms how you already feel about yourself. The next time someone gives you a genuine compliment, instead of brushing it off, thank them and pat yourself on the back.
5. Spend more time family and friends
Spending more time with people who you enjoy will help improve your mood and boost your confidence. Self-esteem is rooted in your social relationships, so seeking positive affirmations from your social circle can increase your self-worth and greatly improve the way you feel about yourself.
6. Be nice to yourself
It sounds simple, but how many of us are actually kind to ourselves? Give yourself the space to make mistakes, free of judgment and criticism. Learn to love yourself for who you really are, instead of who think you should be.
I know, it seems like a cop-out answer but a lot of research supports seeking treatment from a psychologist or psychotherapist to deal with low self-esteem and related mental health issues. Years of research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in particular has been especially helpful if you’re dealing with this issue.
More to come on Cognitive Behavior Therapy shortly, so be sure to subscribe to this blog on the top right corner of this page!
As I said before, the good news is that if you’re dealing with low self-esteem, you’re not alone. In fact, working towards improving your self-esteem can also help with other mental health problems you may be having, such as anxiety. No issue exists in isolation, and working to improve any aspect of your mental health will have a positive impact overall.
I hope this blog provides you easy access to information that can help you enhance your well-being. So if you have a question or would like to hear more about a topic, leave a comment below or flip me an email.
Until next time,
WellNest Psychotherapy Services