In both our personal and our professional lives, the perception we have of ourselves has a dramatic effect on how we function. Other people may form impressions of us as intelligent, empathetic, trustworthy, even capable and strong. But those impressions may seem completely alien to us, especially if we suffer from low self-esteem, a condition that can impair our professional performance and limit our potential.
Low self-esteem is a phrase freely used but often without a solid understanding of its causes, its nature and its effects. Before I look at ways to deal with it I want to make a clear distinction between self-esteem and confidence, which are too often interchangeably entangled in this discussion.
Confidence is all about our outward projection. In some cases, it is concerned with presenting an illusion of our capabilities to other people; in others it is a genuine reflection of what we know our abilities to be. Confidence can be constructed or rationalised, but it is likely to be fragile unless it has strong self-esteem to support it.
Self-esteem is how we feel inside: it is part of our invisible self. Some of the most successful figures in history have achieved astounding feats without ever believing in their own considerable qualities. No amount of success, encouragement or appreciation will persuade us to see ourselves differently because self-esteem is not rational, it is a feeling – often a deep-seated and crippling one which can lead to anxiety and depression.
Low self-esteem is often traced to childhood but it can also be triggered by professional and personal relationships in adult life. It is rarely about ability and always about self-image. Tackling self-esteem is challenging because it has usually become an ingrained part of your personality and to reverse it takes a lot of work. Coaches and counsellors can help, but ultimately it is up to you.
First of all, you must learn to take an objective view of your negative beliefs. If your tendency is to expect little of yourself and always assume the worst then you need to recognise all the facts that contradict that negativity. Committing this to writing is a liberating and enabling exercise and forms the basis of your own personal guide to recovery.
Part of expunging these negative beliefs is a process of identifying the positive aspects of your character. Don’t compare yourself to colleagues or friends, because these comparisons are irrelevant to the truth of your own capabilities. You are an individual with qualities unique to you. Acknowledge challenges not as things that will defeat you but as things you can beat.
Eliminate the ‘buts’ and ‘what-ifs’. Start to train yourself to see the possible. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Force yourself to ignore non-constructive criticism from co-workers. In a more conducive environment, you’ll find that growing self-esteem will generate confidence and your assertiveness will increase
But don’t under-estimate the magnitude of the task. Overturning a lifetime of low self-esteem won’t happen quickly. Learn not to be hard on yourself. You don’t have to live up to your new goals every minute of the day, you’re allowed to fall short as long as you keep focused on your aims. It’s about progress not perfection.
Why not take a first step and contact me to see how my coaching services can help you to move forwards into a brighter future.