10 Steps to Self Esteem: Step 1 - Building Self Esteem
Hello, and welcome to the first step of your 10 steps to solid self esteem
I’ll be publishing one step per week. This will give you the chance to work on each step before the next one is introduced. My aim is to help you feel better about yourself so that life can start to feel more meaningful and satisfying and you can feel happier generally.
ACTION POINT! Remember to fill in your Progress Checker before you start!
Too many people overvalue what they are not, and undervalue what they are.
Malcolm Stevenson Forbes
Low self esteem stops you feeling as good as other people. It prevents you enjoying yourself or ‘putting your best foot forward’ and really going for success and fulfilment in your life.
When your self esteem rises to a healthy level it’ll be because you gain a greater capacity to recognise what’s good about yourself; you’ll start to be fairer on yourself.
But raising self esteem isn’t just about thinking differently.
It’s also to do with feeling differently. Low self esteem – an unfair, biased and intolerant attitude to yourself – is more to do with feeling than thinking. Or should I say, it is more driven by the way we feel, which in turn directs how we think about ourselves.
This is one reason why I use hypnosis to help people ‘get on their own side’.
Many of the steps on this course will help you think differently and in much more healthy ways. If you would like a hypnosis download to support this work, please get in touch. This will also help you feel differently, so that, in turn, thinking differently feels natural and easy.
But as with anything, one step at a time!
Think about this: Low self esteem is always a misperception. If you really are as useless or terrible as you think you are, if this really is the truth, then you don’t have ‘low self esteem’. You are just being very accurate about yourself.
Over these steps I want you to become in some ways less sure of yourself, so that, in other ways, you can become more sure of yourself.
Now what on earth is that all about?
The importance of becoming less sure of yourself
People with low self esteem tend to be too sure of themselves.
This might sound odd, but low self esteem pushes you to be
very unsure about many things (such as whether people who say they like you really like you)
while at the same time pushing you to be
much too sure about your self perception (too sure you are ‘faulty goods’, too sure others can’t like or love you, too sure you are dumb or ‘worthless’).
This ‘negative sureness’ needs to loosen up as you progress through these steps.
People with low self esteem see themselves as being worse than they really are. It’s as if they are wearing distorting spectacles. They need to take those damaging glasses off and clear their vision, so they can
start to see the distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ within themselves
be more tolerant of the ‘not so good’, and
inwardly encourage and nurture what is good.
When we talk of the need to ‘nurture yourself’ this is, in part, what we mean.
Low self esteem: the inner tyrant
Another way to look at low self esteem is like a little ‘inner tyrant’ that trips you up, demoralises you and bullies you.
Ultimately, we need to let it know who’s boss!
In a way, it comes down to tolerance. People with low self esteem can be incredibly tolerant – sometimes too tolerant – of other people, while at the same time they are tyrannically intolerant of their own actions and personalities.
This is a cruel kind of bias and needs to be overcome.
Now since we are progressing through a programme all about developing healthy self esteem, we need to be clear what we are talking about. We’re going to start by looking more closely at the starting point – the common features of low self esteem.
Take a look at the following story. Ring any bells with you?
Wendy had low self esteem. It wasn’t just assumed because someone else had already diagnosed it, or even because she said it herself. It was obvious from the way she spoke about herself. Here are some examples of the things she said on the left of the table below, and indicated which common feature of low self esteem her statements revealed on the right.
So you can see there are a few key ‘symptoms’ of low self esteem here:
feeling less attractive than others find her
all or nothing thinking indicated by sweeping extreme statements
automatically imagining others judge her negatively – misuse of the imagination is a key aspect of low self esteem
reluctance to spend money or time on herself
difficulty feeling like an equal in relationships
tendency to be more attracted to people who treat her badly than who treat her well (you can feel more ‘in rapport’ with someone who treats you badly if you treat yourself badly too!)
not feeling ‘good enough’ to pursue genuine opportunity
distrusting all compliments while accepting all criticism, however exaggerated
feeling low in mood a lot of the time – it’s certainly no fun feeling rock bottom self confidence and feeling you are fundamentally ‘wrong’ as a person.
Wendy also showed little trust in her own opinion, except where that opinion was self damning, in which case she trusted it 100% (at first).
Other common symptoms of low self esteem include eating disorders and other forms of self harm.
So why did Wendy feel like this? Why did a perfectly intelligent, attractive and in some ways gifted woman really believe she was the pits?
The cult of everyday life
Cults brainwash people into thinking a certain way and so, in a less obvious way, does your ‘everyday life’.
I’m not one to ‘blame’ everything on the parents, or obsess over everything that went wrong in the dim and distant past, because the present and the future are the key to finding fulfilment. But it is useful to understand where our conditioning comes from, especially if it’s the kind of learning that holds us back and prevents us finding fulfillment.
So how did Wendy learn to see herself through such a negative lens?
