Self Esteem

By Bhuwan Sharma

Self-esteem is a big deal and it obviously has a big impact on the quality of life we live. It is also important for me to mention right away that, self-esteem is more than just self-confidence. If you look at the word esteem itself, it comes from the Latin word aestimare, and it means to put a value on. So, if you actively analyze the word self-esteem, it appears to clearly mean the value we put on ourselves.

What are the foundations for high self-esteem, you ask? Individuals who carry high self-esteem look at themselves in a positive light. They have a really strong sense of who they are. They are capable of examining their emotions, feelings, and managing them effectively and productively. They also seem to have utter clarity on what their life purpose is or the purpose behind all of their major activities.

I am sure it’s obvious to most of us that these people with high self-esteem were not born differently or with some remarkable god-given gift. I am going to discuss some of the basic presuppositions of NLP and show you NLP’s perspective on how it could deal with Self-esteem issues. What this write-up is going to try and stress is the NLP presupposition “if anyone can do it, you can do it too’. Once you get a grasp of what people with healthy self-esteem do; you can examine their actions by breaking them down into smaller chunks and start picturing how you can replicate these and start taking similar actions.

Since I believe that self-esteem is a major issue for most of us today, I am planning to cover this topic in four installments so that I can provide better clarity to you. I am certain, the areas we are planning to explore in these four installments will assist most of us to enhance our self-esteem.

Strengthen your sense of self:

A lot of people who lack self-esteem are seeking help; some of them feel that a coach could be an answer for them while others feel a few counseling sessions may be the answer to help them with their self-esteem. Yet others suffer in silence and struggle to hide from the world around them. We derive our confidence from our actions; the more we practice, the more efficient we become at taking certain actions and we will observe a rise in our confidence to take on certain challenges or to complete some concrete actions. In other words, our self-confidence is standing on the foundations of our competencies. When we are really good at something or dealing with certain situations, we feel confident in our ability to tackle those situations.

Whereas, self-esteem is the value we put on ourselves. It is very clear to me, as it should be to you that focusing on self-confidence without obtaining self-esteem sounds like an impossible task to obtain.

We derive our confidence from our actions; the more we practice, the more efficient we become at taking certain actions and we will observe a rise in our confidence to take on certain challenges or to complete some concrete actions.

Hari was a corporate trainer assistant whose skills and competencies were noticed by his head trainer (Amrita), his boss. He was articulate, patient, hardworking, focused, and had solid rapport building skills. He communicated effectively with CEOs and was able to quickly analyze the team dynamics of any corporate teams they were training. In totality, he was a gem of a staff. After several months of working as an assistant trainer, he heard from another training company that was offering him the position of a corporate trainer. The new company also mentioned that he would see very valuable responsibilities placed on him and he will be allowed a stress-free work environment with absolute autonomy. Hari was over the moon with this offer, for a few days. However, soon, he saw himself doubting his capabilities and competencies. He started wondering if he had the ability to handle the job. Hari decided to seek Amrita’s advice. Amrita told him that although she would feel reluctant to let him go, she still believed that this new offer was too good for Hari to turn down. But Hari was surprised by the suggestions and he felt that he was not good enough and did not see any point in even thinking of applying. As usual, he started looking for justifications for not believing Amrita’s praise and telling himself that what he is doing is nothing special and anyone can do it. As you may have already foreseen, he ended up not applying.

Many of us have low self-esteem and no matter how many positive feedbacks and acknowledgments we see coming our way, we still feel we are not worthy of the praise we receive. In a way, we go out of our way to ensure that we don’t listen to the praises at all. Hari’s self-talk was doing exactly this and he felt unsettled and ended up not applying for the opportunity. Many of us, like Hari, with great skills, capabilities, and experience see ourselves underachieve in our lives due to our low self-esteem. A lot of people spend several years feeling unworthy or in some cases entire lives underestimating themselves and living lives of desperation.

Our goal is to explore and discover behaviors, characteristics, and thought processes of individuals with high self-esteem so that we can learn from them so that we can copy them and increase our own self-esteem.

Rita, on the other hand, felt comfortable with who she was. She was also an assistant trainer like Hari with similar focus, capabilities, and work ethics. She worked for a smaller company and her team members saw her as fun-loving, friendly individual who enjoyed what she was doing. One morning, during a multi-day corporate training program, her head trainer, Arun, called in sick and told Rita that she had to take over for the next few days. Arun mentions that, if Rita felt she could not handle it, he would ask another trainer to substitute but he saw Rita as the best substitute as she had already built a rapport with the team. Rita started feeling nervous energy flowing through her and started having doubts. Sensing this, Arun stated to her, his complete confidence in her and her skills and capabilities. He obviously would not have offered this to her, if he did not firmly believe in her. Also, Arun would be available on the phone for Rita, she faced an emergency. After listening to Arun, Rita’s sensed nervous energy turn into excitement and she started visualizing all the previous times, she had done awesome jobs of assisting Arun and all the praises that have heaped upon her. She excitedly but confidently said yes to the offer. Rita conducted the training as a lead trainer and clearly did an excellent job of it. Now, Rita works as a co-trainer with Arun and they have turned into an even more effective and fun-loving team.

