For some people, the problem of motivation and self esteem go hand in hand. If we think of self esteem as meaning how much we value ourselves, then a whole range of issues come into play. Do I like myself? Can I look after myself? If I was brought up in a home where I was always expected to put other people’s needs before my own at all times, then doing things for myself may feel very uncomfortable.
If your self esteem is really on the floor you may need help
Paradoxically, children and sometimes adults who are abused frequently experience the shame and guilt which really belongs to their abuser. These feelings make it harder for us to care for ourselves, to keep ourselves healthy and happy, to do things we enjoy.
Another paradox, or perhaps a catch 22 situation is that people who have a low self esteem as a result of experiences of abuse and neglect as children, may also find it difficult to ask for help, for example in the form of therapy or counselling, because we expect new relationships to be like the ones we have experienced in the past. E.g. we may feel small, stupid, inadequate, ashamed, etc.
Tracy says: “I always knew there was something wrong with the way I was brought up, I just didn’t know what. I had made a pact with myself that I would see someone like a psychiatrist before I had children myself, but I dreaded it . When I thought of getting counselling I thought I would be going along to someone who would tell me off for doing it wrong and then tell me how I should live. Some one who would behave just like my mum. Because in my family I was the problem. This is what happens to abused children as adults, it’s not that we seek out people who are like our family, this is normal for us. Just like everyone else, we look for the familiar in order to feel comfortable. Unfortunately our familiar would be instantly recognised by other people as dangerous, and that becomes an obstacle to building new, healthy relationships. In the end I became so depressed I was dragged to therapy by my friends. And I believe it saved my life”.
Ways to raise your self esteem
If you have enough motivation, there is a plethora of material on the internet about how you can raise your self esteem but be wary – tips, including those which claim scientific evidence often don’t refer to any research and may be just one person’s opinion. On the other hand nothing works for everyone so trust your judgement and try the things that you think might work for you.
Having said that, here is the resiliencefoundry top three:
Consider how you react to positive comments. If compliments, praise, etc just make you want to gag, it may be worth reflecting on what is really going on. Positive feedback is one way to boost your self esteem. If you are blocking it, the people giving it to you will quickly learn to stop and you are missing out on some valuable help. So what’s the problem? Do you disbelieve it? Or is it just that it brings on a slightly squirmy feeling of discomfort and you just don’t know what to say? If it’s the latter, then try “thank you” and move on.
Behave like you have a healthy self esteem. This is old fashioned advice, but simple things like posture, facial expression (e.g. smiling) and paying attention to your appearance can make you feel better about yourself and will certainly (research has demonstrated repeatedly) affect the way people respond to you.
Do something good. This goes back to the element: “Commitment to a Valued and Meaningful Cause”. The benefits of altruism demonstrated in research include improved self esteem but also the release of “good mood” brain chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin.
Philomena says: “ I was at a party and a friend asked me to go and talk to Barbara. She was afraid she had upset her with an offhand comment and Barbara had stormed off. To be honest I was quite irritated because I was enjoying myself and I knew this would take me away from the fun I was having, but I didn’t feel like saying no. Barbara was in the garden and I sat with her for ages. It turned out that she had been worrying about some health symptoms and that was why she was being so stressful. And because I am a nurse I was able to say yes, it’s probably nothing but it could be serious and you need to do something about it tomorrow, I can call you in the morning and go with you if you need me too. It took a long time, but afterwards I felt really good about myself and it made me proud that I am in the right profession for me”.