Language is insanely powerful — and not just the words we say out loud, but those we tell ourselves.
Our internal private thoughts, emotions and attitudes — shape what we think of ourselves and what we do with our lives.
Positive self-esteem, the feeling of liking and respecting yourself has a lot to do with your success and happiness.
Many psychologists agree that postive self-esteem is a critical determinant of a healthy personality. The more you like yourself, the more confidence you have, and the more efficient you are in every area of your life.
“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done,” says Henry Longfellow.
How we perceive ourselves has everything to do with the choices we make in life. And those choices are either leading to a successful life or a life of misery.
A healthy self-image allows you to get the most from your strengths and become the best version of yourself. When your self-esteem is low, you focus too much on your weaknesses and everything wrong with you. You see yourself in a negative light and feel less able to take on life challenges.
“In the short term, avoiding challenging and difficult situations makes you feel a lot safer,” says Chris Williams, Professor of Psychosocial Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow.
“In the longer term, this can backfire because it reinforces your underlying doubts and fears. It teaches you the unhelpful rule that the only way to cope is by avoiding things,” says Prof. Williams.
People with negative self-image struggle with their emotions and make poor decisions. Life rapidly gets overwhelming and difficult to bear.
People with low self-esteem or confidence often hide away from the opportunities they need to make it in life. They avoid important social situations and stop trying new things. Their daily actions become a cycle of choices that makes it even harder to step outside their comfort zones.
They create psychological problems that consistently reinforce themselves until they are embedded deep within their brains.
People who consider themselves failures will go out of their way not to succeed, contributing actively to their own undoing. They stay away from healthy choices that will help them succeed.
The way we perceive ourselves is so powerful that, in a study, researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine found that normal-weight teenagers, who even thought they were overweight, were more likely to become obese later in life.
Some of what molds our self-esteem is built into our brains at birth.
“Somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of the personality traits linked to confidence may be inherited, says Barbara Markway, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience.
Influences in childhood are also believed to be strongly tied to our perception of ourselves — parents, siblings, teachers, and friends, send us messages about ourselves, both positive and negative. For some reason, the message that you aren’t good enough is the one that stays with you.
In a study of almost 9,000 participants, from birth to age 27, family environment (covering parenting, cognitive stimulation and physical home environment) in childhood, especially in the first six years of life, was found to have a long-term impact on self-esteem, writes Amy Sedghi of the Guardian.
Sometimes past traumatic experiences (both physical and emotional abuse) also affect our feelings of self-worth.
If you find yourself replaying memories of abuse in the past or ashamed of your experiences that still affect your self-worth, please consider seeking professional help.
Self-esteem is an inside job
Although we can’t change the experiences in our past, we can still do a lot to alter our thoughts and expectations of ourselves to improve our self-confidence.
“You might have low confidence now because of what happened when you were growing up,” says Professor Williams. “But we can grow and develop new ways of seeing ourselves at any age.”
To conquer your negative self-image, be more compassionate to yourself first. Don’t be too critical of yourself if you don’t meet your own expectations.
Think about what you’d say to a friend in a similar situation. You probably give far better advice to others than do to yourself.
Encourage the best in yourself. Be kind to yourself. “Learning to view yourself ‘from the outside’ — that is, calmly and objectively — lets you appraise yourself not through the distortions of fear or narcissism, but through calm, fair, and objective assessment” argues Mark Tyrrell, a therapist.
Give yourself a challenge. Write down every negative belief about yourself, and start new habits that will help you overcome them. You can also write down other positive things about yourself, to remind yourself of everything good in your life. Recognise what you’re good at. A gratitude journal can make a huge difference.
If you stay away from certain tasks at work, even though you are more than capable of getting them done, ask to be assigned to them, no matter how small. Don’t let the nervous feelings stop you from trying new things or taking on new challenges.
Set yourself a new manageable goal, such as starting a new exercise routine or going to a social occasion. Achieving your goals will help to increase your self-esteem. The trick is to take one small challenge at a time and build upon your success.
If you tend to believe others’ perception about you, try to spend less time with them, or tell them how you feel about their words or actions.
Often our criticisms of ourselves come from other people’s criticisms of us. Seek out relationships with people who are positive and who appreciate you.
Focus on something outside yourself that can help you build new patterns. Invest in something new — an activity you’ve always wanted to try, such as a side project, a cause or passion that excites you.
Everyone favours high self-esteem and recognise the value of improving feelings of self-worth. But improving self-confidence requires a bit of work.
Building and maintaining healthier emotional habits will provide a great psychological return on your investment.
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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