Enhancing Our Mental Health: Part 1
- Thursday, 04 September 2008
Self esteem is the mental and emotional perceptions we have of our self. It shows how much we value, accept, respect, and love ourselves. The way we feel about ourselves is influenced by a number of factors: upbringing and childhood experiences in our families of origin; authority figures such as parents, teachers, coaches, etc; environment and culture; and our interactions with other people.
If parents criticized you more than praised you, your self esteem may have been affected adversely. As a result, you may have internalized an inner critic, a negative inner voice that finds fault with who you are and what you do. In other words, the authority figures who berated you in the past no longer need to be physically present. You automatically use self-defeating and self-diminishing language, and may not even notice when you put yourself down.
We always have self-esteem. It can be either high, low, or somewhere in between. People with healthy self esteem are in touch with their needs and ensure they are met. They know when to ask for help, are comfortable setting boundaries, take pride in their skills and accomplishments, and generally feel good about themselves. Conversely, people with low self esteem neglect their needs, look to others for validation, and put themselves down.
We all experience problems with self-esteem during the course of our lives. Fortunately, we can decide at any time to improve it. Self awareness is the first step. Pay attention to the language you use. Catch yourself if you use words which criticize and put you down, (i.e. I never get it right, I am always making mistakes, I am stupid, my life is always such a mess). Use your rational mind to question these long held beliefs. Where does this message come from? Do a reality check. Is it true that you never do anything right or that your life is always a mess? Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, think about some positive aspect(s) of yourself. Adjust your thinking by reframing your thoughts so your self-esteem remains intact. For example, if you make a mistake, instead of telling yourself you are stupid, tell yourself that you have learned an important lesson. Accept that making mistakes is part of the human condition. List three things about yourself every day that you are proud of. Include your accomplishments. Build on this list regularly. Turn to it when you feel your self-concept needs a boost.
The process of building healthy self-esteem is a gradual one and includes some of these elements:
Take responsibility for your life by identifying problem areas and finding solutions where possible.
Set goals. Think about what you'd like to accomplish (educating yourself, learning a new skill, etc.) and make a list of actions you will take. Create a roadmap. Begin with one goal and build on it. Keep track of your progress.
If there are internal roadblocks in your way, such as negative thoughts, reframe them. Feed yourself positive messages such as “I can do this”, “I am capable”, “I am competent”. There may be external roadblocks and signposts along the way to guide your direction. Sometimes these signposts will be green lights encouraging you to continue in a particular direction. At other times they will be red lights making you stop, regroup and redirect. Be aware of all guidance that comes and do not dismiss it too quickly. We are co-creators with the universe in our destiny. When we take 50% of the responsibility for our life, the universe provides the rest.
Do not get discouraged. See all experiences as opportunities for growth and lessons to be learned. Believe in your ability to make your own choices.
We are who we perceive ourselves to be. Our subconscious mind is very gullible and believes everything we tell it. It’s always right. When we contaminate our mind with negative put-downs and thinking, our self-concept and life will be filled with negative perceptions, people and experiences. Conversely, if we see ourselves as capable and competent individuals, then others will see us the same way. We each have strengths and attributes to share with others. The better we feel about ourselves, the more willing we are to be the best that we can be—to let our light shine.
Other ways to improve self-esteem include taking care of yourself and fulfilling your personal needs as discussed in previous articles. Ask yourself the question: "What makes me happy?" Once you have the answer, you will find ways to pursue it.