Ahhh, the elusive concept of self-esteem…. In my personal and professional experience, true healthy self-esteem is difficult to behold and rare to witness. Why is it so hard for a large majority of us to have confidence in our worth and abilities? Well, we can hypothesize about this forever but one of my favorite psychological conclusions includes the consistent internalization of previously perceived failures. In other words, repeatedly being hard on ourselves based on “negative” feedback from something or someone, can and does cause low self-esteem. How can we, once and for all, increase our self-esteem steadily and successfully? Let’s talk.
After working for many years with many clients on improving their self-esteem, and after spending 36 years continuously working on my own, I have reached some very interesting conclusions. Look, I’m a psychologist so, of course, I will firstly say that you should explore your previously perceived failures, in therapy. Think back to those moments that shaped your low self-confidence. You must then replace your harsh thoughts about those moments with more truthful, productive, and positive interpretations. For example, I had a client who was an exceptional baseball player. He was apparently good enough to become part of a major league team. After getting criticism from one of his coaches, his confidence plummeted and no longer had healthy beliefs about his baseball skills. His low self-esteem then affected many facets of his life, influencing him into having limited beliefs about his capabilities in general. Truth is, he may or may not have scored a spot in the majors, but the criticism he received should not have destroyed his self-esteem the way it did. In therapy, we had to readjust and replace old negative thoughts (that destroyed his self-esteem in many facets of life) with a healthier view of the truth that celebrated who he is and was.
Ok, so revisiting your past can be an effective technique to begin improving your self-esteem. But in my experience, it’s not enough. Low self-esteem seems to linger for years no matter how much cognitive therapy and emotion-focused therapy we complete. So what’s the cure?! Well, how badly do you want change? How tired are you of that annoying critical voice always whispering how much of a failure you are, or how overweight you are, or how stupid you are? If you are ready to quit this pattern of thought, it’s time to choose a good and healthy self-esteem! …and yes, I said “choose.” I’ve come to realize that if you want it bad enough, you must be motivated to choose different interpretations, different thoughts, and different conclusions. You must realize that your critical voice is toxic. It has played a huge part in successfully sabotaging your endeavors throughout your life. It is the disbelief in yourself and in your capabilities that has held you back from a plethora of experiences you would have loved to be a part of. I don’t know about you, but this fact puts a fire under my butt to reduce my critical voice by being my own cheerleader. Ya, ya, I realize this sounds like stinky After-School Special cheese, but I’m very serious. It’s time to start supporting yourself in a way you never have before.
I must emphasize however that you must practice new self-encouraging thoughts often in order to override your previous pattern of criticizing yourself. Practicing often is, actually, key in permanently increasing your self-esteem. You can’t just modify your internal dialogue once and then expect your self-esteem to change. You must practice new thoughts of self-compassion and encouragement often in order to change neuronal patterns in your brain. In a few short months, these new positive thoughts have the potential of taking over completely. Wouldn’t that be amazing!
Give yourself the freedom to apply this in a way that makes sense to you. For example, you might try applying an encouraging dialogue in the morning or at night or during your daytime bathroom breaks. Another option is to keep a running log of your critical thoughts and then take time at the end of your day (or at the end of your week) to debunk each and every one. Whichever way you choose to do this, it’s time to finally start believing in yourself and to fiercely celebrate your abilities, your worth, and your value forever more.