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How You View Yourself is How you View the World: The truth About Self-Esteem

Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”
― Iyanla Vanzant

Our self-esteem—the way we feel about ourselves—is a powerful lens through which we view the world. Imagine waking up each day with a sense of confidence and self-worth; suddenly, the world appears brighter, opportunities seem more abundant, and interactions feel more fulfilling. Conversely, when we struggle with low self-esteem, the world can seem like a harsh and unwelcoming place, filled with obstacles and negativity. Essentially, our external experiences often reflect our internal state, making self-esteem a crucial aspect of our overall well-being.

The way we perceive ourselves is intricately tied to how we perceive the world around us. If we hold a positive view of ourselves, we are more likely to approach life with optimism and resilience. However, if our self-esteem is low, it colours our interactions and experiences with doubt and fear. This reflective relationship between our inner self and the outer world underscores the importance of cultivating a healthy self-esteem. By understanding and improving our self-esteem, we can transform not only our internal landscape but also our external reality, leading to a more fulfilling and enriched life.

The Roots of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem doesn’t develop overnight. It’s often the result of various experiences and influences throughout our lives. One of the most significant factors is our early attachment experiences. As children, the way we bond with our primary caregivers forms the foundation of our self-esteem. Secure attachments, characterized by consistent love and support, help us develop a strong sense of self-worth. Conversely, insecure attachments, where caregivers are inconsistent, neglectful, or overly critical, can lead to a fragile and uncertain self-image.

As we grow, these early experiences are compounded by other factors. Traumatic events, such as abuse or loss, can deeply affect how we view ourselves, often embedding feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. These painful experiences can become internalized, making it difficult to develop a positive self-image. The lingering effects of trauma can influence our interactions, relationships, and overall mental health, perpetuating a cycle of low self-esteem.

In addition to early attachment and traumatic experiences, societal influences play a significant role in shaping our self-esteem. Social comparisons, particularly in the age of digital media, can exacerbate feelings of inferiority. Constant exposure to curated and often unrealistic portrayals of others’ lives can make us feel inadequate. Furthermore, negative self-talk, where we internalize and repeat critical and harsh judgments about ourselves, can perpetuate low self-esteem. Recognizing these roots helps us understand that our relationship with ourselves is not fixed but can be reshaped with effort and awareness.

The Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem

We have all had the experience of scrolling through social media and feeling defeated and disillusioned an hour or two later. The social media landscape of today is more deceptive than ever before. People continue to show the “highlight reel” of their lives and seldom look the same in real life as their filtered images would have you believe. This can lead to unhealthy comparisons, making us feel inadequate or envious. The use of filters and photo-editing apps distorts reality, promoting unrealistic beauty standards and fostering body image issues.

Additionally, the pursuit of likes, comments, and followers can lead to a dependence on external validation, undermining our intrinsic sense of self-worth. Cyberbullying and negative comments can also have a detrimental impact, especially on younger users.

Despite these challenges, social media can also be a powerful tool for enhancing self-esteem when used mindfully and intentionally.

Building a Healthier Relationship with Ourselves

Our relationship with ourselves is the most important one we have. It affects our mental health, our relationships with others, and our ability to achieve our goals. Improving self-esteem requires commitment and the willingness to confront and change deep-seated beliefs and patterns. Here are some strategies to help increase self-esteem:

1. Self-Awareness and Acceptance

Begin by acknowledging your strengths and accomplishments. If this is hard to do, ask a loved one or friend what they see in you and why. We often see ourselves through a different lens than others see us. Recognize that everyone has flaws and that these imperfections do not diminish your worth. Practicing self-compassion is crucial—treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer someone else.

2. Challenge Your Thoughts

Cognitive restructuring is a powerful technique that involves becoming aware of your automatic thoughts, particularly those that are self-critical or overly pessimistic. Keeping a thought journal can be helpful in tracking these thoughts and identifying recurring negative patterns. Once identified, evaluate their validity by asking whether these thoughts are based on facts or assumptions. Consider alternative explanations or perspectives to create a more balanced view. For example, if you think, “I’m not good enough,” challenge this by listing your accomplishments and strengths.

3. You Are Not Your Mistakes

We all mess up. If the image we hold of ourselves is coloured by every mistake we have ever made, we could potentially feel pretty bad about ourselves. We are not the sum of our mistakes; we are human beings, worthy of love, respect, kindness and acceptance of who we are. If that sounds polyannish, it may be time for you to look at why you are so hard on yourself and what you believe about a person’s worthiness. You are the sum of all your parts, not just the parts you aren’t proud of.

4. Throw Out The Accolades

Some people grow up believing that their value is conditional on their success. Society tells us our worth is based on how smart we are, or our beauty, strength and wealth. These are the things we do and the exterior of how we look, but they are not the reasons why people love us or value us. Who we are and how we feel about ourselves is based on the qualities we hold in our core, such as love, kindness, compassion, creativity, wisdom etc.

5. Use Social Media to your Advantage

Rather than following people who promote a certain look or lifestyle that may feel out of reach, instead curate your feed to follow accounts that inspire and uplift you. Take regular breaks from your phone to reconnect with yourself, and engage authentically by sharing content that reflects your true self. Joining positive online communities can provide a sense of belonging and affirmation, while setting boundaries on your social media usage helps prevent it from consuming too much of your day.

6. Try Parts Work

One powerful approach to improving self-esteem is through parts work, particularly the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. The core concept of IFS is that our mind is made up of various “parts,” each with its own feelings, thoughts, and roles. These include protectors, which shield us from pain, and exiles, which hold deep-seated shame and trauma. As we work towards a compassionate dialogue between our core Self and these parts, we can heal old wounds and transform negative self-beliefs. Understanding that our inner critic is trying to protect us allows us to approach it with empathy, leading to a more harmonious internal system and improved self-esteem.

Next Steps

Some signs that you are struggling with low self esteem include feeling insecure in relationships, experiencing social anxiety, poor body image, people pleasing behaviours, and not advocating for yourself. If you recognize some of these behaviours and feelings in yourself, try seeking out support through therapy. As you learn to love and accept yourself, people will be drawn to your inner calm and confidence and the world will seem like a more friendly place.

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