By: Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
“I struggle with low self-esteem all the time. I think everyone does. I have so much wrong with me, it’s unbelievable.” – Angelina Jolie
Wikipedia defines self-esteem as “a term used in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, ‘I am competent’) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, ‘I believe I am a good writer, and feel proud of that in particular’) or have global extent (for example, ‘I believe I am a good person, and feel proud of myself in general’).”
Author Alison Finch has a much simpler definition. Self-esteem is “the extent to which we like and respect ourselves”. The extent to which we like and respect ourselves depends largely upon how we envision ourselves in our own mind’s eye; how we think about ourselves. The thoughts that run through our mind constantly, throughout the day, about ourselves, create or destroy our self-esteem.
It’s easy to feel insignificant and flawed. All it takes is picking up a magazine filled with impossibly beautiful, perfectly formed men and women, or watching TV, or reading the newspaper, or surfing the web. There seems to always be someone, somewhere, doing something wonderfully fabulous that can make your life seem dull, boring and unimportant. If you view your life as dull, boring and unimportant, it’s pretty hard to like and respect yourself.
Psychologists agree that a healthy self-esteem is central to good mental and physical health. Research shows that there is a high correlation between self-esteem and overall life satisfaction. Virtually every part of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health can be affected by your self-esteem.
Changing the way you think about yourself is critical to increasing your self-esteem. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques such as paying attention to your thoughts and self-talk and pinpointing your negative or inaccurate thinking can be useful. Identifying and then challenging your negative beliefs about yourself is essential. It may not be easy to recognize the inaccuracies in your thinking. Below is a list of ten very common cognitive distortions.
Checklist of Cognitive Distortions
1. All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute black-and-white categories.
2. Over generalization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3. Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives.
4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
5. Jumping to conclusions:
A). Mind-reading – you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no definite evidence;
B). Fortune-telling – you arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.
6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.
7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.”
8. “Should statements”: You criticize yourself (or other people) with “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts” and “have tos.”
9. Labeling: Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk,” or “a fool,” or “a loser.”
10. Personalization and blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and deny your role in the problem.
You may look at this list and think, “Oh my goodness; I do all of these”. In reality, most of us do sometimes have dysfunctional thoughts. The real question is to what extent does your thinking about yourself fall into one of these dysfunctional patterns? If you are constantly criticizing yourself and comparing yourself to others, you are setting yourself up for self-dislike. Not liking yourself can be a primary contributing factor to many conditions such as depression, anxiety, excessive worrying, substance abuse, and even psychosomatic illnesses like headaches, stomachaches, and digestive tract upset. Recognizing, challenging and replacing negative dysfunctional thoughts and inaccurate beliefs with more positive realistic beliefs and ideas can help you change your perspective and develop a healthier self-esteem.
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