Self-esteem is a wonderful but delicate thing. When our self-esteem is high, we feel more resilient, we're less vulnerable to anxiety and rejection, and less cortisol — the stress hormone — is released into our bloodstream. But improving self-esteem can be challenging, especially if we've experienced setbacks in the past.
There are different types of self-esteem. Scientists agree that our feelings of self-worth are global (how you feel about yourself) and specific (how you feel about yourself in specific roles, such as a parent or a cook).
Our self-esteem is ever changing. It fluctuates day to day and hour to hour. We might wake up feeling great about ourselves one day and insecure the next. We think of our self-esteem as being either generally good or bad but it’s much more fluid, shifting up and down based on internal feedback we give ourselves and external feedback from others.
So my goal is to work really hard for super high self-esteem… right? Well, higher self-esteem is not necessarily better. Your self-esteem should be high but not too high. Narcissists have high feelings of self-worth but their self-esteem is unstable. Small “insults” can make a narcissist feel terribly “wounded”. That is why people with stable self-esteem tend to be healthier psychologically. Higher is not necessarily better.
People with low self-esteem are resistant to positive feedback. Having low self-esteem makes us resistant to positive feedback that could improve our feelings of self-worth. When our self-esteem is low we feel unworthy of praise and get stressed by the hightened expectations.
Positive affirmations make people with low self-esteem feel worse. The very people with low self-esteem, who need positive affirmations most, tend to feel worse about themselves when they read them. When a statement falls too far outside our belief system we tend to reject it.
Don’t critisize yourself. We are generally harder on ourselves when we shouldn’t be. When our self-esteem is low self-criticism can really make it worse. Treat yourself some compassion just like you would a friend.
To improve your self-esteem find your competencies and develop them. Self-esteem is built by demonstrating real ability and achievement in areas of our lives that matter. If you pride yourself on being a good cook, throw some dinner parties. If you’re a good runner, run some races. Figure out your core competencies and find opportunities that accentuate them.
Affirm your real wealth. This exercise helps revive your self-esteem after a blow: Make a list of meaningful qualities. Example, if rejected by a date, list qualities that make you a good prospect (being loyal): failed to get a promotion, list the qualities of a valuable employee (strong work ethic). Choose items on your list and write about why the quality is likely to be appreciated by others.
Building up your self esteem can take some real work but if you stick with it, and do it correctly, the results can be amazing.
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Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and certified Master Hypnotist who provides psychotherapy and hypnotherapy services at her office in Tustin, CA. She provides support to adults experiencing anxiety, depression and stress as a result of everyday life and traumas. Her focus is to serve business professionals, the military and First Responders. Her website address is LizBirchTherapist.com.
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