Praxis für Psychosomatische Medizin u. Psychotherapie, Coaching, Mediation u. Prävention
Dr. Dr. med. Herbert Mück (51061 Köln)

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How to improve your self-esteem (1)

(Translated by Bettina Umminger, Diplom-Übersetzerin)

People who are depressive, anxious and full of shame often feel that life “hasn`t been fair to them”. This feeling of “unfairness” is kept alive by them in different ways (f.ex. in form of “being worthless”, “being a Mr. Nobody”, “not being capable of anything”). They feel as persons who have to fight for something all the time, who are always confronted with problems or are suffering from constant deficits, who are neither allowed to take nor have been given something. That is why depressive people mostly suffer from a low self-esteem (“inferiority”). In order to back up their self-esteem they strive for acceptance which relates to their own performance (“I am what I perform”). As soon as their performance diminishes they feel in danger. At the same time, depressive people constantly tend to run themselves and their performance down. They wait impatiently for positive feedbacks from others and are dependent on their opinion. If they get that positive feedback they requested, they have no trust in it because they know that they themselves asked for it. The following suggestions show ways out of that dilemma.

Accept your self-esteem problem

Just accept that you have a “self-esteem problem”. Think about what may have caused it (f.ex. disparage, neglection, desinterest on the part of important persons in your childhood, bad marks, lacking self-esteem of parents and other role models, disregard of the family).

Stop the “inner critic”

Consequently practise to say “stop” loudly, whenever the doubts and depressive thoughts which were described in the beginning, arise in you (“You silly cow...”, “You are not capable of anything”, “You`d rather”). Simply order yourself to think about your list of personal skills, your wealth (which can also be non-materialistic) and successes. For this purpose write corresponding key words on a piece of paper, hang up these notes in your home in order to complete them constantly over the next few weeks.

Get to know your positive sides

Take another piece of paper. Imagine you were a person who likes you very much and therefore sees only your positive or even lovely charcteristics. What would that be? Write down all observations and ideas on your note. The following characteristics of despressive people are very often greatly valued: A lot of depressive people are perservering and reliable. They are performance-related and orient towards social ideas. They seem modest because they rarely make aggressive demands. A lot of them are very sensitive, warm-hearted and capable of deep feelings. In a partnership they are affectionate and seek company. They do not act hastily. Being cautious they think carefully and in detail about a lot of things. They are very self-critical and put the “blame” on themselves. They are the classical helpers who do not hesitate to take responsibility for others and make sacrifices if necessary.

Accept and encourage yourself

Accept your “weak points”, too! Accept yourself as what you are. Nobody is perfect and responsible for everything. It is the mixture of strenghts and weaknesses which gives us an individual “”profile” and makes us so unique. Stand by your weak points also in front of others. Let other people know about your weak points – this is often considered to be a sign of strength! Don`t make desperate efforts to hide your nervousness, just dare to talk openly about it with friends and collegues. Forgive yourself possible mistakes and make inner peace with yourself and your weaknesses. Especially in situations where you feel insecure keep saying: “I am o.k. how I am” and “I can do it”

Stand by yourself and feel “authentic”

Try to express your opinion, even if this might be to your disadvantage. Stand by those values of which you are thorougly convinced. (which were not only drummed in your head or dictated to you). Just behave how you feel. Be authentic instead of playing a role or being a puppet for others. They should see you as the person you are and not as a good tactician. Be proud of having “a will on your own” even if people call it “stubborness”. Stay a recognizable personality, don`t dissolve in the anonymous crowd. Take “self-confident” people as an example.

Appear clear and self-confident

Don`t wait for a good self-esteem feeling in order to appear self-confident later. Make it the other way round: Practise to appear self-confident and be amazed how this makes your self-esteem grow. F.ex. use the word “I” instead of “we”. Refrain from indirect speech. Say precisely what you want (“I want...”, “I wish...”). Your expression should be powerful, clear and quick-witted. Save others the trouble of having to guess your opinion and wishes. Refrain from subservience and justification. Resist the “reflex of obedience”. Don`t lull yourself in a false sense of security which you can seemingly obtain if you give up the identity or try to be everybody`s darling. Look right in the eyes of the other person and smile. Emphasize your wish with corresponding gestures, posture, facial expression and volume. Keep checking in front of a mirror if you stand up straight, and, that is important, not let your head and shoulders hang down. With the help of a tape recorder practise to speak in a loud, calm, clear and  rather deep (than shrill) voice. People having a low self-esteem are often not able to do that. In conversations proudly mention what are your strong points (this is no “show-off” but a sense-making alternative to a “long face”). When you approach an unknown person go straight-up, be self-confident and look in her eyes to test if this person makes way for you.

Put yourself in the focus of attention

Step out of your shadow existence. From time to time practise to be resolute and to draw attention. At the restaurant, f.ex., drop a silverware loudly on the floor. In shops, fit several clothes without buying them. In public, shout something to someone who is standing quite a distance away. Wear clothes which attract attention. While standing in line, ask people to let you go first. In front of others, practise doing things you are not yet good at. In the street, whistle and sing loudly to yourself. Practise to communicate your feelings and thoughts to others.

Keep checking and improving your self-image

Make it a habit to ask other people for positive feedbacks (observations) concerning your person. (“What do you like about me?”,” In your opinion, what am I especially good at?”) Friendly say thank you for compliments and try not to give any further (mostly disparaging) comments. Free yourself from the automatism of thinking “What will the others think of me? What are their expectations?” Care less about the others but more about you. Don`t take everything personally. Make a difference between your value as a person and the value of your achievments. Even if someone thinks something about you (which is more rare than you think!), it is and stays the mere opinion of another person. Such an opinion absolutely doesn`t change your personality! You decide if you want to think the same! Furthermore, if you keep asking yourself what the others are thinking, you take yourself too seriously, at least on that point. By the way, people with a low self-esteem are more occupied with themselves than people without that problem. In spite of this intensive self-occupation, their perceptive faculty is low or not existent because they have difficulties in objectively feeling themselves deep inside.