The term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. As human beings, we are meaning makers. Terms like “self-worth”, “self-image” and “self-esteem” are used to describe the way we might make meaningful, the relationship we have with ourselves.
I often encounter people who feel that they just don’t measure up or generally have a low or negative overall opinion of themselves. “I’m not tall enough, strong enough, smart, pretty, popular, rich, successful and/or skinny enough…” For some it can be a lonely and debilitating song and ultimately becomes an obstacle to experiencing other life-expanding feelings such as joy and contentment.
Everyone lacks confidence occasionally, but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time. This in itself is not surprising to me. We live in a world saturated by symbols, messages and language. Our culture, the media and society inform the way we consume, experience, and construct our past narratives and future lives.
Within this relational context, I sometimes collaborate with clients to bring into focus the very stories about themselves that reinforce these feelings of low self-worth. Gently untangling the code, meaning and myths with an intent to bring lightness to the true nature of their feeling.
This narrative approach focuses on the client as separate to the problem. You are not the problem, the problem is the problem!
Externalising the problem in this way often creates space for people to imagine themselves in new and powerful ways. It also gives voice to the many stories within. The therapist and the client get to explore and reconsider these tales from a different point of view. As people, we are not only in relationship with each other, but also in relationship with situations or “problems”. If we can change our relationship to the problem, the problem will shift and change as well.
Many people experience low self-esteem and for some, it’s harder to work through and re-frame. Working collaboratively with your therapist does facilitate meaningful change. Also, keeping in mind some of the following points will assist in building a more balanced and healthy sense of self:
Stop comparing yourself to others – a good friend once told me “it would be a pretty boring world if we were all the same”.
Accent the positive – if someone gives you a compliment – take it! Your worth it and you deserve to have your uniqueness acknowledged.
Let it go – concentrate on living in the here-and-now rather than the there-and-then. Reliving old hurts and disappointments just reinforces that sense of feeling stuck.
Get active – it really does make a huge difference. Start small and build up to regular activity.
Practice, repeat, reflect – it takes effort and vigilance to replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviour. Give yourself time to establish new habits. Try and do the above daily.
Working with clients as they build resilience and self-compassion is a very rewarding and meaningful process. I find myself feeling gratitude for the many narratives people bring to therapy, and I recognise a healthy symbiosis in our relationship. As I am witness to their change, I too change, develop and grow. As they look at self, I too look at myself and wonder if this or that is truly working for me… or can it, should it be different?
We all have work to do when it comes to self-esteem. For many people it’s a daily practice and something worthy of attention and care. Please get in touch if the above words resonate for you in light of your own situation.