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Self-esteem: 4 steps to feel better about yourself

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  • Self-esteem: 4 steps to feel better about yourself

    Self-esteem: 4 steps to feel better about yourself
    By Mayo Clinic staff

    If you have low self-esteem, harness the power of your own thoughts and beliefs to change how you feel about yourself. Start with these four steps to a healthier self-esteem.

    Low self-esteem can negatively affect virtually every facet of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health. But you can take steps to boost your self-esteem, even if you've been harboring a poor opinion of yourself since childhood. Start with these four steps.

    Step 1: Identify troubling conditions or situations
    Think about the conditions or situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem. Common triggers might include:
    • A business presentation
    • A crisis at work or home
    • A challenge with a spouse, loved one, co-worker or other close contact
    • A change in life circumstances, such as a job loss or a child leaving home

    Step 2: Become aware of thoughts and beliefs
    Once you've identified troubling conditions or situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes your self-talk — what you tell yourself — and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas.

    Step 3: Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
    Your initial thoughts might not be the only possible way to view a situation — so test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible.

    Be aware that it's sometimes tough to recognize inaccuracies in thinking, though. Most people have automatic, long-standing ways of thinking about their lives and themselves. These long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel normal and factual, but many are actually just opinions or perceptions.

    Also pay attention to thought patterns that tend to erode self-esteem:
    • All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad. For example, "If I don't succeed in this task, I'm a total failure."
    • Mental filtering. You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation. For example, "I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I'm not up to this job."
    • Converting positives into negatives. You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don't count. For example, "I only did well on that test because it was so easy."
    • Jumping to negative conclusions. You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it. For example, "My friend hasn't replied to my email, so I must have done something to make her angry."
    • Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts. For example, "I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure."
    • Self put-downs. You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. This can result from overreacting to a situation, such as making a mistake. For example, "I don't deserve anything better."

    Step 4: Adjust your thoughts and beliefs
    Now replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Try these strategies:
    • Use hopeful statements. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you think your presentation isn't going to go well, you might indeed stumble through it. Try telling yourself things such as, "Even though it's tough, I can handle this situation."
    • Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes — and mistakes aren't permanent reflections on you as a person. They're isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, "I made a mistake, but that doesn't make me a bad person."
    • Avoid 'should' and 'must' statements. If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you might be putting unreasonable demands on yourself — or on others. Removing these words from your thoughts can lead to more realistic expectations.
    • Focus on the positive. Think about the good parts of your life. Remind yourself of things that have gone well recently. Consider the skills you've used to cope with challenging situations.
    • Relabel upsetting thoughts. You don't need to react negatively to negative thoughts. Instead, think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, "What can I think and do to make this less stressful?"
    • Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes. For example, "My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged — which means that I accomplished my goal."

    These steps might seem awkward at first, but they'll get easier with practice. As you begin to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem, you can actively counter them — which will help you accept your value as a person. As your self-esteem increases, your confidence and sense of well-being are likely to soar.
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  • #2
    Re: Self-esteem: 4 steps to feel better about yourself

    Recovering from Shame
    University of Illinois
    July 4, 2013

    What is shame?
    We’ve all probably heard the phrase “You should be ashamed of yourself” at some point. But what does it mean to be ashamed? How can you tell if you are experiencing shame and where does it come from? Can you feel too much or too little shame? Can you heal from shame? How is it different from guilt? These are all very good questions but they are not easy to answer because the experience of shame is very complicated.

    On a basic level, shame is the underlying and pervasive belief that one is somehow defective or unacceptable. The precise way that a person believes they are unacceptable can be very unique. It might be that they think they are “too much” in some way — too talkative, too shy, too unattractive, or too emotional. It might be that they think they are “not enough” in some way — not smart enough, not funny enough, not thin enough, or not cool enough. Usually, if a person is struggling with an excess of shame, they believe they are defective in many ways. They feel unworthy, unlovable, or “bad.”

