Improving self-esteem and dealing with self-criticism
Our self-esteem is vital to how we see and value ourselves. Self-esteem can affect confidence, interactions with other people and, more generally, can stop you from living your life the way you want to live it. If we don’t address low self-esteem, it can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Here, Melanie Fennell and Lee Brosan, authors of An Introduction to Improving Your Self-Esteem, discuss techniques that can help you process and overcome the negative thoughts which often lead to low self-esteem.
Self-criticism and its effects
People with low self-esteem are often hard on themselves. But what is the effect of self-criticism? Look at the list of words below, and read them slowly, allowing them to sink in. Imagine that they’re descriptions of you:
Useless Unattractive Incompetent
Weak Unlikeable Ugly
Pathetic Unwanted Stupid
Worthless Inferior Inadequate
What was the impact on your confidence and your mood of reading those words? Just thinking about these words in connection with yourself may well have made you feel bad.
Many people think self-criticism is a good thing. It helps to keep standards up, and stops you becoming vain or boastful. But in fact you don’t need to criticise yourself to keep standards up. People tend to respond much better to praise than to criticism, even from themselves. And if you genuinely like yourself then you’re much less likely to be vain and smug than someone who’s trying to cover up feeling bad. Self-criticism isn’t necessary, and it certainly isn’t helpful. In fact, quite the reverse. It’s unfair, it kicks you when you’re down and it stops you from making constructive changes.
Dealing with self-criticism
Dealing with self-critical thoughts involves a number of steps:
- Learning to spot the thoughts as they happen.
- Learning to question them and come up with alternatives.
- Bringing your behaviour in line with your new thoughts – treating yourself with respect, acceptance and kindness.
Below is a helpful chart that you can copy and fill in to help you keep a record of and deal with self-critical thoughts.
Keeping an ongoing record of any self-critical thoughts you experience will give you a way to monitor the factors which can negatively impact your self-esteem, and will also help you to notice when they are starting to reduce. This can be great motivation to continue your self-esteem boosting strategies.