If you experience social anxiety then you probably have low self-esteem (they go hand in hand like love & marriage, except this is much more depressing than the Sinatra song.) It essentially refers to how you view yourself… From a positive or negative perspective?
Whilst I’m better than I was, I still have issues with low self-esteem. I judge myself harshly and often disregard my achievements. Some people have rose-tinted glasses.. I hate shit tinted ones. Who knows, perhaps I should’ve gone to Specsavers? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
So what is this mysterious esteem that dwells within each of us? Are we born with it? Is it affected by our childhood or early experiences in life?
To a certain extent yes. Those who grow up in an environment in which they receive lots of praise and encouragement are more likely to have high self-esteem as an adult. Whereas those who are frequently criticised and have negative experiences are more likely to have low self-esteem. From the age of around eight I grew up with the belief that there was; ‘something wrong with me’ and that I; ‘wasn’t a normal child’ because I heard these phrases so regularly. I don’t think that people realise the lasting effect that such words can have on a young girl.
I was a fussy eater and liked things plain, so not exactly the easiest child to cook for! Although to this day I can’t understand the drama which occurs when asking for a plain cheeseburger in McDonalds. I don’t like relish from a jar, deal with it. As an adult it doesn’t bother me, but as a child whenever family or friends asked; “Why can’t you just be normal?” I winced and cursed myself for being odd.
Still, I don’t believe that self-esteem is purely defined by our childhoods. After all, there are people who grew up in Hellish situations and have still managed to flourish with great strength and confidence. In contrast, there are those who spent every day being treated like royalty but have crippling insecurities.
I don’t think there’s one root cause for any emotional condition.
In my opinion, I believe that some people are born more prone to low self-esteem than others. It’s chemical and relates to our biology. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a lack of mental strength! (I can’t tell you how much this frustrates me.) Have you ever noticed that it’s often those who’ve never had a taste of mental illness that make such a claim? Talk to me when you have some experience and I imagine you’ll feel ashamed. Those who deal with anxiety, depression etc. and don’t give up represent great mental strength to me and I feel inspired whenever I meet one of them.
Anyway, I’m drifting off point! Self-esteem. The biggest question is; can we alter it? According to Rob Kelly who’s book; Thrive I am currently obsessed with, the simple answer is YES. He believes that with hard work we can increase our self-esteem in as little as two weeks. Now I’m not sure that it’s feasible to undo twenty seven years of negative beliefs in just two weeks, but I’m willing to give it a try!
In a nutshell, Kelly asserts that in order to improve self-esteem you need to register and absorb your positive experiences (not literally.. like some kind of super power.) The more you do this then the better you feel, which in turns improves your mood and beliefs about YOU.
Try and think of ten positive things that have occurred in the last two weeks. If you’re like me, then you’ll probably say; I can think of any!
But calm down a minute. I don’t mean, something life changing like a promotion or wedding. It can be something really simple such as; I went to the gym or I applied for two jobs. Kelly’s point is that we bypass so many of the positive experiences in our life because we don’t even acknowledge them. They are disregarded and simply turned into negatives such as; Yes I went to the gym, but I should go more. I’m so lazy and pathetic. Do you see how that happens under your very nose? So it’s important to reclaim these experiences and alter the way that you process them. To do this, you can start by making a note of ten positive experiences and follow the below example:
At work I took the time to write back to an old man who wanted to know how he could get his novel published, (even though everyone else on my team laughed and ignored the letter.)
What made this a positive experience?
It shows that I am a considerate and caring person.
It made me feel worthwhile
What would you say to someone else who had this experience?
That’s lovely. You really didn’t have to make that effort, especially when you’re busy.
Well done, that was a good thing to do and it will make such a difference to him.
What does this show you/ what have you learnt from this?
That I am a good person and I treat people with respect
This is what I originally thought after the experience: That poor man, why is the world so horrible? Everyone probably thinks that I’m a mug for replying, maybe I am a mug? I’m such a soft touch and I’m too sensitive – not great huh?
It’s time consuming but this exercise definitely helps me to process experiences differently. To be clear, it won’t come naturally, particularly if your brain is automatically programmed to look for negatives. So if you’re going to attempt this exercise then I would strongly recommend that you write everything down.
Remember: Your self-esteem is what you currently think and feel about YOU and this is based on your most recent experiences. If you processed lots of negative and critical thoughts about yourself then you will have low self-esteem. It’s you who needs to alter this. – Rob Kelly.
I shall refrain from divulging anymore from the book, in case I get a bollocking for revealing Rob’s secret techniques!
Why not give this exercise a try? Ten positive things that have happened to you in the last two weeks. What have you got to lose?
Categories: Social Anxiety