There are so many aspects of self related to mental health. Some of the big ones being self-harm, self-talk, self-growth and self-loathing. One of the big ones I’ve been trying to work on lately is self-esteem. I think it’s a big part of my depression. Self-esteem is a way of thinking/feeling/acting that implies you accept/respect/trust and believe in yourself. Having good self-esteem means accepting and living with your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledging your value as a human being and being confident that you can fulfill your needs, aspirations and goals. Having low self-esteem results in feelings of emptiness that cause you to latch on to something external to provide inner relief. This could be a relationship, food or drugs. I know I definitely rely on cake, but besides that my major vice is work. I rely on my accomplishments at work, or lack there of to dictate my worth. This thinking isn’t healthy.
Psychologists have told me that good self-esteem is accomplished by taking care of yourself, in the form of 1) overcoming deficits from your past by becoming a good parent to your “inner child”and 2) recognizing your basic needs and meeting them. The first part always sounds kind of fluffy to me. What is your “inner child”? One psychologist explained it as being the playful, vulnerable part of yourself. Those who allow expression of their “inner child” will find it easier to be playful, to give and receive affection and to be in touch with their feelings. Those who ignore their “inner child” will find it difficult to have fun, to give/receive affection, will be overly logical and need to keep things under control. To be a good parent you had to identify from your childhood circumstances the cause of you growing up to feel inadequate. Most of these causes were to do with how your parents treated you as a child because apparently you treat your “inner child” the same way your parents treated you. I’m sure this will strike a chord with many, but it made no sense to me. What if your self-esteem issues are not rooted in your childhood? My parents weren’t overcritical or neglectful, I wasn’t spoiled nor was I overprotected, I didn’t suffer any major loss (like a parent’s death or divorce) and I was not abused in any manner. I am much harder on myself and more critical of myself than my parents ever were. Maybe this part of improving self-esteem just didn’t apply to me.
The second part made a world of sense to me. You have physiological needs (food, water, oxygen, etc.) for survival, but it is important to look after your psychological needs to promote well-being. What are psychological needs? I’ll give you some examples.
- being listened to
- sexual expression
- the attention of others
- physical touch
- expression of feelings
- sense of progression toward goals
I don’t know about you, but I never considered these things to be needs. They were wants or wishes, things that I worked for, but didn’t necessarily need for my well-being. Since I have depression and a big part of that is low self-esteem, my perspective is obviously wrong. Are all of these needs being met in your life right now? A lot of them weren’t for me. I started with creativity, I felt that was easiest for me to tackle. I gave myself 15 minutes every evening to doodle. It didn’t have to be anything grand or anything complete, just doing it was the point. This eventually evolved into reestablishing my drawing hobby, which led to fun! Alright, there’s two psychological needs met that I didn’t have before. What’s next? Guidance. I’ve been running the research lab I am part of for the last while. I don’t have the qualifications or the knowledge to do this, it just sort of fell into my lap. So I’ve been stumbling through trying to figure things out in addition to doing my own work. It has given my confidence a good beating. I think I would do better with some direction, but this involves talking to my supervisor about it. Anxiety! Figuring out what I want to say to her and meeting with her is next in my quest for better self-esteem.
While I am working on improving my self-esteem, I have come across a few strategies that reinforce the little belief I do have in myself.
- Taking care of my body. Yes I wish I were thinner, fitter, prettier, but that’s not what I mean. I mean be healthy. Eating right, resting and exercising. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you feel weak/tired/ill.
- Expressing feelings. If you are out of touch with your feelings, it’s like you are detached from yourself. By expressing your feelings you can better understand your needs and desires and are better equipped to meet them.
- Positive self-talk. Disrupt negative self-talk by distracting your mind or by questioning your thoughts. What is the evidence for this thought? Is this always true? Am I looking at all perspectives here?
- Having direction. I always feel most confident following the accomplishment of one of my goals. This shouldn’t be the sole basis of my worth, like it has been, but it does affect how I feel. Self-esteem is reinforced by progression towards goals. In looking to the future, it’s important not to lose sight of what you have already accomplished.
- Personal relationships. It can be intimate relationships, family relationships or friendship. They can’t create self-esteem. It has to come from within. Personal relationships can provide support/acceptance/validation/love that can go a long way toward strengthening your self-esteem.