Believing in ourselves might seem like a bit of an overused platitude reserved for motivational posters, but it is an essential part of our wellbeing and mental health.
It affects our future outcomes, our relationships and our ability to cope with adversity.
Seeing the value in ourselves gives us the power to see our own potential in any situation.
When I was 18 I got into a fairly prestigious art school to study fine art. I remember feeling so intimidated by the other students and completely lacking belief in my own abilities. In the end, I decided to drop out because I believed I wasn’t good enough.
I wish at that point I understood that my work had value, not because it was technically better or more creative. My work had value because it was my own voice. In dismissing the value of my voice and unique experiences I was only harming myself. I wasn’t allowing myself to reach my fullest potential.
Our ability to subjectively evaluate our value is called self-esteem. Our self-esteem can be affected by the things that happen to us like being bullied or experiencing hardship.
Low self-esteem can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
Signs of low self-esteem
- Avoiding things or not taking up opportunities
- Fear of failure or embarrassment
- Blaming yourself
- Feeling unloved
- Not believing you deserve happiness
- Low motivation
- Not believing you’re good enough
It’s important to recognise these feelings and realise that they do not have to be a part of your everyday life. Sometimes it can be difficult to see your value. This can be because we often judge our worth in comparison to others.
Things that don’t define your worth
- The clothes you wear
- How many followers you have on social media
- Past mistakes
- Your physical appearance
- Your job
- Your grades
La Roux – Bulletproof:
Been there, done that, messed around
I’m having fun, don’t put me down
I’ll never let you sweep me off my feet
This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof
While we can understand that believing in our value is an essential part of our wellbeing it can be very difficult in practice.
Tips to improve your self-esteem
Challenge your negative self-talk
Self-talk is our inner dialogue, the automatic thoughts that pop into our head. When self-talk is negative it can sound a lot like an inner critic, which can become very exhausting over time.
You may think “I’m too nervous to speak to anyone” which then leads to you avoiding social interaction. This might cause you to feel isolated and cut off from others which reinforces those negative beliefs. In those moments it’s important to understand our negative self-talk and challenge it.
How you can challenge negative self-talk
Record and question your thoughts
Try and catch your negative thoughts and write them down in a journal. Use the following questions to challenge these thoughts.
- What would I say to a friend in this situation?
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
- Am I condemning myself as a person based on a single event?
- Is this a fact? What is the evidence for and against?
- Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
- Will I still care about this in 2 weeks, 6 months, 2 years time?
Recognising cognitive distortions
These are thought patterns that cause you to perceive reality inaccurately. For example, you might think “They’re late and they haven’t answered their phone so they must have crashed their car”. This is called catastrophising when you assume the worst possible scenario in a situation.
Lizzo – Good as Hell:
Come now, come dry your eyes
You know you’re a star, you can touch the sky
I know that it’s hard but you have to try
Examples of cognitive distortions
- All-or-nothing thinking/polarised thinking or seeing things in extremes – the individual may believe they are perfect or a failure with no room for in-between
- Overgeneralisation – In which an individual views a single event as an invariable rule, so that, for example, failure at accomplishing a task will predict an endless pattern of defeat in all tasks
- Disqualifying the positive – rejecting a positive comment or event by attributing it to something else, “That person is just saying that because they are trying to be nice”
Think about when a friend feels bad about themselves. What do you say? How do you make them feel? Then extend that feeling of care and comfort to yourself.
Speak to someone
Whether that be a professional or a trusted friend. Opening up to others can give us a different perspective. They may help you see that those negative thoughts might not be the reality or they could provide some reassurance and comfort.
Write down some things you like about yourself
Think about the things you’re good at that aren’t validated by external sources
It might be the way you respect others or the values you hold. Remember you are a unique individual with your own unique experiences who has something powerful to add to the world.
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