I’m working with a lot of people right now struggling with self-esteem.
Senior men in their thirties, senior women in their forties, younger people. Age/gender don’t seem to matter in terms of this challenge. No diversity issues here.
The Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem
I guess when you think about it, it’s not that surprising given the social and cultural changes we’ve been going through.
We have learnt to value ourselves over the past decade or so by how many followers, likes, comments or shares we get on social media. External validation, not internal validation.
Anyone seen the episode of Black Mirror where your social media rankings determine whether you get a job or even a mortgage? As ever with this series, close enough to real life to make it plausible, but far enough out there to make it terrifying!
We can no longer simply compare ourselves with ourselves. We are forced to compare our lives, our achievements, our status and so on with everyone else in our so-called ‘networks.’ Even if the lives they portray aren’t real life, simply the aspects of their lives that they choose to share or indeed promote. The image or ‘personal brand’ they wish to convey.
However, that’s only one aspect of it.
As is so often the case in Coaching, the challenges with self-esteem are often similar for the people you work with, but the underlying reasons for the challenge will be different.
Coaching Examples of Low Self-Esteem
One senior guy in recruitment challenged me vehemently on this asking how he could be internally validated when each week the “winners and losers” in the office are publicly displayed. He was judged good or bad by his position on the leaderboard.
Another guy simply couldn’t understand why he craved so much attention and praise. That is until we dug a little deeper into his past and discovered he was totally rejected by his Mother as a baby. Ingrained survival behaviour patterns from that long ago can be very hard to overturn. Attention from your caregiver at that age is genuinely a matter of life and death so you’re right to crave it. It just isn’t necessary 30 years later.
One woman in the entertainment industry had got herself stuck in a real rut. Her resultant behaviours were evidently compromising her core values of kindness, empathy and compassion. She hated herself for it. A sure-fire way of grinding your self-esteem into the floor.
So whilst the social context is universal, the underlying causes are unique and individual.
Sometimes dealing with these underlying causes can require therapy or what I call therapeutic coaching.
However, there are also some simple but highly effective strategies for overcoming low self-esteem which can be beneficial to everyone.
My 5 Favourite Strategies for Building Self-Esteem
1. Focus on your strengths.
A great exercise is to write down as many of your strengths as you can come up with. Then ask 5 people you like and respect what they see as your top 3 strengths and why.
2. Focus on your achievements.
Another good exercise is to write down the 3 achievements in your life of which you’re most proud. These can be personal or professional and at any stage of life. It doesn’t matter. Then note down what these achievements say about you as a person. There are often commonalities between them.
3. Focus on the positives.
We’re really good at spotting what went wrong in a situation and beating ourselves up about it. But what about spotting what went right and praising ourselves for it? Radical I know! At the end of each day ask yourself: what went well today and how did I contribute to it? You’ll be amazed at how good it makes you feel.
4. Focus on your inner dialogue.
Our brain is one of the most incredible systems in the universe. However one of its many flaws is its inability to distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined. Whatever you tell your brain it believes.
Tell your brain you’re:
“Not good enough”
“Not smart enough”
“Not confident enough”
“Not creative enough”
….and it will believe you. Your belief will be treated as a fact.
Bring such inner dialogue into conscious awareness and challenge and change it if it’s proving unproductive.
5. Focus on your thinking.
One thing I talk about in almost every coaching assignment are the Thinking Traps. These come from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and I bring them into business unashamedly.
Thinking traps are ways of thinking that we have programmed into our brain over the years so they become automatic and habitual.
A classic thinking trap for people with low self-esteem is called Over-Personalising. It’s where you wrongly assume personal responsibility for situations and outcomes. Essentially you blame yourself for things that might well have been out of your control. When you do this constantly it’s not surprising it impacts your self-esteem.
Another classic one is Mind-Reading. In this case, it means assuming you know what another person or group of people are thinking. Normally the subject is you and the thinking is negative! However this is typically projection – stuff going on in your head which you project out onto others. Then, funnily enough, it comes right back at you!
Bringing these thinking traps into your conscious awareness and challenging and changing them in the moment will make a huge difference to the way you feel about yourself.
So self-esteem seems pretty hard to come by these days.
The new cultural norm is for everyone to big up their lives on social media. As a result, however, our own life/achievements never feel quite enough. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. Talk about keeping up with the Jones’s!
Then if what we do post doesn’t get liked or shared or commented on, we feel under-rated and under-valued. It’s crazy!
So the key is to big yourself up, not rely on others to do it for you. Not by bragging on social media about how great your life is or how marvellously you’re doing in your career.
Big yourself up in your head with the strategies outlined above.
We all need external validation from time to time. However self-esteem, as the word suggests, comes from the self. It means having self-belief and self-confidence in your own ability and value in the world. It’s inside out, not outside in, and it’s essential for mental wellbeing.