Unless you've suffered, mental illness can be very difficult to explain to outsiders, even your family and friends. My blogs aim to try and express those feelings as best as I can, in hope that they will break down stigma, open conversation and allow more people to understand. This blog is about low self esteem which in my opinion is the root of depression and anxiety for many people, and only grows stronger the lower you feel.
1) You don't listen to the compliments
Your brain has an illogical filtering system. For every 10 comments you receive, only the two negative ones will stay at the top. The rest whether neutral or positive will barely be acknowledged, let alone remembered. Worse even, they will be twisted into a weapon of attack. A comment as innocent as ' You look nice today', may translate as, 'because you usually look like awful', or even be seen as an attempt at pity.
2) Everything can be an attack
Criticism can be a painful thing when your self esteem is low. Even if it is constructive or deserved, it cuts right to the bone. You take it as an attack, not just on that one thing you've done wrong, but everything you've ever done wrong. It is an attack on you as a person, and it immediately sends you on the defence.
3) It's an endless spiral
Once the trigger has been pulled, that one innocuous comment can send you into a spiral of self hatred. One failed task at work can send you digging up in your mind all of the other things you have failed at in life before you know it you are mentally picking your life apart and blaming yourself for all of the wrong decisions you've made.
4) It can strike when you least expect it
Everything can be going fine, you can actually be feeling quite good about yourself, and then it can all fall apart. Being put into a situation where you are vulnerable or out of your comfort zone, like meeting a big group of people for the first time can send your insecurities into overdrive. Crashing the self confidence you've worked towards to rebuild once again.
5) You play down your achievements
'Anyone else could have done the same'. Does this sound familiar? No matter what you've done right, you compare yourself to other people who have done more. You don't believe you deserve praise because it's still never enough in your own head. You don't see what other people see, and you feel angry when people try to talk you up, like they must be doing it because they feel sorry for you, and you don't want attention bought to your substandard life.
6) Paranoia is its best friend
Never thinking that you're good enough gives you a unique mind reading ability to assume that everyone else must think the same. You attribute reasons for the things that people say and the looks people give (often far removed from the truth). When you're feeling particularly down this even goes for strangers. That woman on the bus was definitely thinking how terrible you look today, why wouldn't she be?
7) People don't know you've got it
The funny thing about having low self esteem is that what is going on in your head doesn't always show on the outside. Some of the most outwardly confident people have the worst self esteem. Showing an exaggerated version of yourself is often a defence mechanism. You can also come off as rude or arrogant. You don't want people to get too close and so you withhold your true self and put up an invisible barrier so people don't get to know the real you (who you are certain they wouldn't like very much.)
8) You don't always know why you've got it
One of the worst assumptions of any mental health condition in my opinion is that its basis must be from some traumatic event or mistreatment in your early life. I have had low self esteem for as long as I can remember and have had nothing in my life that can be described as traumatic. Of course not everyone is so lucky and many people can trace back their self worth issues to upbringing, events or relationships, but in reality what matters is how you deal with it and move forward.
9) It's always your fault
Forget external circumstances. Everything is ALWAYS your fault. Whether it is that you're late because your bus didn't turn up, or someone is angry with you. It always comes down to you. You should have got up earlier then, or maybe there is something that I am doing wrong to make that person hate me so much. Without even weighing up the facts or the situation, you give that person or situation more credibility than yourself. Apologising just for being you.
10) It's exhausting
Imagine someone repeatedly telling you that everything you do is wrong. No matter how hard you try it's never good enough. Following you around willing you to mess up at every turn. Telling you you've failed before you even begin. Would you be too tired to carry on? Of course you would! The not-good-enough voice saps you of the will to even try.
11) It's self destructive
I can't count how many great opportunities that I have missed out on because I didn't believe I was good enough, jobs, friends, boyfriends... If I had been supportive to myself rather than being my own worst enemy, my life may be very different now. But regret gives low self esteem power which leads me to my next and final point.
12) It may take a lifetime, but it can be overcome
The relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have, so you have to work at it! Building up a positive self identity in ongoing therapy has been proven to be one of the most successful ways of dealing with mental illness in the long term. Appreciate the good things that you do every day, no matter how small they are. Don't expect too much from yourself. Imagine if it was someone else treating you the way you treat yourself sometimes, would you let them get away with it? Remember that not all that your brain tells you is true, and that you probably mean more than you can ever imagine to the people around you.