How we feel about the world is in direct connection to how we feel about ourselves. Researchers have called this “self-esteem”. Low self-esteem leads to more negative mental symptoms than almost any other culprit. High self-esteem is necessary to counteract our brain’s natural inclination to remember more negative events and feelings than positive ones. Just try it…name 5 bad things & 5 good things that happened this week…which list is quicker/easier?
The riddle of self-esteem is that there is no middle ground. Usually when we hear of other’s successes (e.g. new baby, relationship, promotion), we compare ourselves and react according to how well we have met similar goals or milestones.
“Of course, we are so happy for you!” But maybe a little sad for ourselves, or sighing relief that we are past that challenge, or at a loss as to how to react to our friends because we are having trouble just getting through our own issues & stress (sound familiar?). Mostly, we notice the same annoying things in others that we ourselves struggle with…repeatable patterns that seem to not have any clear answers.
The top 3 self-esteem measures are our own attractiveness, popularity and (successful) performance. How do you measure up? Do you compare yourself to your coworkers or yourself? Is it ok to be average in your looks, connection to others and ability to do your job? Often, it makes us feel small, rejected and purposeless.
If you feel average in your self-esteem, it means you have many highs and lows (often minute by minute), which is very taxing to your mental health. Imagine if your blood pressure or weight fluctuated as wildly and often as does your emotional gauge of how “alright” you feel throughout your day. We wouldn’t be expected to ignore those kind of signs that something is “off” or broken!
Self esteem is not just a riddle, but ridiculous! It’s time to turn over a new leaf…
I am suggesting we wake up to our mental health as if it was life-threatening…not only because I am a counselor who is passionate helping clients in this area but because it has made my life better, too. When you are stuck in self-esteem shit-storms, you feel low, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, hungover and exhausted. These are mental concepts with physical side effects that we cannot fix without some better mental tools.
Kristen Neff, UT researcher and self-compassion guru offers amazing insight about how to shift outdated & impossible self-esteem thoughts to an approach that gives us more control, happiness and healthier behaviors.
Her research found that practicing self-compassion creates much greater resilience in those experiencing divorce (and 9 months later!), less bullying and more accountability in schools, and lower rates of PTSD in those who experience trauma and suffering.
In a nutshell, the first steps are to notice what you might say to a struggling friend and the tone you would use to express kindness and empathy:
“That’s so hard. I’m sorry you are having a tough time. It sucks to be in that place.” (real, thoughtful, empathic)
- Now, notice what you say to YOURSELF when you are facing a struggle.
- Do you use language and tone that is friend-worthy?
- Or do you procrastinate, sabotage or outright attack yourself?
Showing up for yourself is the most important thing you will do today (and every day).
When I began noticing how often I used my self esteem as my compass instead of befriending myself, I overcame cancer, depression and relationships that held me hostage. I noticed that being a friend to myself was my most powerful asset to live well and healthy in this world. I went a little overboard, returning to school to get a Masters in Counseling to better understand my journey. You don’t have to do that! But you can try this at home.
Go to www.selfcompassion.org for her quiz (right side of page) and meditations (middle of page) to get started. Bring your results to your next appointment and I will help you “see” the answers to the riddles that have you stuck & stressed.