I wrote this post for another blog as it is aimed at adults. However, I think there is potentially valuable learning in it with respect to how our patterns of behaviour and expectations can affect our children's attitudes towards themselves, so I thought I would share it here as well......
Low self esteem
I have been reading a book called ‘Overcoming love self-esteem’ by Melanie Fennell and I felt it was a very useful read for most of us! I will attempt to summarise.
- Low self esteem gives us beliefs about ourselves that the book calls our ‘bottom line.’ These will be slightly different for different people but they are the narrative we picked up about ourselves from others, probably mostly from our childhood but also form other places in our lives. Some examples of bottom line beliefs include: I am worthless, everyone else is better than I am, I am unlovable, I am unacceptable etc. Our bottom line is like a prejudice against ourselves because even in the face of proof that it is not true, we still believe it to be true.
- To cope with our bottom line beliefs, we create our own ‘rules for life’. These, again will be different for different people (even those with similar bottom lines can have developed different rules for life). These rules can be things like:
- I mustn’t let people get too close to me or they won’t like what they see.
- If someone criticises me, I have failed.
- I must keep myself under tight control.
- Unless I am the best, I am no good.
- I must look good, my worth depends on it.
- If someone is less than completely loyal to me, they have rejected me.
- I must attack before I am attacked.
- It is best not to even try, so you can avoid judgment
- Things have to be recognised by others for them to be worthwhile.
- If things go wrong, it means I am not good enough. I need to be in control.
- I will feel better if I can get sympathy.
- I need to engage in risky behaviours to get approval from others.
- Unless I care for and please others, I am useless.
- Letting my emotions get the better of me shows complete weakness
- So we abide by our rules to avoid triggering the bottom line. However, inevitably situations arise in our lives that mean our rules are rattled – e.g. being asked to do public speaking. This causes what the book calls anxious predictions. Anxious predictions fall into four categories:
- Complete avoidance of the situation
- Taking excessive precautions to ‘make it run smoothly’
- Becoming so anxious, you can’t actually ‘perform’
- Ignoring success even if it was successful and beating yourself up for a rubbish performance.
- The anxious predictions, keep our low self esteem intact. What’s more they can trigger feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and wobble you to the very core before, during and after whatever you were asked to do. They can be the cause of rumination and self-reproach and make us feel awful and consolidate what we thought about ourselves: our bottom line.
- In order to overcome low self-esteem, you need to 1) become conscious of this process 2) consciously do the opposite of what your anxious predictions make you do and 3) believe/look at the positives about the outcome. i.e. turn up, have a go and look for evidence that it went well.