Self-esteem: because you are worth it

The ability to value ourselves, to possess good levels of self-esteem, is essential for positive mental health and wellbeing, for Personal and Professional Development. And yet many people find it hard to acknowledge their own value. Despite the well-known negative impacts of low self-esteem, why do some people appear to settle for these outcomes when faced with the alternative: increasing their self-esteem? Why do some people find it difficult to say ‘Who I am and what I do is important’? In this article, we share some thoughts on what it means to value ourselves.

Sources of esteem

We see ‘self-value’ or self-esteem as coming from three sources: ourselves, other people and wider society, all of which influence the other. However, there is a large ‘BUT’. It is well known that self-esteem in adults is established early on in life, possibly by the age of seven, and this means that:

  • other people, especially our parents, family and early friends, play a significant role in how we come to value ourselves, as do
  • early social factors such as class, economic and educational status, gender and ethnicity

This all works fine for us individually when other people and society value who we are in positive terms, but when they don’t, our young age works against us. When our self-esteem is forming, we can simply take on board what the outside world says about us because we don’t know any different. What the outside world says about our value when we are young, is what most of us accept as the truth. And when that truth is, we don’t matter, we are not important or we are bad, the consequences for us as individuals can be lifelong.

“I came to realise that while I was objectively successful, my entire rise, my entire leadership was founded on the judgement of being a single-mother in the 1960s.” Rosanna

Low self-esteem and anxiety

The effects of low self-esteem can be many and varied, but they can be simplified into the following categories:

  • negative thinking
  • negative behaviour
  • negative feeling
  • negative relating

When this happens, when our thoughts, behaviours, feelings and relationships are dictated by low self-esteem, our ability to thrive and survive is hindered. And anything that hinders our ability to thrive and survive is a ‘threat’ to us. The importance of this cannot be understated. When we are under any form of threat and low self-esteem is a threat, our mind/body systems switch on our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. And when this happens, we experience the ‘threat’ emotion: anxiety. It is for this reason that we have never met anyone who has low self-esteem who is not also anxious.

What can I do about it?

When someone comes to see us for either coaching or therapy, it is usually clear early on if they have poor self-esteem. It shows up in their language, in how they talk about themselves, and it shows up in their non-verbal communication such as their body language. For clients with low self-esteem, we make it a priority to:

  • find out how the outside world valued them when they were young
  • explain why the outside world is responsible for their low self-esteem, not them
  • show them that as adults they can determine their own value

While this can be hard and take time to achieve, the goal must be for someone to determine their own value and communicate to the outside world that it must accept them on these new terms. How this happens, is less important than that it does happens. Coaching and therapy are two ways to help someone achieve this goal, but they are by no means the only ways.

“I lacked gravitas and authority as a leader – imposter syndrome – before coaching, but according to my CEO I now possess these qualities.” Jackie

The value dilemma

When someone who doesn’t value themselves seeks to address their mental health and wellbeing, they can be presented by what I call the ‘value dilemma’. As a client of ours put it once, ‘How can I make progress if I don’t deserve to see you?’ Our answer was they couldn’t. Increasing self-esteem in order to make progress in life can only happen if this paradox – the value dilemma – is resolved. My client tried every which way to improve their mental health and wellbeing without addressing their low self-esteem, so painful was it for them to do so. Eventually though they ran out of options and were forced to accept that if they wanted to feel happy and contented, they had to value themselves.

The upside: an end to anxiety

When we value ourselves and positively increase our self-esteem, we switch off our fight, flight or freeze response and consequently the anxiety that goes with it. Instead, we switch on what is called our ‘Relaxation Response’, the mind/body state of thriving and surviving (in evolutionary terms the only show in town). People who thrive and survive:

  • think positively
  • behave positively
  • feel positively
  • relate positively

And when people do all of these, their mental health and wellbeing improves and they commit to their Personal and Professional Development because it no longer makes sense not to.

What happens when we value ourselves?

When we value ourselves, we:

  • say yes to some people and no to others
  • engage in activities that are good for us and stop doing ones that are not
  • share our value with those who value us and protect our value from those who don’t
  • stay in relationships and workplaces that contribute to our value and leave those who that do not

“Even at primary school I knew I would be the one who did not go to university. Now I am an accountant, running a successful business. My father told me I was nothing. He was wrong.” Geoff

The Valuables Test

People give away one of their most valuable possessions when they give away their value: their mental health and wellbeing. And yet if they were asked to hand over everything of value they possess by a complete stranger, the answer would be ‘No!’ Their house, car, money, technology or things of emotional value – none of it would they give away. So why would someone fight to hold on to their laptop and mobile, but not their self-esteem? What is it that persuades someone to hand over, often without a fight, the very thing on which their mental health and wellbeing depends – their self-esteem.

Taking the Valuables Test

What if someone were to stop giving away their value? How might that come about? Our Valuables Test is one such way. The Valuables Test starts with someone listing everything of value they possess. Once they have their list, we get them to really connect with the possessions on it, their importance and significance. Then we ask them to imagine a stranger asking them to hand it all over. “How do you feel?” we ask, followed by “I hope you feel like saying ‘No’.” Luckily most do say ‘No’. We get them to locate in their mind and body where that ‘No’ resides. This we call their ‘place of certainty’. From that moment on, we tell them, whenever they are about to give away their value, they can locate their ‘place of certainty’. From there it is much harder to give away their value. From this place it is much easier to say ‘No’.

Because you are worth it

Yes, we know we are ‘repurposing’ this well-known slogan, but in the context of this article, we feel it has power. We see at first-hand the negative impact of low self-esteem on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and on their Personal and Professional Development. We also see what happens when people value themselves.

“I went from a point of tragic low self esteem to a state of reflective confidence. I’m going to continue using this knowledge to help me progress and I know there’s loads more to come.” Phil

Getting support to value yourself

If you struggle to value yourself and would like to increase your self-esteem, then please get in touch. Our IMPACT Transformation Programmes can get you to a better place – and who know what you can achieve when this happens?