Low self-esteem, lack of confidence, poor self-image, these are some of the many ways to describe feelings of worthlessness. In my experience and research, I have come to a working conclusion that low self-esteem is at the core of many surface illnesses. Depression, codependency, lethargy, failure to thrive, low achievement, substance abuse, isolation, relationship issues, control issues, rage, arrogance, intolerance, parenting problems, frequent illness, stress and stress related illnesses and many others.
Those of us with chronic low self -esteem know that this illness is a demon that sits on our shoulder and constantly nags at us about our short-comings, failures, mistakes both real and imagined. It second guesses us, ridicules and enslaves us. We are distracted by the constant negative bombardment. We hear everything through this dirty filter. We misunderstand because our low self esteem twists comments, words, and conversation, actions and meanings. Every moment is an exhausting struggle because we carry this unbearable load. Ironically it can many years to recognize low self-esteem. We tend to develop unhealthy relationships in which we are shamed because we believe that is what we deserve.
I call low self-esteem an illness because it is debilitating and destructive. It is an illness also in that it has hope for remedies, treatments and cure. I can't prove that low self-esteem is genetic, but it only makes sense that infants born into homes where generations of people with low self esteem interact, it it will become part of the child's frame of reference. Low self is measurably developed in utero; a growing fetus can sense if she is loved and wanted. And even if she is loved, a mother who suffers from low self-esteem emits chemical signals to the baby, preparing the baby for an unfriendly world.
It is essential that we find remedies for healing low self esteem. There are many useful strategies for coping: diet, life management, yoga, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, drug therapy, stress management, counseling, relationship therapy, group work, hypnosis and more. I am going to focus on some techniques to put into practice immediately.
Remember that healing is a process; one day at a time. You can do all the aforementioned strategies but there is daily 'homework' and 'practice' that can only be done by you. These techniques if practiced faithfully will work little by little. Your self-esteem wasn't trashed over night and true recovery takes a long time. But you will be energized as you begin to feel better.
Pause and listen to the negative messages you send yourself. Learn to catch yourself and delete these messages. Generate some new positive images, memories and messages. Stop the old tapes and replay your new messages.
Learn to talk back. This works for yourself and with others. If you are hearing negative messages about yourself, answer back. Speak up for yourself to others and to yourself. Be your own best friend. Learn to enjoy your own friendship. When you catch yourself saying something not nice about yourself, talk back to that idea as if it was a person. 'No you are not fat and ugly. You are strong and attractive. You are not stupid. You are logical. You think things through.'
Remove yourself from 'dangerous' situations and people. Detach from cruel, selfish, hurtful people. No one can make you feel badly without your permission. If your group goes out after work and gets carried away verbally, find a new group. Get away from painful people. This may only need to be temporary, but it will help to salvage your self-esteem.
Don't put a red flasher on your car for everyone else's crises. Many of us have learned to 'give without counting the cost'. That's a misnomer. It is important to count the cost to yourself and your needs. There are people who thrive on chaos and crisis. Even in the occasional crisis, if it's not yours, think before you leap in to lend a hand. You aren't obligated to bail everyone else out, especially if it is of their own making. You don't have to be the designated emotional ambulance driver. Remember 'poor planning on their part does not constitute a crisis on your part'.
Stop volunteering to be a victim. Many of us who have chronic low self esteem, cannot bear for anyone around us to be angry. We are afraid we've failed. And God forbid they should act angry with us. Obviously we've really screwed up. Not necessarily. In fact probably not. Low self-esteemers go out of their way to be ultra nice, patient, forgiving,etc. Let them be angry, if you know you have done nothing hurtful. You don't have to join everyone in their misery. Even and especially loved ones. Don't buy into anger that's vengeful or chronic. Make a point of avoiding the angry outburst looking for a sacrificial lamb. Leave the room. Don't bite.
And let people own their feelings. I hear all the time, 'he doesn't like this' and 'it makes her angry when...' Let people feel their feelings, but don't stress out over what is essentially their problem. You can say, 'I'm sorry that happened' or something like that but don't apologize for yourself if you have done nothing wrong. I f they need to talk and you are willing to listen, make sure it stays objective and does not become personal attacks on you. Also, set a limit. Some people can't get out of a dump session and it spirals way out of control. If they can't move on, you can. And pat yourself on the back for being a good friend.
Discover what you need and get it for yourself. Stop taking such good care of others that you don't care for yourself. Nourish and comfort your mind, soul, body and spirit. I used to work right up until bedtime almost every day. I would fall asleep still doing something for someone.
I have begun to set a stop time. When that time comes, what didn't get done waits. I sit and read or do whatever I need to unwind.Take your time and be firm about it. If you've not done that before, others may be surprised or a little offended. Don't worry. Just do it. They'll get used to it if you do and if not, it's their problem.
Vent your frustrations. Call a caring friend. Go to your room for awhile. Go for a drive or walk and talk or scream it out away from others. Don't just smile and say I'm fine. If someone asks, you can say, no I'm not doing too well just now.' Be honest most of all with yourself. Don't cover it. Process it. Listen to yourself.
Encourage yourself. Progress seems slow sometimes. Give yourself a pat on the back for your hard work.
Lastly don't give up or give in. Keep trying. When you fall or fail, forgive yourself and start over.