Coping technique: Self esteem

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

1.   First, there is no law that everyone needs to have high levels of self-esteem. Sometimes the highest self-esteem can actually interfere with a person’s progress. For instance, the United States scores first in a belief in our own math skills, but seventh in math skills. And yet a realistic sense of your own worth can be a good thing.

2.   One very simple way to increase self-esteem is to honor commitments. These can be commitments made to others, to yourself

3.   Gain familiarity with thought distortions, in order to assess the way you think of yourself and the situations you find yourself in. Here are a few of the more common distortions:

      a.  Mind reading: Believing that you know what other people are thinking about you. Often this is identifying your own thoughts (“I’m incompetent”) as being the other person’s thoughts (“They’re thinking that I’m incompetent”). One way to challenge this distortion is to remind yourself, “I don’t know what other people are thinking.”

     b.  Fortune telling: Believing that you know the future, which just so happens to conform to your mood (“This is never going to work”). It can be helpful to remind yourself, “I don’t know the future. This has a good chance of working. If it doesn’t, I’ll learn from the experience and will be able to be more effective.”

     c.   Overgeneralization: Drawing a global conclusion from one specific example. For instance, “I didn’t get called back from that job interview. No one’s ever going to hire me.” Here a compassionate alternative might be, “I don’t know why I didn’t get called back. I’ll keep lining up interviews, because that’s something I can do to make it more likely I’ll get hired.”

     d.  Emotional reasoning: You reason from the way you feel (“I feel stupid so I must look stupid to everyone around me”). Here mindfulness can be helpful: “I’m feeling dissatisfied with myself and frustrated. That’s coloring the way I think.”

     e.   Personalization: You take responsibility for things you have no control over (“It’s raining on my birthday because I’m such a loser”) or you ascribe personal animosity towards yourself to impersonal occurrences (“My neighbor is letting his dog bark because he disrespects me”). 

     f.     Black-or-white thinking: You believe something is either all bad or all good, rather than a mix of both (“If I’m late I might as well not go” or “I added too much salt, now the soup is absolutely ruined”).

     g.  Catastrophizing: You quickly reach the worst-case scenario and tell yourself that it’s true (“I didn’t get an A on this paper, I’m never going to graduate”).

4.   Begin to distinguish facts from opinion. A fact is a description of something which is objectively true, and which can be proven by other people. Here are some examples of facts: “I am 5 feet 11 inches tall. Sacramento is the capitol of California. The Yankees won the pennant in 2009.” An opinion is based on belief, experience and mood, and can’t be proven but only argued. Here are some examples of opinions: “People like me never succeed. I shouldn’t do things that I enjoy. Chocolate tastes good.” Sometimes to confuse an opinion for a fact can give it more weight than it merits.

5.   One very simple way to feel better about yourself is to treat yourself the way you would a good friend. Are you eating well? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting some exercise? Many of us grew up not receiving the care we needed, and others of us early in life learned to get our own needs met by taking care of other people. Now is a time when you can learn to take good care of yourself.

6.   Therefore encourage yourself. Something you’ve just done might not be perfect—we’re human beings, and don’t belong to a species known for perfection. But find something positive about what you’ve done and, just as you would with a friend who was feeling a little down, find something about it that you can honestly compliment yourself on.

7.   If you’ve made a mistake, or haven’t completed a task as well as you might have liked, acknowledge this and forgive yourself. Live from this moment forward.

8.   Negative thoughts don’t need to be acted on. They also don’t need to be suppressed. If you have negative thoughts about yourself or your situation, acknowledge what you’re thinking. There’s no need to try and bring the thoughts to a conclusion (“If only I hadn’t—“ or “I should have done—“).

9.   Do things that make you feel good (and that don’t create problems for you). Notice what those things are. By extension, notice who you are, what your interests and gifts incline you towards. Allow yourself to follow your inclinations towards feeling rewarded. Compliment yourself for facing challenges, for doing a fine job, for learning how to better adapt to life.

10.               To enhance this practice, make a realistic list of your strengths, skills, gifts and good points. Find ways in which you can act and live from these parts of you. In your work, in your play, in your relaxation, as much as possible honor the person you are.

11.               Let the place where you live reflect the person you are—your values, goals, memories.

12.               Therefore, consider what your values are. Is there a philosophy that you follow, or a certain set of teachings? Does your religion provide you with values, or are they something very personal to you that have developed during the course of your life? Living closely to your values can be a source of self-esteem, so knowing what they are is important.

13.               Take opportunities to express your opinion.

14.               When talking with others whether in a social, school or work environment, speak slowly. Remember that what you have to say is worth the time it takes to say it.

15.               If you are someone who most often puts other people first and are always helping someone, consider taking a break from doing so.

16.               Identify what you don’t want to do. Practice saying no.

17.               Get enough exercise. As simple as it sounds, aerobic exercise (dancing, walking, gardening, jogging, swimming) are an effective way to increase feelings of self-esteem.

18.               If you compare yourself to others, which others do you compare yourself to and how does it make you feel? It can enhance self-esteem to compare yourself to someone who is accomplished and has something in common with you. It can decrease self-esteem to compare yourself to someone who appears successful with whom you do not have something in common. So for instance, if you are the child of a single-parent household your self-esteem might increase when comparing yourself to President Obama, who was such a child and who has achieved high levels of success. However if you are dissatisfied with your body image and compare yourself to ultra-thin or –muscular models in ads you might experience a drop in self-esteem. Therefore actively seek out images of others who are inspiring to you.

19.               The practice of gratitude—deliberately listing and focusing on aspects of your life that are good—is linked to higher levels of satisfaction with self and to increased resiliency. Consider keeping a gratitude journal.