“The way we see ourselves shapes everything we do,” says Alix Kirsta, author of The Book of Stress Survival (Thorsons, £9.99). “If you are self-confident and value yourself, you feel that you are in control of your actions and your destiny. But if your confidence is low and you feel that you are not in control of your life, you are in danger of becoming a victim of persistent, overriding feelings of resentment, anxiety and fear.”
Most experts believe that your sense of self-esteem goes back to your childhood. If your parents encouraged you to do well, rewarded you with affection, and praised and reassured you in times of doubt, it’s likely that this sense of self-worth will have been carried into adulthood. But if your parents talked down to you, stressed how you didn’t measure up to their expectations and always compared you to those wonderful children from across the street, then a cloud of self-doubt may hang over your head for years.
The way you see yourself affects not only your thoughts, but how others
perceive you. If you possess a negative self-image, it’s like walking around
with VICTIM written across your forehead.
“The worst aspect of the ‘negative self concept’ is that once you start seeing yourself as a failure you begin to act the part,” says chartered psychologist Dr. Terry Kellard. “Negative feelings feed on themselves and become a vicious, growing cycle which can encompass all your thoughts, actions and relationships.” But the great thing is that no matter how badly you’ve been treated and how little self-esteem you have, it’s possible to change your thoughts about yourself. Working through various self-esteem boosting techniques can turn your life around.
The first step in the journey towards greater self-worth is self-knowledge. “ The more realistic and accurate your self-concept, the greater the value it will have for you,” says Dr. Kellard. “Your self-esteem can be improved by trying to reduce the gap between that ‘ideal self’ -- what others and you want to be – and the ‘actual self’. The shorter the distance between your ideal self and your real self, the higher the level of your self-esteem.”
Few people possess totally negative or totally positive personalities; most of us stand somewhere between the two. An accurate picture of how we view ourselves can often lead us towards increased self-esteem. So, as well as working through the questionnaire that will follow, it’s useful to complete what experts call an audit on your life.
Take 5 pages from a large notepad and at the top of each page write the headings: Personality, Work, Home life, Body image, Social relationships. Think about each section in turn and make one list of all your positive points and another list of your negative aspects. For each heading work out which list is longer, positive or negative. Then read through each list, replacing things such as, ‘I feel awkward when I meet people’ with phrases like ‘Sometimes I feel nervous’.
If the audit shows you feel unhappy with any aspect of your life, think how it would be possible to improve it. If you wrote down, “I’m overweight”, replace this with the thought, “Ideally, I’d like to weigh a healthy nine or ten stone.” Don’t just dwell on the downside; find things you like about yourself too. Most of us suffer from nerves when we’re about to step into a room full of strangers. If you feel anxious or shy, always remember that probably 99 per cent of partygoers feel exactly the same as you. Don’t think that you’ll end up in a corner on your own. Before going out, imagine yourself surrounded by interesting people. If you don’t know what to say once you’re there, ask polite questions. You’ll be amazed at the response.
If you’re feeling stuck in failure mode, think back to a time when you felt good about yourself. Whether it was winning the 100 metres at school, passing a difficult exam or moving into your first flat, relive that moment when you’re feeling low.
“Self-actualisation is what you are trying to achieve,” explains Dr. Kellard. “This involves a willingness to pursue your ideal self on your own. As a self-actualised person you have a good idea of what is right for you and you can trust yourself, be flexible and, above all, open to change.”
Visualisation exercises can help to fuel and increase self-esteem. Take a few deep breaths, then picture yourself making a good impression at a meeting or conjure up a scene where you’re the life and soul of the party. These images and techniques, repeated over time, help to change your perception and, as a result, your behaviour. Soon you’ll be wondering whether you ever had anything in common with that insecure person, plagued with self-doubt, and in a couple of months, your increased self-esteem will have done wonders for your health. ]
Page Created on September 8th, 1998
Last updated on April 19th,1999
Copyright (C) 1998/1999 by Nada AbiSamra.
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