Being sel-critical helps to keep low self-esteem going , but is only one half of the equatipobn . The other half is ignoring or discounting your good points, and failing to treat yourself with kindness, consideration and respect.

LEARNING TO APPRECIATE GOOD POINTS

Low self-esteem makes you alert for anything negative about yourself at the expense of anything positive. Even if you occasionally notice ypour good qualities you may discount or forget them, or see them as exceptions rather than as a true reflection of who you are. You might think ,’I know the meal I made was nice, but anyone could have done it, probably better ‘. Unsurprisingly these biases against yourself will naturally affect your mood, energy and motivation and make you feel that you are not worth treating with consideration . Learning to value your good points will help you to do yourself justice and develop the feeling that it is okay to be you.

Watch out for”Yes,but…’s

If your low self-esteem is well embedded , the idea of appreciating your positive qualities may seem entirely alien to you. As you try out the strategies outlined below, you will almost certainly have thoughts along the lines of”Yes,but…” : Yes ,but that would be boasting !” Yes, but suppose other people don’t agree ? ‘ Yes, I am generous , but only sometimes .’ These will seem more convincing and belieevable when your mood is low. Yes, but ….’s may seem like barriers to progress , but in the fact they are extremely useful . Every time you notice one, you are in the fact catching something that keeps you stuck in low self-esteem , right in front of your very eyes . Yes, but …. ‘s are actually helping you to find out more about yourself.

Identifying good points

It is a good idea to use a notebook for this exercise. Try making a list of your positive qualities. How many come to mind will vary from person to person. If your low self-esteem is not there all the time, or is not very strong , then you might be able to come up with ten or even twenty positive qualities , after giving yourself time to reflect . If your low self-esteem is persistent and long standing , and no one taught you to value yourself and treat yourself respectfully , you may find it difficult to think of even one .

Don’t despair, You are a new developing mental muscle . At first you will feel stiff and awakward but, if you keep practising , it will get easier and you will find that you are able to come up with several positive qualities. Don’t worry if you can only find one or two good points to start with, and if even that take a while , stick with it. Take your time , go at your own pace , continue to add things as they occur to you, leave your list and come back to it as many times as you need. If you have a supporter , ask them how they see you: they can probably see good qualities in you that you have trouble noticing for yourself.

Making it real: reliving

Recognising your good points needs to become part of your everyday thinking, not just words written down in a peace of paper. Once you havev your list , find a time and place to relax and reflect. Focus on your first item, and recall a recent occasion when you demonstrated this quality in your behaviour . For instance, if your first positive quality is,’ I’m helpful’, try to bring to mind a recent occasion when you were indeed helpful. It should be recent because you need to remember clearly what happened . Recreate the situation in your mind ‘s eye. Call up a vivid image – what you saw , what you heard, what you felt in your body . Home in on what you did that was helpful and the emotions you experienced at the time.

‘Helpful’ was the first positive quality on Jenny’s list , and she recalled helping her small brother to set up a new game on his computer. She could see his face in her mind’s eye and hear his excited squeaks. She could feel his hug, and her love for him. Bringing this vividly to mind made’helpful’ real to her . When yoy have relived an example of your first positive quality, move on to the next and so on down the list. It’s helpful to write down , in detail , the memories you discover , so that you can bring them to mind in future just as vividly.

Making it part of everyday life

It is also important to notice your good points in everyday life. The best way is to record them for a while . Our memories are often unreliable , so write down what hapened in enough detail to be able to recall it later. Don’t write,’I was honest.’ but rather:’ I admitted to a colleague that I had forgotten to act on her request’. At the end of each day , review what you have written and call up the memory of what you did as vividly as you can. Let it sink in, and notice how this affects the way you feel about yourself. Later on , especially on days when you feel unconfident and sad and it is hard to remember anything positive about yourself , you will be able to find reminders in your notes.

Once you have become better at recognizing your good points , you may not need to write them down any more(though you may wish to do so) . Some people establish this new habit within three or four weeks; others take longer. Part of respecting and caring for yourself is allowing yourself all the time you need.

Exercise: Treating yourself with kindness

You may be good at treatinh other people well, anticipating their needs , being generous, and tolerant, and compassionate when they make mistakes or things go wrong for them. But how you treat yourself could be rather different. It may be hard for you to recognize your needs, or act on signs that you are tired , stressed , unwell or depressed . You may rarely(if ever) set aside time to do things you enjoy, that allow you to relax, replenish your resources and be at peace with yourself.

Thinking about how spend your time may help to bring this into focus. This exercise is similar to activity scheduling for depression , but is specifically designed to encourage you to treat yourself kindly.

