Why Self-Esteem Matters and How to Build Yours

Dr. Randy Kamen

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Self-esteem is the belief that you are good enough and worthy of enjoying happiness, success, healthy relationships and a good life. From a psychological lens self-esteem is about how we evaluate ourselves. Confidence, self-respect and personal satisfaction are signs of healthy self-esteem. These qualities are not coming from a narcissistic place but rather represent an accurate representation of the way we experience ourselves in the world.

Low Self-Esteem and Addiction

How we perceive ourselves has a tremendous impact on the quality of our lives. Those with low self-esteem do not believe that they are good enough or worthy of joy or abundance. Low self-esteem impacts every aspect of life as we know, especially with regard to the relationship with ourselves and with others.

Those suffering from low self-esteem often seek to numb their suffering. Often they/we turn to alcohol or substance abuse to temporarily get relief from the inherent pain. Numbing the mind and body offers a quick fix and short term solution that ultimately leads to more complicated problems like depression, heightened anxiety and addiction.

Why Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem is the belief that we are not worthy or good enough. We are in some way defective and don’t deserve to enjoy what’s good and decent.

This feeling usually comes from some form of neglect or abuse in early childhood development. Children are exquisitely tuned in and sensitive to the way they are treated. They pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues of others and are profoundly impacted by early experiences—even those they cannot remember.

Children lack the insight or tools needed to understand that they are not to blame for the physical, emotional or sexual abuse that they endure. Consequently, they blame themselves for aggressions inflicted upon them and can feel unworthy for years to come, often even a lifetime.

Different Ways that Low Self-Esteem Evolves

• Low self-esteem can be the result of parents who were perpetually absent because of illness, their preoccupations or addictions. Rather than being available to focus on the child, other demands or interests interfered with this important early bonding. The child surmises from that experience that he or she isn’t important and doesn’t matter. The internalization of this form of neglect can lead the child to feel worthless and invisible in the early years and later on in life.

• Helicopter parents that hover over their children can lead to another kind of compromised self-esteem in which the child feels like he or she is never quite good enough or measures up. The belief is that this child typically believes that they are constantly being scrutinized, compared to peers and must always accomplish more. Often, down time is considered wasted time and the child ends up feeling defeated regardless of her or his success.

• Low self-esteem can also arise from being the victim of prejudice for race, ethnicity, gender identity, religious beliefs, disabilities or being different from whatever is the norm in a given scenario. Being discriminated against early on leaves indelible scars. When others treat a child with hate or scorn, those feeling become internalized by the child and low self-esteem and self-loathing can result.

• Most children are bombarded by the media. They get messages at very young ages about what they should look like, feel like, what’s cool and what’s going to yield them positive rewards. When a child feels that she or he doesn’t measure up to that discrepancy between how they perceive themselves and how they are supposed to be, it can lead to low self-esteem or again, self-loathing.

Cascade of Effects from Low Self-Esteem

The result of low self-esteem can lead to a cascade of negative behaviors, thoughts and beliefs about oneself. When someone doesn’t feel worthy or good enough they don’t hold themselves to high standards and can settle for less than they deserve in every
circumstance of life.

Effects of Low Self-Esteem:

• Poor self-care
• Self-deprecating thoughts
• Self-injurious behaviors
• Self-limiting beliefs about potential
• Negative attitudes
• Lack of trust in self and others
• Drawn to abusive relationships
• Anger management issues
• Readily succumbs to peer pressure
• Struggles in relationships with others
• Addiction to numb the pain

Building Self-Esteem

The good news is that self-esteem is a learnable skill that can be developed over time with practice and guidance. It’s important that one makes an ongoing commitment to building one’s self-esteem as this will impact all else in life.

Recognize your inner thoughts and bring them to the level of conscious awareness. Once you are attuned to the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that lie within, you are able to begin challenging them.

Take in something positive about yourself every day. Notice one trait or characteristic about yourself that you like. Allow that thought to enter your mind and body and reflect on it for 10-20 seconds at a time. Each time you do this you are building a positive foundation that you can continue to strengthen every day. It’s like building a muscle that gets stronger with regular exercise.

Confront your fears by being willing to examine them head on. Every time you intentionally face your fears there is a boost in your confidence and self-esteem.

Learn mindfulness meditation to remain more awake and present to your life and begin to identify thoughts and thought patterns as they arise. You can begin by practicing a breath meditation in which you sit for a few minutes and notice each breath as you breathe “in” and “out.” This simple exercise even when practiced for a couple of minutes will help you to be more awake, energized and “in” the present moment.

Practice self-compassion with self-compassion meditations and by journaling to keep track of your progress. This means learning to love oneself despite failings. Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion is based upon unconditional self-love, and has little or nothing to do with performance or accomplishments.

Practice “thought replacement.” This means challenging negative or self-deprecating thoughts and beliefs. When these thoughts arise think about the inherent messages and the truth in them. Repeatedly replace negative thoughts about the self and others with a kinder and gentler perspective. This will become more natural over time.

Learn to accept failure along with accomplishments and know that they are all part of the tapestry of life. Eventually you’ll come to recognize that every time you fail, there is a success not far behind. Failure paves the road to success.

Reflect on and celebrate your successes. You are responsible for learning from your mistakes and celebrating your successes. Make a list of your successes. Journal about them and train yourself to focus on the positive.

Connect with positive, supportive people. Build your team or tribe. No one truly succeeds or experiences happiness alone. We need healthy relationships in which we feel loved, valued and supported.

All of these methods for building self-esteem and addressing addictive behaviors are effective when practiced regularly—especially with support. You don’t have to do them all at once! Practice the methods that you resonate with and then build from there.

Feeling worthy and good enough impacts every aspect of how you show up in your life. It behooves you to become extraordinarily good at valuing your beautiful self. No one but you can do this for you.

As you know, low self-esteem and addiction are deeply intertwined. Addressing one part of this equation will help deal with the other part. Your job is to get all of the support possible and to be held accountable for creating your best self and enjoying a life you love. It’s possible and You Are Worth It!!

Dr. Randy Kamen is a Psychologist, Educator, and Speaker who has pioneered new territory in mind-body medicine at Boston University’s School of Medicine and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. She authored the Amazon Bestseller, Behind the Therapy Door: Simple Strategies to Transform Your Life. Her book teaches women how to thrive by building inner strength, calm, clarity, self compassion, healthy relationships and purpose. Dr. Kamen presents internationally at universities, women’s conferences, corporations, and health spas on resilience, relationships, leadership, aging well, life purpose and transformation.

Dr. Kamen recently launched BlueberryFieldsMV, a facility for women’s workshops and retreats on Martha’s Vineyard.
Connect with Dr. Randy Kamen www.DrRandyKamen.com facebook.com/DrRandyKamen, twitter @DrRandyKamen