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Can you list 5 things you like about yourself? For many people, that's a hard question to answer. Low self-esteem can make everything you do and everything you are feel clouded by self-critical thoughts and feelings of inadequacy.
As a kid, you receive many messages about yourself and the world around you that carry into adulthood and affect self-esteem. While some messages are positive or neutral, others can be negative. Maybe it was an offhand comment you heard about yourself or continual criticism from people you trusted. Maybe you started internalizing how people treated you as a reflection of your self-worth. These ingrained views from childhood can affect how you feel about yourself and how you interact with others in adulthood. It can also make you more likely to seek out friendships and relationships that confirm those views and lower your self-esteem even more.
Oftentimes, people aren't aware of their ingrained messages or how they affect their self-esteem. You might not remember the comments immediately or realize that you had internalized anything. Maybe what you do notice is that it's hard for you to let go of past mistakes. You might find yourself thinking about them constantly and beating yourself up about it. Maybe you feel like you don't deserve good things so you settle for people treating you poorly or avoid opportunities for growth. Maybe you notice that you have a hard time accepting compliments because the thought of them being true is laughable. You might compare yourself to others and criticize yourself for being different.
Your negative self-talk might be so automatic that you don't notice how hurtful it is anymore. When you make a mistake, what are the thoughts that follow? Are they harsh and judgmental or are they compassionate and forgiving? Maybe even thinking about approaching yourself with kindness seems impossible right now.
Beginning counseling for low self-esteem can help you bring these unconscious thoughts into awareness, flip the script, and recognize them as just thoughts and not facts. In therapy, we can build the skills you need to practice showing yourself the compassion you deserve, just as you would show for your loved ones.
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff explores techniques for limiting self criticism and practicing having compassion for yourself. She explains that self-compassion isn't self-pity or self-indulgence and self-criticism isn't needed to improve yourself. Find it on her website here.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown is about embracing what some might consider flaws and letting go of the "shoulds" in life. Find it on her website here.
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer is about accepting yourself and showing yourself compassion in a mindful and nonjudgmental way. Find it on amazon here.
Dr. Kristin Neff, the author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, provides free guided practices and exercises on her website. Click here to find them.