In your notebook , write down what you do on a typical day. If you work , you could write down your activities for two days-a working day and leisure day .Start with ‘get up’ and carry on till you get to ‘go to bed’. Then look at each activity and ask yourself if, on balance, it nourishes or depletes you. . ‘Nourishing’ activities lift your mood, energize you, and help you feel calm and centred.

This includes purely enjoyable and relating activities , as well as things that may not be very enjoyable but give you a sense that you are taking care of business, running your life instead of letting it run you. Depleting activities on the other hand , drag you down , drain your energy , make you feel tense and uptight . Write”N” against activities that nourish you and ”D” against those that deplete you. Some activities may do neither , and some will do both, depending on circumstances . See if you can work out what those circumstances are.

When you have given ”N” or ”D” to each activity , look at the pattern .Is the balance between them satisfactory ? Would you like to increase your nourishing activities or decrease your depkleting ones?

For example , you could:

  • Add activities you enjoy but have not done lately( such as going to the cinema) ; take time to care for your body (things like exercises, healthy eating, relaxation).
  • Include treats-simple things like buying yourself flowers or a ticket to a football match , taking time to watch a sunset or play with a pet , choosing what TV programmes to watch instead of watching on autopilot.
  • Make sure you include activities you have been putting off (writing that email, sorting out that cupboard ) Drop or curtail depleting activities (such as restricting Facebook to the end of the day, limiting how much time you spend on it , and not spending hours talking to people who make you feel bad). As you make these changes , keep writing your activities down . Notice when you start to have more nourishing activities, and see if this makes a difference to how to feel , including how you feel about yourself . You will only benefit from such changes if you focus attention on what you do , You cannot savour relaxing activities or feel satisfied with completed tasks if your mind is elsewhere .
  • Even routine tasks can reveal unexpected riches if you pay attention . Consider taking a shower , for example -what a feast for the senses!
  • Experiment with really being present for enjoyable experiences , instead of letting them pass you by. How you pay attention also makes a difference to activities you do not particularly enjoy but have to do .
  • For instance, if you do washing up with your mind full of ” It’s not fair -nobody appreciate what I do’, then washing up will deplete you . However, if you experiment with focusing on the warmth of the water , the sensation of bubbles , the texture and weight of the things you are washing , your experience may change . The same careful attentiveness can transform all sorts of routine chores.

Equally your attitude can drain the goodness out of activities that might otherwise nourish you. Self-defeating ‘ Killjoy’NAT’s {Such as comparing how things are with how they should be } will spoil your pleasure and relaxation and make necessary tasks even more depleting . Experiment with answering them back, acting against them , and observing how this affects your day and how you feel about yourself . For instance a hardworking businesswoman had to move into a small one-bedroom flat when her business collapsed . For some time , she hated being there , and kept thinking , ‘I should be in a proper house like I used to be.’ It was only when she accepted that this was her reality for the moment that she could look out of the windon and realise that she loved seeing the trees outside, and liked being able to chat to her neighbours in the communal garden.

4- Changing the rules

Changing your rules for living allows you more freedom to be your – self and makes you less vulnerable to getting stock in the vicious circle of low self esteem and depression . Unlike the NAT’s that run through your mind at particular moments , Rules have probably inluenced your thinking and actions across a whole range of different situations over a long period of time. So establishing and strengthening a new Rule will take a while , but if you persist it will gradually become second nature . The story of Cathy illustrations how this process works.

Cathy’s story

When Cathy was growing up , her mother chronically ill, weak and unable to care for her or her little brothers and sisters. It was Cathy’s job to look after them , from a young age, Her father naturally worried constantly about his wife’s health and what might happen to the family if she became worse. Her mother loved Cathy , but was too unwell to give her time or attention , and her father’s preoccupation meant that there was no one to give her the affection and acknowledgement she needed. She learned to be quiet and obedient , to stay in the background , and never to assert her own needs : to do so would be selfish.

Identifying your Rules for living

What is needed here is detective work. If you find more than one Rule, choose the one you would most like to change. You can use what you learn to address the others later.

Useful sources of information about Rules include:

  • Repeated thought patterns. Do the same expectations and demands on yourself come up again and again ?
  • Do your anxious predictions follow repeated themes ?
  • Do the same self-critical thoughts arise repeatedly?
  • Look out for the ‘shoulds’ , ‘musts’, and ‘oughts’ that often signal a Rule is around.

‘Shoulds’ often come with an’or else’ which may not be explicit . See if you can put it into words. Cathy’s Rule was’I must never put myself first’. At first she could not work out what her ‘or else’ was , so she asked hereseldf: ‘ If I did put myself first, what would that say about me? ‘ Back came the answer : ‘It would mean I was selfish’- a direct reflection of her Bottom Line.