    Shame is usually accompanied by a physical reaction such as feeling flushed or experiencing physiological reactions from feeling anxious (i.e., stomach upset, nausea). The person who feels ashamed wants to hide from others or keep the thing he or she is ashamed of a secret. The anxiety they feel is related to their fear that they will be found out or exposed. The physical sensation of flushing often comes as a result of their belief that they’ve been “seen” and are being judged.

    Shame is a necessary human emotion that helps us develop a moral compass but it can become destructive in our lives. It can lead us to believe that we have to be perfect or else we are not lovable. It can lead us to withdraw from others. It can lead us to be defensive and distant. It can lead us to feel depressed and anxious. It can lead us to be overly responsible and to seek approval excessively. It is often the experience that underlies addiction, infidelity, perfectionism, eating disorders, excessive dependency in relationships, and so many other problematic behaviors.

    Just as the experience of shame differs across individuals and families, it can differ across cultures and religions as well. In many groups, there are prescribed behaviors that call upon you to feel ashamed. This can be healthy as it allows people to understand what is morally expected – to learn right from wrong. Shame becomes problematic when it is excessive.

    Where does shame come from?
    The sources of shame are varied. Some people develop shame as the result of having critical parents who told them – sometimes very directly and sometimes more indirectly – that they were not good enough in some way. Even the most loving parents can sometimes have expectations that leave a child feeling like they can’t measure up. Generally parents who are highly critical, verbally or emotionally abusive, and/or neglectful will raise children who feel they are not OK in some fundamental way. Some people develop shame because of peer interactions or interactions in their houses of worship. Others seem to absorb it through shaming aspects of their culture or in relationships with a shaming partner. Finally, many individuals have the capacity to be quite harsh and self-critical and this promotes a strong and lasting sense of oneself as defective. There is some evidence that there is even a biological predisposition to shame.

    How is shame different from guilt?
    Shame and guilt can feel very similar but there is a difference. Guilt is usually the sense that you have done something wrong – that you have gone against your moral code in some way. Shame is more the sense that who you are is somehow wrong. At times a person can feel both shame and guilt – either simultaneously or in sequence.

    How do I heal from shame?
    You can heal from excessive shame. While you would not want to eliminate shame completely from your life, if it is causing you problems you can take steps to feel less shame . Reducing shame in your life will help you feel more confident and genuine.

    The first step to moving past shame is to begin to recognize it in your life. Notice when others are shaming you but also notice the ways in which you shame yourself. Do you say things to yourself like:
    • “That was stupid! I can’t believe you said that!”
    • “Who would want to talk to you?”
    • “You look awful today!”
    • “You’ll never be as good as the other students in this class.”

    These are shaming statements. It is important to be able to recognize when someone is shaming toward you but it is also important to recognize that YOU might be the person who shames you the most. One way to think about this is that you must “turn up the volume” on the shaming statements in your life in order to hear them more clearly so you can change them – not so you can listen to them more closely.

    It is good also to understand the origins of our shame. Where did your shame originate? How did it start? How do you perpetuate it? Are you trying to stay close to someone who shames you by allowing them to continue shaming you? These are examples of questions we must ask ourselves in order to understand where are shame comes from.

    The next step is to develop some compassion for yourself. Find ways to be loving toward you including accepting that you are human and that you have limitations. When you act in ways that you don’t like, be curious about it rather than critical. Instead of saying “Why did you do that?” in a critical way, try to ask the same question with an openness and a curiosity. You will find out much more about yourself by observing and gathering information instead of criticizing. Forgive yourself for your past so that you can move on. It’s crucial to take a stand against shame by not shaming others or yourself. Try to make shaming a behavior that is simply unacceptable. And forbidden. Challenge yourself and others when they are shaming.

    Another step toward healing is to begin to act in ways that demonstrate that you are a person of worth and value. Sometimes even if we feel like we are not good enough, we can still operate in the world as if we have worth. This essentially sends a message back to ourselves that counteracts the shame. If we treat ourselves and others with respect, we develop more pride and self-esteem. It is important to be a good advocate for yourself in your journey toward healing from shame.

    Additional Resources

    Thanks to Make_Art for bringing this article to our attention
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