S is for Self

split face

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.

  • safety/security
  • respect
  • friendship
  • being listened to
  • guidance
  • fun/play
  • creativity
  • loyalty/trust
  • sexual expression
  • nurturing
  • freedom/independence
  • mastery
  • 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.


Get in Gear

S is also for Steampunk!


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nembow
    Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:19:18

    This post resonates deeply. I go through phases where I have low self esteem and feel that I haven’t done enough to justify my existence on the planet. Like you, I don’t think it’s rooted in my childhood. My mum and dad were very supportive of me as a child, even though they both suffered from depression themselves. I think I’ve let the meeting of some of my own needs come second place to me meeting the needs of others though, and that has had a negative effect. Sometimes you have to put others first, but sometimes you need to water your own garden as it were. Ultimately, I think my faith plays a big part in my self esteem. Fundamentally, I believe that God so loved the world that he gave himself up to death for us … for me. That means I must be worth an awful lot and not because of what I do or don’t do, or even for who I am. I just am. πŸ™‚


    • somberscribbler
      Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:28:44

      I agree, sometimes it is necessary to be selfish. I’m not particularly religious, but I think faith is really important. I like the way you put it. Our worth is a given because we exist.


  2. nembow
    Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:19:52

    Beautiful drawings, by the way!


  3. emmyleigh
    Apr 22, 2014 @ 15:36:45

    That makes so much sense! I never thought of drawing and creativity as an actual need before – that makes it easier to set aside time for it, just as I set aside time for running and swimming now because I see them as a physical need for exercise.


  4. Birgit
    Apr 22, 2014 @ 22:33:02

    I had a good upbringing but I know that my lack of self-worth and lack of self-esteem came from outside sources. When one is repeatedly told you are worth nothing and people would be better off with you on the planet-it takes a toll. I received this daily in school from grade 1 to the end of High school. I went within and would not let people know what I loved for fear of ridicule. Every year I went to the hospital because the kids tried to break my fingers on my writing hand. I was surprized they didn’t but my hand and fingers were severely sprained and swollen. I had no idea at the time that it is very hard for me to break a bone (I have Ehlers-Danlos).The taunts, threats to my life and physical abuse was difficult to get through. I sought solace in art and in the movies. I sought nature and animals as they are never cruel for just being cruel. I worked on my self-esteem and it is always tough but when I visited my brother in university and was treated with respect and people showed interest it was like a light went on. I promised myself I would never, ever, let people influence my self-worth again. I am very hard on myself as people have told me. I made a pact with myself that I would never do what was done to me and I would help where I could. I create my cards which I love to do and look at other blogs which is also fun. I write down 10 things I am grateful for and allow myself to have a bad day and be OK with that. Sometimes, when I am ill or something happens the past ghosts come back to haunt but then a I let the day pass and laugh at a good comedy. I am a little “packed” but I am not always sick which is great. So anyway, Self-esteem is important for the people who were abusers really are self-involved and are insecure with who they are and I never was. Embrace your creativity and how wonderful you create your artwork and your writings


    • somberscribbler
      Apr 25, 2014 @ 09:03:50

      I was picked on too, no where near the extent you describe though. Kids are cruel. Good for you for being strong and getting through it! Thankfully most of those bullies grow up, but not all of them. It’s good that you have found card-making as a solace. I scrapbook, I like it, but it’s hard! I have great respect for paper crafters!


  5. Gretchen Joy
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 12:08:50

    I love your honesty. πŸ™‚

    I think your strategies for reinforcing your good belief in yourself are great! It is totally the little things, done intentionally and realizing – as you said – that they are needs.

    I know when I am struggling with my body image, I always try to be very good about things that incorporate what you were saying. I will take time to put lotion on, and each part of my body that I touch I just speak and think positive things toward it and on it. I will do the same with looking in the mirror before dressing in the morning and tell myself I can’t get ready for work without identifying 5 things I like about what I see.

    I think these small steps are a great, great part of your journey. Because really, its the small things that lead to the overall wellbeing.


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