  • Memories. As a child what messages did you get about how to behave and who to be?
  • Did you feel that being loved and valued depended on doing certain things, being a certain way?
  • What was expected (or demanded) of you?
  • Cathy had a strong memory from when she was quite a young child. She had caught flu . She could not stop coughing , and lay in bed, feverish , headachy, and miserable. Suddenly she heard her mother crying in the bedroom next door, and her father running up the stairs to see what was wrong. As he passed her bedroom door, he shouted:’ Will you stop that noise! You are upsetting your mother. ‘Poor Cathy felt consumed with remorse : how could she be so selfish and needy, when her mother was so poorly?

Powerful emotions.

When do you feel especially bad about yourself-as if you have fallen short or failed to measure up?

When this happens, what Rule have you broken?

And what about when you feel really, really good about yourself?

What Rule might you have obeyed?

Cathy often worked overtime if other staff were off sick on her busy ward. She felt absolutely wonderful when the team leader told her that , if it was not for her, the whole place would fall apart.

Questioning the Rules

Once you have a sense of your Rule, take time to find the wording that ‘clicks’ for you. Keep your draft Rule in mind for a few days and observe whether it ties in with your ideas about what you have to do and be in order to feel OK about yourself. If not, what Rule would better explain the patterns you notice?

Stay curious and keep investigating.

Your next step is to question your Rule, and formulate and test an updated version which will give you its advantages without its costs.

Where did my Rule come from?

Does it consider the realities of being an ordinary , imperfect human being? Are its standards consistent with how the world actually workds?

How ell does it match what you would expect of another person you respected and cared about?

In what ways are its demands excesisive -even impossible?

Your Rule was a sort of contract you made with yourself as a child .

Would you choose an inexperienced child to run your life now ?

Cathy realised that she would never expect of another person she cared about what she expected of herself. Her history explained why she had these expectations of herself – but that did not mean they were appropriate or good.

What are the benefits ?

If there were no advantages to having this Rule, it would not have survived. If you clarify the benefits you gain from living by the Rule, you can ensure you keep them when you create a new one. As well as looking for positive pay-offs , explore what you might risk by letting your Rule go. People often fear that their demanding standards prevent catastophe from occuring: If they did not try really hards, they would never do anything worthwhile , ever again.

A benefit for Cathy was that she had become extremely good at coping and taking responsibility . This had helped her career, and people really appreciated her efforts. She feared that , if she began to assert her own needs, she would risk the good opinion of people who were important to her.

What are the costs?

How does your Rule restrict your opportunities, colour of your relationship, undermine your sense of achievement,pressurize and exhaust you, stand in the way of accepting yourself?

Look at this impact in the oresent and in the past.

What have you missed out on, lost or risked because of this Rule?

How has it undermined your freedom to have a satisfying career , to relax and enjoy the company of others , to make the most of every experience?

Cathy realized that she was often tired frazzled and plagued with coughs and colds. She came home too drained to enjoy time with her family -and felt terrible for not putting them first, too. The Rule was unworkable , and it was making her ill.

What new Rule might be more realistic and helpful?

What new Rule would help you feel more at ease with yourself as you are, rather than constantly expecting yourself to be something you are with?

It may be take a littel while to work out what will suit you best. Take as much time as you need to come up with some guidelines, and to experiment with trying them out and making whatever changes you need.

If it is difficult to think of a new Rule , consider people you know, like and respect.

Do they seem to share your Rule?

If not, what do you think their Rule might be ?

Can you tell from their behaviour ?

Or if you know and trust them well enough , you could ask them.

Would you advise anyone else to follow your Rule?

If an alien from outer space asked you the secret to living a happy and fulfilled life on your planet, whaout would you advise?

Aim to make your new Rule more flexible than the old one , more responsive to different circumstances . It will recognize that what works on one occasion or with one person may not work with another , and allow you to respond to each situation on its own merits . It will understand that you are not superhuman . ‘I must ‘ will give way to ‘ I ‘d like’, ‘I enjoy’ , ‘I prefer ‘, and ‘It ‘s okay to’.

Cathy’s new Rule was:’ it’s okay to take account of my needs too.’

How can you’road test ‘ your new Rule?

Just creating a new Rule is not enough . You need to put it into practice and see how well it works. Experiment with operating as if it were true, even if you are still unsure, and observe what happens. Have you found a workable alternative , or does your first attempt need revision?

You may feel uncomfortable at first but the more you experiment , the easier it will become . There is no need to rush -charging the Rules take as long as it takes.

5- Creating a new Bottom Line

The final step towards healthy self-esteem is to tackle your Bottom Line. In fact, even though you have not yet addressed it directly by now it may seem less compelling than it did. Through the work you have done, you may already be starting to appreciate that it is nothing more than an old opinion-out of date , inaccurate and unfair . Do not worry if this is not yet the case. Changing powerful ideas , especially if they have been around for a long time takes patience . Persistence and practice.

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