Low Self-Esteem: The Art of Self-Rejection
Most of us have struggled with self-esteem/self-respect at one time or another in our lives. Some of us have spent a great part of our lives in self-rejection or even self-loathing. Evaluation of self--how we feel about ourselves and how we judge ourselves--can have a devastating impact on the choices we make, since it plays a major influence on how we view what we are capable of, what we are worthy of, what we think we deserve, and how we think other people see us or experience us. Low self-esteem is more than a feeling: it’s a state of mind that has us stuck in this cycle of devaluing ourselves and not taking the necessary action(s) to boost our sense of self-worth.
People with low self-esteem--those feel poorly about themselves and judge themselves to be inferior to others, wishing they could be in someone else’s shoes--are at risk for limiting their potential to create the life they want and deserve.
Sometimes our esteem can be shaped by what I tend to refer as “life-defining moments.” These are often early childhood memories wherein we have held the story tightly to our chest and have collected stories and events along the way that strengthen these negative evaluations of self. This self-reflective process can become increasingly challenging during teenage years, with all of the landscape for social comparison that keeps us falling short of the life we think others are living, and the experiences that other people are having: “not measuring up,” or “not feeling good enough.”
Low self-esteem can easily carry on into adulthood, interfering with a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling, healthy life. One of the most important things to know is that low self-esteem is not an accurate reflection of reality or something set in stone. Sometimes the cause of low self-esteem may be rooted, to some degree, in reality, but the idea that your feelings about yourself can’t be changed is simply not accurate.
Begin by forgiving yourself, truly. It may not feel real, or genuine, but that is due to the many years of negative programming that you have been playing in your mind, the stories you hold to be true about yourself. The following are common situations that tend to fuel the darker side of ourselves from an internal view:
Uninvolved/Negligent Parents – When we are young, our feelings and thoughts about ourselves can be heavily influenced by how others feel about us and treat us. It sets the tone for treating these stories as if they were true.
Negative Peers/Family – Sometimes we find ourselves in a negative social circle that fosters negative feelings and beliefs about us. This can intensify as others succumb to the peer pressure and join in in this type of social bashing/criticism.
Sexual Activity – At times during childhood and/or teenage years, people may have initiated sexual activities that resulted in self-shaming. It’s paramount to our wellbeing that we become able to forgive ourselves, and start to heal these memories and replace shaming beliefs about ourselves with beliefs that support growth and positive self-regard.
Trauma – Abuse--whether physical, emotional, sexual, or a combination of these--often results in feelings of guilt or even shame. A person may feel that he or she did something to deserve the abuse, that he or she was not worthy of the respect, love, and care of the abuser. People who have suffered abuse may have a significant amount of anxiety and depression associated with the event as well, which can interfere with a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling life.
Body Image – Body image plays a huge role in how children, teenagers, as well as adults impact our self-esteem. We have been bombarded with images of what women and men should look like: this can be a devastating experience for many. If you have the insight to want to change your body image, begin with your awareness of this. Sometimes staying “on the fence” about our body image is a safe place, but in the long haul, it creates more suffering. Make a conscious decision to begin reasonable and doable action steps. It doesn’t have to begin with dropping a massive amount of weight. Start with small goals, try not to look down the road, and celebrate each accomplishment along the way. Believing in you, self-efficacy is a large part of what drives the accomplishments we need to celebrate.
Previous Bad Choices – There may be times when we develop patterns of making decisions that don’t support our wellbeing. This can often lead to unwanted behaviors and actions to which we can assign the meaning of, “I guess this is who I am,” or, “who I’ve become.” When we feel negative about ourselves regarding choices we’ve made in the past, we must take charge of challenging these old beliefs that add to our suffering. If this pattern is not challenged and change does not begin, there is a great risk in continuing to make choices that reinforce negative self-view.
Negative Self-Talk - When we spend weeks, months, years, or decades thinking and believing things about ourselves that keep us continuing to “beat the drum” of what a bad person we are. It’s time to stop tormenting ourselves. Begin to practice the skills of stopping these negative thought patterns and begin to program your mind with thoughts and beliefs that support your growth and wellbeing. It may not feel familiar to you when you begin the process but remember, you are up against a history of self-rejection that has become a pattern. These patterns require time and effort to change.
Self-esteem is a state of mind, and it can be changed. However, making a commitment to change your self view is the beginning. Having insight that your self-esteem is suffering is important: you can’t fix what you don’t know or see. Deciding to take action is critical, because insight needs to be supported by your actions. How to begin this process is to be aware of unwanted emotions that you experience and pay attention to the thoughts about you that are driving what you feel. This is the target. If you truly want to change the view of yourself, and stop the suffering, this is where to shoot the arrow. Begin to increase your awareness, your state of consciousness to the degree of your negative thinking and messages you generate about “you.” Initially you may be fairly surprised at the frequency of negative self-talk that is actually occurring in your head.
Your brain does not operate separately from you. Up till now you may feel that your self view is accurate, something you can’t control, or has been circumstantial based on what has happened in life experiences. You can learn to stop the mental story making that has been occurring and reprogram these thoughts to shape a different outcome for how you want to see yourself. This is not intended to be easy; it takes effort, and determination, like most changes we are trying to generate for ourselves.
If you want to experience a better, healthier self-image, start choosing healthier thoughts about you. Learn to stop these internal dialogues that are damaging to your self-view. Begin to replace these old stories with more reality based beliefs about you that support your growth and individualism. This is where to begin.