The Moany Bit
I’m going to start with my take on self-esteem. Self-esteem is really important. And I mean REALLY important. In my professional experience, low self-esteem is at the heart of almost all the problems that my clients have seen me about. I’m not in any way saying that self-esteem is everything, or that improving it is a cure-all because it’s not. But it is crucial.
Why is it important? Low self-esteem is the little bugger that can come back to bite you in the months or years after finishing counselling. It can sit there, deep in your mind, slowly chipping away at all of the progress that you’ve made, until you feel entirely rubbish again.
Improving self-esteem isn’t always easy, and it can often be time-consuming, which is why a significant number of counsellors and clients don’t work on it. Improving self-esteem usually comes towards the end of the counselling work, after we’ve dealt with the current problems. This is half the trouble. Because we’ve dealt with the current issues, and because counselling is both costly and time-consuming, a lot of clients prefer to end counselling and get on with their lives. And that’s okay if it’s what they want to do and is entirely understandable. Who wants to keep paying me £50 a week, having discussions and doing homework that are uncomfortable, when they feel okay without it? Unfortunately, those clients also tend to be the clients who phone me in 6-12 months asking for some more sessions.
I would never tell a client what to do or try to keep them in counselling for longer than they need to be, but please trust me when I say by resolving self-esteem you have a much better chance of feeling happier for longer.
The Boring Bit: What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is all about how we view and feel about ourselves. We can have high (good) self-esteem or low (bad) self-esteem. If you have high self-esteem, you’ll generally feel positively about yourself. If you have low self-esteem, you’ll probably feel quite rubbish about yourself most or all of the time.
Self-esteem influences how much you like or dislike yourself, how you feel in social situations, how you treat yourself, and how confident you are.
Low self-esteem usually starts in childhood or teenage years, but it can develop in adulthood. Many things can cause low self-esteem, including:
- Having a difficult relationship with a parent or other family member
- Being bullied
- Struggling at school, college or university
- Feeling out of your depth at work
- Experiencing long-term stress
- Experiencing one or more traumatic events
- Having physical health problems
Low self-esteem is horrible to live with (trust me, I’ve been there!), but it isn’t classed as a mental health problem on its own.
There’s a lot of crossover between how low self-esteem feels, and how we feel when we’re experiencing other problems such as an eating disorder or anxiety. You may feel like:
- You’re worthless and unimportant
- You may blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault (and so always say sorry for things)
- You may hate yourself (this may sound extreme if you haven’t experienced it, but I hear it a lot)
- Believing that you won’t succeed at anything because you’re not good enough.
Self-esteem works on a feedback loop. Our brains constantly look for evidence to support what we believe about ourselves. For example, if I think that I’m good at my job, my brain will focus on the evidence that shows I’m good at my job. I’ll remember the sessions that went well, remember the clients who had the most improvement, and the positive things that people have said to me.
If I believe that I’m bad at my job, my brain will look for evidence to support that. I’ll remember the sessions that went badly or where I made mistakes (which I’ll be self-critical about), and I’ll look for the negative in any feedback that I receive.
The truth about life is that we cannot, and are not, all good or all bad. We’re all somewhere in the middle, but our beliefs about ourselves warp our perceptions.
The Practical Bit: How Do We Improve Self-Esteem?
As I said before, improving self-esteem takes time. There is no magic bullet that’ll improve your self-esteem overnight. You need to consistently challenge the negative thoughts that you have about yourself and practise seeing the positive.
Here are some ideas for things you can do:
- Write down every compliment that you receive, even if you don’t believe them. Keep the compliments in a journal, in a jar or an envelope and read back through them whenever you’re feeling rubbish about yourself.
- Compliment yourself and record them. Write down your achievements, no matter how small the critical voice tells you they are (that voice is lying to you!) and read back through them regularly.
- Practise gratitude (there are loads of gratitude ideas on my Instagram and Facebook pages from earlier this year, just scroll back through the images until you find them).
- Compliment other people. Sharing the love helps us to feel better, and reciprocity means that other people are then more likely to give you positive feedback.
- Challenge your critical thinking. I wrote another blog about that which you can find here.
Remember, improving your self-esteem takes time, but it is so worth it!