One of my readers asked me to discuss my views of ‘lack of self-compassion’ and ‘being highly self-critical’ and how I might deal with these issues. She also suggested that a lack of self-compassion could be epidemic in our society.
I agree. Low self-esteem (which is the term I use, and consider mostly interchangeable with ‘lack of self-compassion’ and ‘high self-criticism’) is epidemic.
This is for two reasons:
- Everyone experiences an early life (childhood) in which, to varying degrees, they are inadequate/helpless small people in a grown-up world. During this time, all children create ‘rules’ about who they need to be and how they need to behave to best survive the grown-up world.
- Most people don’t do an adequate amount of the mental work required in the transition from ‘child in grown-up world’ to ‘grown-up in grown-up world. This results in adults navigating their current world with out-dated rules and beliefs created in childhood and still feeling the sense of inferiority created during that time.
For more on the “inferiority complex” developed in childhood, I suggest the work of Alfred Adler who, in his book ‘Understanding Human Nature’, said:
“Since all children must grow up surrounded by adults, they are predisposed to consider themselves small, weak and incapable of living alone. They do not trust themselves even to do those simple tasks of which adults believe they are capable without mistakes or clumsiness.”
Keep this quote in mind while I now talk about some strategies for dealing with low self-esteem:
Rather than give yourself a hard time for your current beliefs and behaviours that (at least on some level) you know aren’t serving you to create the life you want, take the attitude of “That was a really smart rule to make (or belief to have) when I was a child. But now that I am grown up, I have the ability and resources to choose rules that will move me closer to my ideal life.”
For example, due to messages received as a child, someone might have a rule that says ‘I must not express my opinions, especially when my opinion is against the person I am having a conversation with’. As an adult, that same person can now say to themselves:
“That was a really smart rule to make as a child because during that time in my life, I often used to get in trouble for talking back and disagreeing with the grown-ups in my life. Now that I’m an adult, while it’s nice to get support from others, my wellbeing and future does not depend on it. In fact, the achievement of my desired future is more dependent on me believing in myself and standing by my own opinion and beliefs. Therefore a more appropriate rule/belief for me to now have would be: I feel free to have and express my own opinions because when I do it moves me closer to the life that I want and people respect me for it.”
Having this kind of an understanding of how your mind develops, why you create beliefs/rules, and why your belief/rules need to be regularly updated is an important first step to creating better self-esteem.
But there is an even more important second step…
Make a move
Most of the time, increasing self-esteem takes courage, and COURAGE IS A VERB. In other words, to have courage, you have to do something.
I have a wonderful audiobook on the topic of self-esteem by Caroline Myss and as she says:
“You don’t read a book on courage and become courageous. That’s preposterous. The only way you develop that kind of power within is action.“
It’s doesn’t matter how small you start with your actions. One thing I know is big actions usually start with small actions.
Thank your brain, don’t fight it
Once you decide to make a change in your life, choose a new belief and decide on an action, your brain is going to kick in with all the reasons why your plan is not going to work…
- You’ve never done this before
- You did this before and it didn’t work
- People will laugh at you
- You don’t know what you’re doing
- You’re not good enough
- The list goes on and on and on and on…
Now, capitalising on the first step (Have Understanding) and the second step (Make a Move), here is where you say:
“Thank you brain. I understand it is your job to keep me safe and alive. I understand that you’ve collected lots of experiences over my lifetime to justify the thought that the action I want to now take in my life could leave me feeling hurt. I want you to realise though that I am ready to grow and in order to do that I need to move out of my comfort zone and take this action that I believe will get me closer to the life that I truly desire for myself. So thank you for doing your job and providing me with a warning that I might be moving toward something unsafe, but I am going to do this anyway.”
That last paragraph is basically a longer version of the phrase that some awesome person (I don’t know who it was) coined:
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
It is your brain’s job to kick in and give you fear signals when you make changes in your life – even for small and insignificant changes, and especially for big changes. This is part of the brain’s system for keeping you alive and it is necessary.
It is your job to notice the warnings and make a decision about whether you are in real danger or if your brain is overreacting. Notice the warning, and move in the direction of your desired life.
Each time you feel the fear, evaluate, and take one (no matter how small) action anyway, you increase your self-esteem. Guaranteed.