Today, I want to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart – self-esteem. Specifically, I want to delve into how self-esteem can get damaged, and what we can do to repair it.
Self-esteem is something I have struggled with throughout my life, especially during my younger years when I, like many, struggled with building body confidence as a teenager. My self-esteem issues got to the point where they were so bad during adulthood that I began to attend therapy to try and help undo the negative image I had of myself and change the way I react to certain situations.
Challenging your self-esteem and creating new habits that help to reprogram ourselves into having positive thought patterns and associations is possible, so let’s take a look at how our self-esteem can become damaged in the first place, and then we will dive into ways to help combat this.
What is self-esteem?
First off, let’s define what we mean when we talk about self-esteem.
To put it in its simplest form, self-esteem is the phrase used to describe how we feel about ourselves.
Our self-esteem is influenced by both external and internal factors that affect the way we see ourselves. Internal factors include things such as our personalities, our values, and our past experiences. External factors include how others treat us, social media influences, and societal expectations.
How self-esteem gets damaged.
So, how can self-esteem get damaged? Well, there are a number of ways. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Firstly, let’s delve into the world of negative self-talk. This can be a huge factor that affects your self-esteem. Many people experience negative self-talk daily, and unless you’ve been shown how to identify these negative thought patterns, it’s unlikely that you will even notice yourself doing it.
Both adults and children very commonly put themselves down in their own heads. We will tell ourselves things like, “You’re so stupid”, “you’re weird”, “no one likes you”, and “you’re not good enough” whenever we experience negative emotions, such as sadness, shame, or embarrassment. Unfortunately, once we start to say these things more frequently to ourselves, we start to truly believe them.
Negative self-talk is therefore a huge culprit when it comes to identifying how self-esteem gets damaged.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Another major way that self-esteem can get damaged is through comparison. Theodore Roosevelt famously said that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and boy was he hitting the nail on the head with that one. Unfortunately for us, unlike Roosevelt, we live in a social media-driven work that creates an easy trap for us to fall into when it comes to comparing ourselves to others.
It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others since social media has made it so easy for friends, family, and even complete strangers, to post about their lives. Social media very often only shows the ‘best’ side of life, with people choosing to keep the nitty-gritty details locked firmly behind closed doors.
It’s so easy to open up Instagram and see your friends or acquaintances living their best lives – getting new jobs, buying homes, getting married, or even just looking effortlessly flawless. Seeing images like this all over social media, as well as in traditional media, it’s no wonder so many of us feel we’re not measuring up or achieving as much as we should be.
Comparing ourselves to others, both online and in ‘real life’ can lead to real feelings of inadequacy, depression, and lower self-esteem.
For many, there’s no escaping their past. Trauma and abuse can be major factors in damaging a person’s self-esteem. For someone who has experienced abuse – whether mental, physical, or sexual – it can leave deep scars on their self-esteem.
Traumatic experiences can make a person feel that they’re damaged in some way. That they are a burden to those around them and create drama or require additional needs that can put others off spending time with them. They may also feel like they’re ultimately to blame for the things that happened in their past and that can shape future relationships in numerous ways.
For those with traumatic pasts, shame and low self-esteem is commonplace.
Finally, a lack of support and validation from others can also damage self-esteem. This can occur in childhood as well as during a person’s adult years. For example, if someone grows up in an environment where they don’t feel heard or understood, or where their feelings are dismissed, it can lead to a sense of isolation and a belief that their thoughts and feelings don’t matter. Feeling unseen or that your opinions and emotions don’t matter can have a catastrophic effect on a person’s self-esteem.
How can you repair self-esteem?
The above-mentioned factors are only the tip of the iceberg; whatever it is that has led you to seek support surrounding your self-esteem is valid and we are here to help!
So, now that we’ve talked about some of the ways that self-esteem can get damaged in the first place, it’s time to talk about what can we do to repair it.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, since everyone’s journey to healing is unique. However, there are a few things that can be helpful for many people – so let’s take a look at some.
As we saw earlier, one reason for low self-esteem is negative self-talk. A common technique used to boost a person’s self-esteem is to replace negative talk with positive self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness and understanding, rather than criticising yourself when you fall short. A trick for perfecting positive self-compassion is to imagine that you’re talking to a friend. Instead of thinking, “I’ve been so stupid, everyone will laugh at me!”, try to speak to yourself as though a friend had said these things to you. You wouldn’t ever agree, you would be rational, and for this example, tell them that they haven’t been silly at all and that no one noticed/was bothered.
Seek positive support systems.
Another way to combat how self-esteem gets damaged is to seek out positive relationships and support systems. This might mean reaching out to a therapist or counsellor, joining a support group, or simply spending time with friends who lift you up and make you feel good about yourself. Seeking support can help you to challenge your thoughts and feelings about yourself and start to see yourself in a different light.
Practice positive self-talk.
Repairing your self-esteem can be aided by practising positive self-talk. Instead of the usual negative self-talk you give yourself, try turning things around and replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones. Sometimes it’s as simple as standing in front of a mirror and chanting positive affirmations, other times it’s about analysing a situation you’d usually beat yourself up over and focusing on the positives, rather than the negatives.
Limit exposure to things that make you feel bad.
Finally, one of the most effective ways of combatting how self-esteem gets damaged (in my opinion, anyway) is to limit your exposure to negative influences. For me, these influences include things like social media and people who bring me down. This doesn’t mean I’m advising you cut yourselves off from the world, but rather that you are mindful of the media you consume and the people you spend time with. Taking a social media detox is a great way to figuratively ‘restart’ your system and give yourself a break from consuming negative content or comparing yourself to others.
Final thoughts on how self-esteem gets damaged and how to start repairing it.
So, there you have it – a brief overview of how self-esteem can get damaged, and some practical tips for repairing it. Remember that healing takes time, and everyone’s journey is different. Progress is still progress, even if you feel that you’re having more bad days than good. Practise the tips above and consider starting a journal for mental health so you to write and share your daily gratitudes and feelings. All healing takes time and effort, but it’s worth it in the end. With a little bit of self-compassion and a supportive community, we can all work towards building healthier self-esteem.