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Brushing off low self-esteem as a character trait or mistaking it for humility is undoubtedly easy. However, choosing not to acknowledge this seemingly minor and insignificant issue can lead to several negative impacts, ranging from small-scale incidences like not participating in class or meetings to longer-term threats like failing relationships or mental illnesses. So if you or someone you know is struggling with this issue, it is crucial to get help for low self esteem while there’s still time.

This article will help you learn how to overcome low self esteem issues with daily tips and through professional treatment.

Research has proven cognitive behaviour therapy or CBT as one of the most effective treatments for managing low self-esteem. The CBT therapists are just like firefighters: they are not interested to know what caused a housefire but are more determined to focus on what’s keeping it going and how they can end it. This is because once these therapists identify what’s fueling low self-esteem in an individual, they can treat the problem by interrupting this cycle.

Based on this information, a psychologist named Melanie Fennell developed a cognitive behavioural model of low self-esteem. Briefly explained below, this model perfectly describes what keeps people stuck with low self-esteem:

Throughout life, individuals develop multiple negative beliefs and thoughts about themselves due to how they have been treated. In psychology, these negative beliefs are called “core beliefs, ” describing how good a person feels about themselves deep down. Some examples of this core belief include, “I am not good enough” or “I am worthless.”

Because confronting a core belief is unpleasant, individuals develop specific living rules that protect them from their own core beliefs. These rules determine how a person lives, and their core belief remains dormant as long as they don’t violate these rules. For people with poor self-esteem, these rules are rigid and demanding, such as “I must always keep others happy” or “As long as no one criticises me, I am fine.”

If one of these rules of living breaks, it can provoke a significant amount of anxiety. For example, if your core belief is “I am fine as long as others are happy,” it may be nerve-wracking if people around you do not feel happy and may even make you feel like you have failed.

Whenever someone senses a danger that these rules are about to be broken, they may anxiously predict what may happen. Alternatively, others may start critically speaking to themselves, rely on coping strategies, or avoid tricky situations.

According to Fennell, these rules of living that people develop to protect themselves are so inflexible that they hardly make things better for anyone.

If you are dealing with low self esteem and wondering how to improve it, the following tips can help you feel good about yourself.

Start Journaling

Most negative thoughts about ourselves are locked in our subconscious minds and journaling can bring them into our awareness. Expressing these thoughts on a paper can further help separate the negative ideas about self from the truth of who we are.

If you are battling poor self-esteem, get a notebook and start writing about how you feel at a certain time every day. As you continue writing, try not to stop, edit, or reread, as it can break the flow of thoughts. Once you are finished, take a deep breath and carefully review your words, noticing any negative beliefs you may hold about yourself. Once you identify these beliefs, try understanding where they stem from so you can break the cycle.

Be Non-Judgmental

For most people, low self-esteem arises from judging oneself too harshly. For example, refer to your journaling exercise and remember what you write about yourself. Ask yourself if you would be this critical of someone else too. The answer will probably be no, so why judge yourself so much?

When you start approaching your life without any judgment, it will be easier to accept yourself, your failures and successes, your experiences, and others just as they are without any shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Shifting your mind to be less judgmental has proven a fantastic self-remedy to fix low self esteem for many people with long-term positive impacts.

Forgive Yourself

If you keep ruminating over your failures or mistakes, learn how to forgive yourself and move on. Learning this skill can help you focus more on improving your future instead of lingering on the negative things that have already happened.

Value Yourself

Value yourself by thinking about your accomplishments and everything else you are proud of. Give yourself a chance to appreciate your talents and worth without comparing them to anyone else’s or focusing on things you would instead like to change. Remember that you don’t always need to be better to value yourself. On the contrary, learning to appreciate yourself can motivate you toward your goal.

As a tip, consider yourself your best friend and think about how you would treat a dear friend stuck in a similar situation. Most people will give them kindness, empathy, patience, and understanding. Apply this situation to yourself and show yourself unconditional support just like any sincere friend would.

Work with a therapist

People with high self-esteem usually have a strong belief in themselves that rescues them from holding their critical inner voice and saves them from low self-worth. To become like one of these people, it is imperative to learn how to acknowledge your positive qualities and remind yourself that it is okay to make mistakes every once in a while. Once you achieve these targets, accepting that you can feel depressed, fearful or anxious without considering them as character flaws becomes possible. Another essential tip to fix low self-esteem is to recognise where it stems from. Once you identify these causative factors, move away from them to practice self-acceptance and work on achieving healthy self-esteem. Low self-esteem can have multiple causes, such as traumatic past relationships, upbringing, social media, etc.

Working with a therapist can be a great way to identify and manage the sources of low self-esteem while capitalising on your strengths to achieve self-empowerment. For some people, coping with self-esteem issues is not enough, especially if the problem is due to an underlying mental illness. In such circumstances, addressing these underlying issues become imperative for long-term recovery.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular and equally effective treatments for various mental illnesses. The same principles can help someone with low self-esteem overcome their negative behaviours and thought patterns. A trained therapist can help you utilise this strategy for the best outcomes; however, for understanding, the main steps of CBT are outlined below:

Recognise the triggers

Think about all situations that may negatively hit your self-esteem. Some of these triggers may include:

  • A crisis at home or work
  • A presentation at school or office
  • A sudden change in life, such as a loved one leaving home or the loss of a job

Notice your thoughts

Once you have identified the triggers that affect self-esteem, pay attention to what you think about them, i.e. how you view these triggers and what you tell yourself about them. Your thoughts can be positive, negative, or even neutral. Sometimes, these thoughts are logical and based on facts, but they can also be irrational and baseless. Investigate your thoughts deeply and ask yourself if they are true. Question yourself if you would say these thoughts to a friend.

Challenge your negative thinking pattern

In most people with low self-esteem, the initial thoughts are usually not aligned with logic and facts. If you categorise yourself among such people, challenge these thoughts and search if there is another explanation for them. Remember that many people may find it challenging to see mistakes in their logic. This is particularly true for long-held thoughts as they may begin to feel factual with time.

Also, scrutinise yourself to check if you are practising any of the following thought patterns as they are likely to erode your self-esteem:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: If I don’t pass this test, I am a complete failure.”
  • Mental filtering: “I failed the test so now everyone will think I am stupid.”
  • Converting positive-to-negative conversion: “I only passed this test because it was too easy.”
  • Negative self-talk.: “I don’t deserve anything good in life.”

Make tweaks to your thoughts and beliefs

Now that you have identified and challenged your negative or baseless thoughts, replace them with positive ones with the following strategies:

  • Encourage yourself to make positive changes and give yourself credit when you are successful at it
  • Make use of hopeful statements like, “this exam seems tough, but I can handle it.”
  • Focus on the positive side of everything and think more about the aspects of life that work well for you
  • Forgive yourself for your mistakes by reminding yourself that these are not permanent reflections on you. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but it doesn’t make me a bad person.”
  • If you feel that your thoughts are full of “must” and “should,” there is a good chance that you are putting yourself under too many demands. Work on removing these words from your thoughts to develop a healthier view of your expectations of yourself.
  • If a negative thought is upsetting you, consider it as a signal to develop a new and healthier pattern. To accomplish this, ask yourself what you can do to make a thought or situation less stressful.
  • Reflect on your negative experiences and consider what you learned from them. Ask yourself what changes you can make the next time to avoid these experiences or to get a more positive outcome out of them.

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