Self Esteem - It's a Funny Old Thing
Listed Under: Blog
Our self-esteem is absolutely essential for our survival. It comes from the ‘ego’ part of the brain that is going out of its way to keep up safe day to day, even second by second. Our self-worth can be really valuable in helping us to meet our basic human needs.
As humans, this self-awareness sets us apart from many of our mammalian counterparts. We can form an identity, then put value to it; but herein lies the glitch! What a great opportunity to define ourselves, but then we attach judgement to it (our other human capacity) and can systematically destroy ourselves in the process!
So, we have this tool of protection in one hand, and the destructive trait of judgement in the other. How do we balance that duo?! That judgement can cause us significant pain, so like any other pain-inducing situation, we then strategically avoid it. Have you found yourself avoiding social gatherings, not going for that promotion or interview, shying away from offering your opinion in the weekly brainstorming meeting or fearing pushing yourself to meet a tough deadline just in case you fail? We erect barriers of defence, blame others, get angry or make excuses to avoid putting ourselves in a situation where we judge our own self worth far more harshly than others genuinely are.
We can work on our self-esteem and self-worth with consistent practise. We can reframe old patterns once we understand where our self-esteem stems from. Self-esteem is indirectly related to our circumstances, yes, but our thoughts play a massive influence here too. Maybe it’s got more to do with the way we interpret life.
Self-esteem has 2 guises – situational and characterological.
A situational self-esteem problem is situation-specific. For example, it might arise in someone who is supremely confident as a parent, partner, sibling, in their own home, but at work, they are wracked with self-doubt and ‘comparison-itis’ around their work colleagues. These kinds of situational examples can be tackled by reframing negative perceptions, focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses and developing skills to handle mistakes and overcome/depersonalise criticism.
Characterological self-esteem challenges correspond to how someone relates to their identity and may stem past abuse or abandonment, or where an inherent sense of ‘wrongness’ affects several areas of life. This is more complicated to address as it requires working on the ‘inner critic’ – the negative identity giving rise to the negative thought patterns. Self-compassion and refraining from slipping into self-judgement are the areas to focus on here.
Working on identifying then silencing the ‘inner critic’ takes time, patience and support.
I recognised my inner critic some time ago and was advised to “name it”. I thought this was a very strange idea, but since, it makes perfect sense. I can tell you EVERYTHING about her and she is NOT a very nice person! But why has this been so effective?
Identifying Dorothy (and no, she doesn’t have a smiley face, a small dog and sparkly shoes!) has helped me to depersonalise my inner judgement. It has distanced me from the sense of beating myself up and diminished some of the volume and venom with which I can berate myself.
Let’s face it. If we actually tuned into what our inner critic was saying half the time, would you even dream of speaking to anyone you genuinely cared about like that? Your partner, your best friend, your child? No way! So why do we do it to ourselves?
The day I named ‘Dorothy’ and really thought, in fine detail about what kind of wizened old witch she was, I allowed myself to distance from some of the self-loathing, self-hatred – yes it really was that harsh at times. It mattered not whether the criticism was about the kind of friend I was, how clever I was (or wasn’t), how I looked, whether someone really loved me….
That day I allowed myself to tell her to “Shut the **** up!”
I can put her back in her box when she starts.
I can talk to myself like a best friend would, in defence of that old hag!
THAT compassion has been vital in rediscovering my self-worth.
So, think about your inner critic.
Where does it come from? What is it telling you? How is that making you feel?
Do they show up all the time in lots of areas of your life or only in certain situations?
If you were going to give them a name, and an identity of their own…what would that be?
And now have some fun deciding what you’d really like to say when they start!
As always, I’m here to support you with anything that this might have brought up for you, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch x