We live in a world where there is an epidemic of low self-esteem. It affects almost every aspect of our lives, from how we think about ourselves to the way we think about and react to life situations.
When negative influences and thoughts are prevalent - generated either from within ourselves or through others - it adversely affects the way we feel about ourselves. Over time this can lead to low self-esteem which can reduce the quality of a person's life in many different ways. Unchecked, this may lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
But what causes low self-esteem?
There are varied causes, but according to a leading Australian clinical psychologist on self-esteem issues, Dr Lars Madsen, it can frequently be traced back to abusive or dysfunctional early years. It can also be attributed to ongoing stressful life events such as relationship breakdowns, financial trouble, poor treatment from a partner, parent or carer, or being bullied.
We all know our lives are full of challenges and triumphs, of ups and downs. In today's world we are only too aware there are many negative stressors that can cause us to doubt ourselves. As each negative influence enters our lives, doubt creeps into our minds, and "I can't do that", or "I will never overcome this", become mantras that are harder and harder to dismiss from our mindset.
How often do you think, "If only I was good enough?"
The world can feel a lonely place while trying to find the right resources to help us at these times - everything can be daunting and confusing. Placing too much credibility on negative ways of thinking can turn into an ingrained pattern, and we lose the ability to find a way to our happy, confident and strong selves.
In short, a strong sense of self-esteem can help combat negative thinking. Try these seven tips to kickstart your self-esteem.
1. Treat yourself as you would your best friend. Be supportive, kind and understanding. Don't be hard on yourself when you make a mistake. Every time you criticise yourself, stop and look for objective evidence that the criticism is true. You'll realise that most of your negative self-talk is unfounded.
2. Don't compare yourself to others. Recognise that everyone is different and that every human life has value in its own right. Make an effort to accept yourself, warts and all.
3. Acknowledge the positive and appreciate your special qualities - remind yourself of your good points every day.
4. Write a list of your good points and refer to it often. (If you feel you can't think of anything good about yourself, ask a trusted friend to help you write the list.)
5. Concentrate on living in the here-and-now rather than reviving old hurts and disappointments.
6. Exercise is great for dealing with depression and helping you to feel good. Health targets need to be step-by-step such as starting with a walk round the block once a day, enrolling at a local gym or going for a swim. Exercise has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy combined in the alleviation of mild and moderate depression.
7. Be assertive and communicate your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct and honest manner.
It takes effort and vigilance to replace negative and unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with healthier alternatives. Give yourself time to establish the new habits. Keep a diary or journal to chart your progress.
It's not really external events that have the most profound effect on our self-esteem, but how we view our own life and life's events. Ultimately, it's the inner belief we have in ourselves that guides our journey. Do we really believe we deserve to live in a bad relationship? Do we really believe we deserve to be mentally or physically abused? Is our negative belief in ourselves keeping us in these negative environments?
As Viktor Frankl (1905 - 1997), a psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor, famously said in Man's Search for Meaning, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Even though we cannot change our past experiences, we can change the way we think about them. As a result, when we fight negative thoughts and boost how we think about ourselves, we identify a way to a better future.
Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation Mind Shift - The National Self Esteem Initiative. Her book about her own journey of breaking away from the shadows of low self esteem will be published in 2015.