It has long been my theory that we all have low self-esteem but manifest it in different ways. Clinical psychologist Judy Kuriansky, PhD, notes that self-esteem issues are central to just about every problem that she sees in adult patients.
Dr. Kuriansky, the 2011 winner of the Friends of the United Nations Lifetime Achievement in Global Peace and Tolerance Award, recently published a book, 31 Things to Raise a Child's Self-Esteem. Although this is a parenting book, it is filled with lessons that many of us either never learned or choose not to practice. Here are her top strategies for all of us…
- Refocus negative thoughts. You can have only one thought in your head at a time. It can bring you up...or it can drag you down. If you start obsessing about your hair loss or jowls, focus on a part of your body that you like. If something didn't go right at work, shift to thinking about a more successful experience.
- Don't wallow in guilt. You may have done something bad—but that doesn't make you a bad person. Make restitution by approaching the person whom you wronged, apologizing and making a resolution about future behavior.
- Surround yourself with ego boosters, not ego busters. If you always feel bad about yourself after being with someone, minimize contact with him/her.
- Develop a thick skin. Imagine that you have an invisible shield that deflects all barbs. People who bring you down often do it because they feel badly about themselves it often has little or nothing to do with you.
- Do things that make you feel competent and give you a feeling of accomplishment. Organize your files...learn something new about using your camera or computer... help a friend.
- Get hugs...and give hugs. Physical contact generates a chemical response that builds self-esteem. Consciously or unconsciously, you perceive that someone cares about you.
Dr. Kuriansky also suggests that if your parents are still alive, you have a conversation with them about how they feel about themselves. Ask about situations in which they felt bad about themselves, then ask yourself whether you are repeating their patterns. Building self-esteem isn't an easy task-but it is well worth the effort.
How to Get Past a Horrifying Experience
Two people I know have had traumatizing experiences recently. Burglars tried to break into a friend's home, and she hasn't been able to sleep well since...and a coworker who was in a car accident is now afraid to drive. Neither of them has managed to overcome her fear.
"It's natural to throw up a protective wall when bad things happen," psychologist John Ryder, PhD, told me. "That wall obviously is not a solution-but just getting back up on the horse' isn't, either." If people aren't ready, he explained, they may be retraumatized. Better ways…
- Reframe your thoughts to talk yourself out of the anxiety and gain perspective. Dr. Ryder, who wrote the book Positive Directions (www.takepositivedirections.com), says focus on the positive even if you don't entirely believe it. Say to yourself, I'm going to drive very cautiously and reach my destination safely. Enumerate the safety features of your car or home. Think about how long you had been living there without a break-in or driving without an accident. Tell yourself, Lightning doesn't strike twice.
- Take small, progressive steps. For example, if driving is a problem, sit in the car in your driveway. Turn on the ignition, relax (see relaxation techniques)—then turn off the ignition and get out of the car. Next time, drive to the street and back-and then next time, around the block.
- Express your anger. Dr. Ryder observes that fear and anger are related-so it may be helpful to express anger about the incident in a constructive way. Vent to a friend, write in a journal, exercise it out or release it in whatever non-hurtful way works for you. Such release will help you regain your sense of control.
Dr. Ryder notes that it's not unusual to have nightmares after a traumatic event. You may be able to break the nightmare cycle by briefly writing the story when you wake up. Then later, rewrite the story in greater detail in the reverse order from how it happened, noting a positive end to the dream. This exercise forces the mind to dig up the bad experience and rearrange it in a less threatening way. Before sleeping, reassure yourself that you will be all right and that your dreams will be pleasant.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Aim for six breaths a minute, as long as doing so doesn't make you short of breath. Exhaling should take twice as long as inhaling. Do this throughout the day and whenever you feel anxiety coming on.
Also, talking with compassionate friends can help, and so can seeing a therapist if problems persist.
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