Co-authors of a new book about boundaries Victoria Lambert and psychotherapist Jennie Miller explain the 8 signs of low self esteem and how you can change it
We all know someone with high self-esteem – think Michelle Obama. They’re not arrogant or selfish. But they do take care of themselves, emotionally and practically, because they can see and understand their own value in the world.
Secure in their own self-respect, these tend to be the women who are most respectful and supportive of others.
But it’s too easy to let your self-esteem be dented by the pressures of life. As Obama herself put it: ‘If we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.’
Yet, irony of ironies, when your self-esteem is at its most fragile – you’ve had a difficult break-up, your new boss is a beast – it can feel impossible to start the process of gentle self-care which leads to improved esteem.
What can really help is if you identify the first signs that your self-esteem needs a helping hand before you slip into the sort of deep negative rut which takes enormous work to climb out of.
Here are eight signs that your self-esteem needs a blast of self-care – and what you can do to turn it around:
1. Working through lunch
Nothing wrong with enjoying your work or making an exception when a deadline is nigh and the project depends on your input.
But this is a sure sign you are cutting the corners of self-care. Everyone needs a lunch break: a chance to take a walk or chat to a friend. This simple act will refresh you and your day and, at the same time, remind your boss that you are not a worker drone, but a human who is worthy of some respect.
2. Sending Freudian emails
Ever sent (or nearly sent) an email to the wrong person? Specifically, someone you are complaining or gossiping about? It’s remarkably easy for the brain to get confused over what name you really want to pick from your address book.
This kind of email error is common when you’re not taking care of your own needs; your sense of focus goes. But perhaps something else is going on too?
If you’re going to the effort of discussing your boss, best friend or the guy from accounts behind their backs, what’s stopping you talking to them direct?
Next time you feel the urge to discuss someone else’s shortcomings, open up a draft email and write to them direct. You don’t have to hit Send (although what’s the worst that can happen if you do?).
Healthy self-respect needs good personal boundaries: these are the lines we draw for ourselves which govern our behaviour and the way we interact with others. When we talk to others, it’s quite normal to share experiences and feelings; it brings us closer.
But over-sharing – disgorging huge amounts of our innermost thoughts or life events – is different. It’s tied to an unconscious belief that in sharing every part of yourself and all your vulnerabilities you will be more likeable.
It may feel good to let ‘it all out’ and the one side, and the listener may at first feel honoured to be trusted with such personal information. But in time, oversharing can create a very unbalanced relationship where one side (the sharer) is forcing the other (the listener) into an overly grow-up position.
The listener may even feel the need to share back and end up revealing far more than they feel comfortable with, thus weakening their own boundary. They may even find themselves getting irritated by being forced into a listener role they don’t want to take on and end up gossiping behind your back as a result.
The answer? Take confidences slow. Good relationships develop over time; don’t try to force the pace with a deluge of intimate data which may not be appreciated.
4. Carrying a torch
Still thinking about the one that got away instead of finding new love now? A poll in 2015 found that 40 per cent of us carry a torch for our teenage sweethearts. It’s too easy to stalk them on Facebook or Twitter these days.
But if you want healthy self-esteem, maybe it’s time to quietly extinguish the torch and allow yourself to enjoy relationships in the here-and-now.
Start by drawing a clear boundary between the past and the present and put old loves behind you. You don’t have to forget them as though they never happened – and remembering the good times shared with a past love can give you confidence that they will happen again with a new partner. Remember, past loves end for a reason.
Don’t shackle yourself to history, use the energy you free up to create a new relationship instead.
5. Wasting the gym membership
It’s March, you haven’t been to a single class since January, you can barely find the time but you feel too guilty to cancel the Direct Debit.
Finding reasons to skip exercise classes is a classic sign your self-esteem is not in good shape. The value of fitness is no myth; numerous studies have shown the benefits of cardiovascular exercise for mental and physical health. But the key is to find an exercise routine that works for your lifestyle.
So a gym membership is great if you know you can incorporate visits into your daily routine perhaps because the gym is close at hand or even attached to your office. But if it entails extra effort to even get to its front door, find something that works for you.
That might be line dance classes or horse-riding, cycling your commute or 10-minutes of daily Pilates with an online subscription video. The key is consistency and the results will tone up your self-respect as well as your abs.
6. Being a drama llama
If everything always seems to happen to you, and it’s all too much, you’ll definitely be feeling stressed far too often. Stress is not just a sign of poor self-esteem but also a factor in it.
You may also be inhabiting the role of Victim too often. When we invite others to constantly rescue us, it can feel comforting but isn’t healthy. Good self-care means looking after yourself and being responsible.
7. Regular eye-rolling
Of course, it’s just a joke when you roll your eyes at your partner’s latest outburst. Or is it? Eye rolling is a sign you are not respecting the boundaries of your relationship – with an eye-roll, you’re inviting others to laugh at your partner’s behaviour or words. This lack of respect suggests that not all is well between you overall.
We all need to tend our relationships – lovers, friends and family – and that can mean checking in regularly on even the happiest of unions. If you’ve noticed either of you are undermining the relationship, ask to set aside a time to talk. Bring up the areas you are content with first (“I love the fact you always hold my hand in public” before moving on to topics of contention (“Why do you need to talk over me?”).
Don’t be afraid to suggest they think about their response overnight rather than demanding an instant reply. And do listen properly to what they say. Don’t make your partner take the blame for everything that is wrong between you.
8. The weekend lie-in
Good, regular sleep is the bedrock of self-care so don’t settle for less. But long weekend lie-ins can disrupt your sleep routine. Instead, establish how many hours feels normal for you (somewhere between seven and eight) and then set a bedtime you can stick to.
If you wake in the night, don’t fret about losing sleep. Instead, soothe yourself back into dreams by reminding yourself that you are safe, warm and resting. Be kind to yourself and watch that self-care begin to build and spread into all areas of your life.
Victoria Lambert is the co-author (with psychotherapist Jennie Miller) of Boundaries: How to Draw the Line in Your Head, Heart and Home available in paperback from HarperCollins, £9.99
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