I was never someone who would have been considered to have low self esteem. I remember being told I had it and I was questioning the intelligence of my therapist. I was always the most confident person in a room. I had no issue speaking in front of people, actually I relished it, I still do, public speaking is the number one fear on Earth, even ahead of death! And yet, I love public speaking. I never had fear of talking to strangers, chatting to girls, telling jokes or putting my opinion across whether that offended people or not.
Yet I had low self esteem. My problem was I confused my confidence to do things that make others uncomfortable with self esteem. Confidence and self esteem are two totally different things. Although if one is low often so is the other but I came to learn that many people with low self esteem still manage to be ‘confident’ by what our society deems confident.
What is low self esteem?
Low self esteem is having in general, a negative opinion of yourself, judging yourself negatively and placing a general negative value upon yourself as a person
So as you can probably determine from that, it has nothing to do with public speaking or chatting to girls. This shocked me. I realised at the moment I saw this that I do in fact have low self esteem and I felt shit for it. I amazingly judged myself negatively for having low self esteem, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
So there are really two types of people with low self esteem; ones who it is very obvious for i.e. they are afraid to talk in public, fear they are stupid, fear they are unlovable, ugly, fat etc. and because of this they turn into themselves. And the other type is me, those who nobody would ever believe has low self esteem but whose life it is crushing all the joy out of.
I had an epiphany, all those years of body image issues, fear of failure, fear of failing to meet my dreams, perfectionist standards for myself and others were all results of my low self esteem. I always wrote these feelings off as being a bit over ambitious, but it had nothing to do with ambition. I’m still the same ambitious person as I was then but now I actually like myself more than I ever have, although I battle low self esteem on a daily basis.
Essentially low self esteem is a deep seated, basic, negative belief about oneself and the type of person one is. We often take these beliefs to be facts which is totally wrong. Beliefs are called beliefs because they rely on faith, not facts. Otherwise religion would be known as science and the opposite would be true.
How does low self esteem affect us?
Well you may;
- Say a lot of negative things about yourself
- Criticise yourself, your actions and your abilities
- Make a lot of self deprecating jokes
- Put yourself down and blame yourself when things go wrong
- Not recognise your positive qualities
- Brush compliments off with ‘It was luck’ or ‘anyone can do it’ etc.
- Expect things will not work out for you
- Feel sad, depressed, guilty, anxious, ashamed, frustrated and angry
- Find it difficult to speak up for yourself or your needs
- Avoid challenges
- Be overly aggressive in your interactions with others
- Achieve less in school or work than your ability would allow
- Achieve less because you think you are less than others
- Work too hard to make up for your perceived inadequacies
- Become very distressed or upset by the slightest criticism
- Bend over backwards to please people
- Withdraw or avoid intimacy
- Less likely to stand up against bullies or abusers
- Avoid leisure activities because you feel you don’t deserve it
- Avoid activities where you’ll be judged
- Drink too much and abuse drugs
That list is a BIG ASS list! But that’s how much low self esteem can destroy your life! By the way that isn’t an exhaustive list, there are a multitude of other symptoms of low self esteem.
At this point I want you to do a small exercise. Get a pen and paper. I want you to now write down how having low self esteem has affected your life. Here’s an example taken from an excerpt from the very first day I ever did this exercise;
- I don’t like how I look
- Small setbacks kill me
- Avoid relationships
- Short temper
- Fear failure
- Demand fast results from myself
- Feel difficult to love
- Believe there to be ulterior motives behind compliments
That’s not even the whole list! I had a lot to write. If you are honest with yourself you may have a lot to write yourself. Even if you only have three things to write that’s fine. At least you are now recognising the issues your low self esteem has caused.
One warning that comes with this is if your low self esteem seems to have come on suddenly or gradually over the last few weeks or months and you’re not sure why, you should probably visit your GP. You may have depression. Low self esteem can be a byproduct of depression. So get that checked out. If you’ve had low self esteem for a long time, like me, you may be dysthymic or more likely you have past events that have conspired to cause you to develop low self esteem.
Yeah I know another one but trust me if you actually do these your self esteem will improve, I promise that, I’ve been there and done it and I know this works. So again with your pen and paper, they shouldn’t have gone far from your last exercise. Think about your current situation in life. What are the difficulties you are struggling with or dealing with right now? Write them down. Here’s the list I had when I first did this exercise;
- Most of my friends are emigrated
- Dealing with my mother
- Unsure of my future
- Unsure of my desires
At the age of 23, just after having a break down this was my list. It was a short list and may not seem like much but at the time that stuff was killing me. Especially dealing with my mother as she had forever in my life been the biggest source of anxiety for me trying to predict when she would be in a rage or when she would next say something to make me totally devalue myself.
However as I got older and realised she herself had her own issues it made it easier for me to ignore these things. Moreover as a child these things are damaging, very damaging. But as you get older you need to understand other people and why they are the way they are. That helped me in not allowing my mother to make me feel anxious or as if I was worthless.
This has been my introduction to low self esteem. There will be a few more posts regarding this and I hope you stick it out and DO THE EXERCISES!! They are vital, don’t just sit there thinking you know what your issues are, put them down, pen to paper. If you are reading this it’s because you recognise either you or someone you love has a problem.
But whether you have low self esteem or not, there are points in all our lives where we have self doubt and that means everyone is capable of doing the work I set out. I hope this post has helped you and if you enjoyed it, you are going to love the next few on this topic!