I’ve spent the last few months in a new environment – construction sites! I’ve been working with people in the building industry, which is typically male dominated, with many of the attributes that go along with that: macho image, not showing your feelings, not talking about the stuff that’s really affecting you or getting you down. I’ve had so many conversations with guys who didn’t know that this culture and behaviour is usually rooted in low self-esteem and self-worth; very often we see a ‘macho guy’, who looks and acts very confidently – but underneath there’s a lot of insecurity, about what they can achieve, how they are valued, and how they look as well; and generally whether they are “good enough”.
These environments can be a vicious cycle of reinforcing these underlying insecurities – and it’s important that we challenge this culture to create a healthier environment for everyone. To do that we need to tackle the problem of low self-esteem at its source.
What is Self-Esteem?
It’s how you view yourself, how much you like yourself as a person, and how you value yourself. It may seem a strange idea not to like yourself very much, but it’s far more common than we ever imagine, and can be affected by many different factors. Ultimately, if the things we do and say and the choices we make are at odds with the standards we think they should be at, the respect and esteem we have for ourselves will be low.
While many of the foundations for your self-esteem are laid in your childhood, it’s important to note that it can grow and change throughout your life. Having low self-esteem as a child or teenager does not mean you will have it forever. Here are some of the many things that can change how you view yourself:
- Your background and identity;
- Your life experiences;
- How competent you feel in all areas of life;
- Your thoughts and ambitions;
- Your social circumstances and sense of belonging;
- The reactions of others to you and what you offer;
- Comparing yourself (favourably or unfavourably) to others.
It’s also important to understand that self-esteem is not self-confidence. Your self-confidence is about how you engage with others around you; how you rise to the occasion to meet challenges and solve problems. It’s based on what you achieve in the world outside yourself – while self-esteem is how you think about yourself as a whole person. You can be self-confident, particularly in a certain field of expertise, and still have low self-esteem overall.
Low Self-Esteem vs High Self-Esteem
Having a healthy level of self-esteem is vital for making good choices for yourself throughout your life. It impacts your relationships, your lifestyle, your emotional and mental health, and your physical health too. It affects your plans, ambitions and what you can achieve: people with high self-esteem know what they are capable of, and feel empowered to try new things. They usually possess the following:
- A realistic understanding of their skills – and an acceptance that they’re not good at everything;
- Healthy relationships with themselves and others, with solid boundaries that they are happy to enforce when needed;
- A clear understanding of their needs, and the confidence to express them when they need to.
People with lower self-esteem doubt themselves and their ability to succeed. They are cautious of trying new things, because they don’t believe they will be able to achieve them. Relationships can be difficult because they don’t have a firm understanding of their needs and when to express them, and they may even feel unlovable and unworthy of having good, healthy relationships with others. They may choose relationships and lifestyle habits that are bad for them, and have a greater risk of developing anxiety and other mental health issues.
How can Self-Esteem be Improved?
Your level of self-esteem can change throughout your life, and if it’s low, there are steps you can take to improve it. There are no quick fixes, but changing the way you think about yourself can become a healthy habit that turns into greater self-esteem over time. Take the following steps to start your healthy self-esteem journey:
- Become aware of the thoughts you have about yourself that are not positive and supportive. Notice when you’re being self-critical, and what those thoughts are about – and think about how that could be affecting you.
- Challenge them: when those thoughts arise, counteract them with more positive ones. Think about something you’ve achieved, and times when you’ve made yourself proud.
- Speak more kindly to yourself. Consider whether you would say those same negative things to a friend – the chances are you wouldn’t dream of it! So instead, find kind things to say, and instead of being critical, be motivational.
- Choose some affirmations, and repeat them – even if you don’t believe them in the beginning. The more you repeat them, the more you will believe they are true.
- Forgive yourself for the past. This is not easily done all at once, so begin with small things you’re unhappy about, and decide to move on from them. They’re done with and can’t be changed, so accept that part of yourself and use what you’ve learned in the future.
Try this simple exercise to get you started. Finish these sentences instinctively, without putting too much thought into them. They will give you valuable insight into how you see yourself, and will give you something to work on – they may reveal some of those negative thoughts you can challenge, give you affirmations you can start to repeat to yourself, and remind you of successes you can celebrate:
- I have always wanted to…
- I’m secretly afraid of…
- I’m looking forward to…
- I get my strength from…
- One person I couldn’t live without is…because…
- I’m really proud of…
- It makes me angry when…
- This week is going to be…
- flourish when…
- I find it hard to admit…
Knowing that work needs to be done on your self-esteem is the most important step, and it can take some time – but adopting a positive outlook, challenging yourself when you fall back into negative thoughts, and reminding yourself of successes will all nurture stronger, healthier self-esteem that will open up a world of possibilities for you and your relationships.
To explore more about self esteem and how I can help, book a chat with me – it’s free of charge! Book a Chat