If you examine Hari and Rita’s story, one is not necessarily a better assistant trainer than the other, I feel. Anyone of their work ethics, skills, capabilities, or their commitment cannot be seen as better than the other. However, what these stories do tell us is that one of these two had higher self-worth or self-esteem than the other.

How can you tell if your self-esteem is high? Below are some of the questions you can try on yourself to see if you can get some ideas around the issue.

        How do I handle compliments? Can I simply accept compliments and praises without hesitation? Or can I accept them without a mental debate in my head on whether I deserve the praise or the compliment?

        Am I constantly afraid that the world will, one day, find out that I am not as good as they think I am?

        What are the ten things I love about myself? Can I jot them down without hesitation?

        How open am I about trying new things in front of other people?

        What are my internal dialogues generally?

        What are my internal dialogues when I am trying something quite challenging?

Now have a look at your answers. How do you feel about your answers? Do your answers show that you are comfortable with yourself? Or do they tell you that you like yourself? Or do they tell you that you are critical about yourself and your capabilities? These answers should give you a solid indication of your self-esteem. If you feel the need, do keep these answers with you for comparison with your future answers should you foresee yourself trying to attempt some self-improvements.

Receiving compliments:

Clearly, when someone gives you a compliment, simply saying thank you would be the best way of accepting it. Visualize in your mind, the last time someone paid you a compliment. What did that person tell you exactly? Now, speak that aloud in your head and simply say thank you. Say thank you and nothing else. You can practice saying thank you multiple times and it may be even more effective if you can use different tones and facial expressions. Practice it enough times to ensure that it becomes your natural habit. Maybe you can ask a friend or a colleague to help you practice. You can also practice this in front of a mirror as you will be able to see and examine yourself while doing it. It is not going to be easy and if you find yourself devaluing a compliment you just received, do not worry, just correct yourself, smile, say thank you, and move on. It will need practice for this to become natural for you.

Being found out:

What about yourself, do you feel that you don’t want other people to find out? A lot of us do not want to see others think of us as unkindly as we do. We suffer because we believe that we are not really worthy and are afraid that we are probably not as good as what other people think. A lot of these feelings and anxieties usually depend on our internal dialogue and not on reality. So, dig deeper and question your perception of your internal reality. Usually, when we see ourselves as unworthy, either professional capabilities or our social skills, for example, we are undervaluing ourselves. Quite often, we notice colleagues working in our office and they are quite content with their work, but of course, it is obvious that simply because they are content with their work does not mean they are more capable. If you do really perceive yourself as someone who is not up to the mark, what can you do to improve your skills right now? Also, regarding your social skills, how are you measuring your skills? There are always people with better skills than you and there are people who are not as good as you. What can you do right now to improve in the area, if you really do feel you are not good enough? Some questions that may give you a better insight could be: 

        What stops you from feeling good about yourself?

        What would happen if you did feel good about yourself?

Liking yourself:

What do you like about yourself? Pull out your notebook and list them

Take a piece of paper and list anything you can think of that you like about yourself. It might be the shape of your fingernails. Or the crinkle at the corner of your eyes. Or the fact that you can add up quickly. Or that you try to tell the truth. Keep on collecting items, however small, over the next week. As you explore these aspects of yourself, think of your beliefs and values, your capabilities, your behavior, your environment. It may be easier to find items on these levels than on the level of identity; but of course, your characteristics on each level do contribute to your unique identity.

Trying new things:

If you respond with anxiety and fear, spell out the worst-case scenarios you have in your mind. Sometimes this is enough in itself to make you realize how unlikely these fears are. But if your worst-case scenario could happen, think about how it could be managed. Think of someone you know who could manage it – how would they go about it? Instead of burying the fear, take it on, and find a strategy for dealing with it. Usually, one or other of these approaches will defuse the anxiety. If it doesn’t, your instinct may be correct; don’t do it!!

What you tell yourself: 

NLP has shown how influential our internal dialogue can be. If you are telling yourself not to make a fool of yourself, or reminding yourself of how things went wrong last time, or pointing out how useless you are, that little voice inside may well be contributing to your problem. What would you say to someone else in the same situation if you wanted to encourage them? Work out how you would try to help them. Write the words down, if it helps. Then say to them – as convincingly as you can – to yourself. How does it feel to hear this kind of voice instead? Monitoring and changing your internal dialogue can be a really powerful way of improving how you feel about yourself. And because we engage in it so much, every time you make your internal dialog more self-supportive you make a real difference to your self-esteem and self-confidence.