Research way back in 2001 found that people with low self esteem are more likely to have been sexually, physically and/or verbally abused and bullied (over an extended period) than those with healthy self esteem.
Wendy had been constantly criticized by her father while her mother, it seemed, would stand by and just let this happen. Occasionally, her father and her mother would beat her, even in her late teens. Her domineering father was quick to chide but slow to praise, which ‘brainwashed’ Wendy over the years to see herself through the eyes of her father and other bullies – to feel that in some way they were ‘right’ about her. After all, there must be something ‘wrong’ with her for them to treat her so badly, surely?
Being surrounded in your formative years by people who are highly critical of you, or who inflict their own perfectionism on you and make you feel that anything less than perfect is a complete failure, is a classic recipe for the development of low self esteem.
Wendy was bullied at school and couldn’t recall her parents ever saying anything encouraging or approving to her. She told me she felt like she had a ‘target’ mark tattooed on her forehead, and that bullies seemed to target her “like they know I’m a victim or something!”
Wendy’s parents also set unrelentingly high standards for Wendy, making her feel that she was always falling short of how she was ‘supposed’ to be.
A word on perfectionism
Low self esteem may arise from unrealistic and overly narrow expectations of oneself fostered by parents or others (we’ll be addressing the tyranny of perfectionism directly later on in Step 8).
I had a friend back in school who got 96% in a French test (easily the highest score in the class!) but who was really worried about telling his mother, because she would want to know why he had dropped the 4%. Narrow, unrealistic and unfair expectations place such a burden on people that they can fail to enjoy their successes and lose perspective and humor in their lives.
How we bully ourselves
So low self esteem can be understood as a form of ‘self bullying’ which is often learned from having had the experience of being bullied from ‘the outside’.
Bullying (in all its different forms) is a message. And the ‘message’ is:
“You are nothing more than a physical object to be abused/used”
(some people with low self esteem even describe themselves as objects, as in:
“I’m dysfunctional, faulty goods, damaged...”)
“You are ‘bad’ and need to be punished – or ignored.”
When we are regularly bullied we can start to ‘believe’ the bullying message.
This happens because feeling highly emotional (which we tend to do when we are bullied) narrows and lock our focus of attention. It puts us in a kind of ‘negative trance state’. This means that during these times we become highly suggestible and therefore more likely to learn (or rather ‘mis-learn’) and absorb what the bullying is saying to us – such as that we are not worth much.
Think about this: The take home message here is that low self esteem is a distorting lens that leads you to make inaccurate and biased self assessments and believe them.
If you feel you have low self esteem then I want you to understand that you are wrong about yourself – at least to a much greater degree than you might currently realise!
However, you may know you are wrong about yourself with your ‘thinking brain’ but not with your ‘emotional brain’. When you both think and feel better about yourself then we will have arrived somewhere worth going.
Things are probably not going to change overnight, but what if they did?
What if, while you are sleeping tonight, your fairy godmother (she’ll be back in Step 4) comes by and waves her magic wand over you, and your low self esteem vanishes in a puff of smoke? What then?
You probably don’t believe in fairies, so you won’t know that she’s done this. But when you open your eyes in the morning...
Exercise: Imagine this…..
[You might like to listen to some relaxing music to help you get into a relaxed and creative state before you do this exercise.]
Close your eyes and imagine what it would be liketo wake up and find that your low self esteem has magically vanished overnight. What happens? How do you feel?
Get your notebook or a sheet of paper and startwriting about what you notice and what you do.
Your story starts like this:
When I wake up in the morning, the very first thing I notice that let’s me know something has changed is......
I wonder what on earth can have happened! Then I become aware that......
When I get up and go to the bathroom and look in the mirror, I see...... and I feel......
Continue describing how that day goes, paying attention to all the things that are different because you no longer suffer from low self esteem at all. Have fun imagining it!
What is the most significant change that you notice?
What is the point of this exercise? It helps you to start moving your focus of attention away from everything that you think is wrong and turning it towards what things are going to be like when you’re better.
That is, doing this exercise helps you start priming your brain with a blueprint of how you want to be.
Building self esteem
Read this blog
at least once a day
for 7 days
or until you notice at least half of the progress indicators shown below
you begin to feel noticeably less sure about some of the negative ideas you’ve held about yourself, less certain they are accurate
you feel calmer when you think about who you are
you feel more optimistic about what you can do in the future
you start to feel more relaxed and confident in daily life
you find yourself actively looking forward to making even more changes
If you would like an audio download instead of reading this blog everyday, please get in touch.
Remember, you don’t have to notice all these shifts at once, but you can expect to experience them more and more as you progress through the 10 steps to solid self esteem programme.
Right, we’ve taken the first step, but it’s important to really relax with this material, and familiarise yourself with it to the point that you actually become ‘expert’ in it, and it becomes part of you.
Next time we’ll be addressing something vitally important to the experience of self esteem – how we feel in relation to others and, in particular, how attractive we feel, physically and as a person generally.
Until our next step!