Low self-esteem affects many people, though each person might think he or she is the only one suffering from it. What is self-esteem?. Self-esteem is basically the way we see ourselves, what we think and how we feel about ourselves. While a poor self-esteem can become an obstacle to accomplish our goals, a healthy self-esteem can be the most powerful motor to become who we want to be and reach our dreams. Self- esteem develops through experiences with people and situations during our lives. Our experiences during childhood are particularly important in shaping our self-esteem, depending on how we are treated by people significant to us, and our successes and failures in different areas of our life. While negative experiences during childhood, such as being overly criticized, yelled at, ridiculed, and constant messages that failing in specific activities (a sport, a subject in school, etc.) are failures of our whole self, lead to developing low self-esteem, positive experiences during childhood, such as being praised, treated with respect, listened to, and receiving support and love from others, leads to developing a healthy self-esteem. The experiences we live through during childhood, positive and negative, turn into our “inner voice”. People with low self-esteem tend to have an overly critical inner voice, which is constantly criticizing, punishing, belittling their accomplishments, and exaggerating their failures. People with healthy self-esteem have an inner voice that is positive, optimistic, reassuring, and encouraging.Low self-esteem usually shows itself in three basic ways; (1) The Impostor, who acts happy and successful, but doesn’t really feel that way, and is constantly afraid of failing and of being “found out”, of others realizing the he or she is really not as good as they seem. (2) The Rebel, who acts as if the opinions of others don’t really matter, and pretends that other people’s criticism doesn’t hurt. While the main feeling of the Impostor is fear, the main feeling of the Rebel is anger – anger about not really feeling ‘good enough’. (3) The Loser, who is always waiting for someone to come to the rescue, because he or she feels incapable of dealing with the world. The basic feeling here is helplessness, along with fear of changes. The loser is constantly seeking for others to guide them and support them. Whichever the case, low self-esteem may become a downward spiral that can take a person toward depression, drug abuse, and actively self-destructive behavior.People with low self-esteem tend to think there is nothing to do about it, that this is just the way they are, and so are trapped in their own misconceptions. Because self-esteem develops over time it can be changed, and so it can be improved. It can’t be done easily or quickly, but it can be done. Three steps to improving self-esteem are:(1) Rebut the Inner Critic; remember the little voice inside that can be so critical? This little voice, born mostly from childhood experiences, is very childish itself, tending to be unfairly harsh, unrealistic, and illogic; ‘I got an B- in the test, I’m so stupid! (harsh), I don’t understand anything about anything, I’ll fail (Unrealistic and over-generalizing, what we’d call exaggerated).
The teacher hasn’t said anything, but I can tell by his face that he thinks I shouldn’t be in his class (Illogic conclusion). I’ll never amount to anything, I’ll probably end up being a vagabond (catastrophic).’ Being more reassuring, specific, logical, and objective about our difficulties and mistakes leads to a better self-esteem; ‘I got an B- in the test, we’ll I’ll check what I missed and learn it, and next time I’ll do better (reassuring). Besides, I’ve done much better in all my other tests and homework, so this grade will not affect my average so much (specific). The teacher doesn’t look happy, I wonder why, there’s nothing that indicates that it’s related to me (logic), and well, I know I can do better next time as I’ve done before, I’m on my way to passing this class (objective).’(2) Practice self-nurturing; it refers to taking care of yourself, be loving and good to yourself. Make sure you always get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, etc, plan fun and relaxing activities for yourself, reward yourself for your accomplishments, remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. On the other hand, learn to forgive yourself when you don’t accomplish all you had hoped for. Don’t be over critical of yourself and don’t expect to be perfect…. You’re only human, and there will always be another chance to try again. At first it is very hard to make these changes, people tend to feel like they are faking when the try to follow any of the two steps above. This is absolutely normal, changing behaviors and attitudes is hard, but it is also possible, so don’t give up; ‘fake it’ until you can ‘make it’. And you don’t have to do this on your own.(3) Get help from others; people with low self-esteem are usually afraid to reach out to others, for fear they will be “giving themselves away”. It requires great courage to ask for help, but it can be, and usually is, a very rewarding experience. Ask for support from friends, teachers, and family members. If the process becomes too painful or difficult, also seek help from a therapist or counselor.