Ashish, a 33-year-old marketing professional, is described by his friends as hard-driven with a go-get-it attitude. Having struggled to scale the ladder for seven years, his mantra is ‘work till your limits’.
He finds time to spend with his friends, but does not like to talk about his personal life. Although he’s a super-achiever for his age, Ashish has never come around with his ‘inferiority complex’ of coming from a poor rural family.
Like in Ashish’s case, most of our present behaviour is coloured by our past experiences. Such experiences are the root cause of poor self-esteem or inferiority complex, which is a block that we have to work on to foster self-growth and actualise our potentials. In order to stay well, we ought to develop our self-esteem and increase our sense of self-worth or self-efficacy.
It may be difficult to identify poor self-esteem, and you may require professional help to develop insight into it. However, there are some telltale signs that can help spot the problem:
Those with a poor self-image highlight their deficits or negative qualities. They are often dissatisfied with some aspect of themselves. “I’m not as good ..”, “I’m a complete misfit..”, “how much ever I try, I don’t meet the standards..” and “I’m defective&” are some apparent thought-patterns, which point towards this tendency.
Some people constantly live in the past, brood over their mistakes, failures and do not forgive themselves. In elderly individuals, this may manifest as an existential crisis characterised by a sense of un-fulfilment, incompletion and waste of life.
Individuals with low self-esteem crave acceptance by others. Yet, when others show interest or liking in them, they are unable to handle it. Due to this extreme sensitivity to rejection, they are sometimes unable to develop intimate relationships or give social performances like presentations or public-speaking.
Inability to take compliments
Compliments may make people with low self-esteem anxious and set them thinking whether others really mean it. Such people are notorious about not taking compliments gracefully; they might brush it off, seem off-guard, or even reply sarcastically. In fact, they are more prone to remember negative remarks and be influenced by them rather than compliments.
Inability to explore the unknown
Due to their lack of self-confidence, these individuals tend to harbour a loss-loss orientation rather than win-loss or win-win. This makes them unable to take risks, and in turn, stick to their ‘negativity hypothesis’.
Lack of assertiveness
For people with less confidence, saying “No” becomes a matter of risk, because they fear that if they turn someone down, they might offend the person or get rejected in return. Their craving for acceptance by others makes them unassertive and they end up complaining that everybody uses them or takes advantage of them.
Identifying poor self-image or poor self-esteem is a matter of introspection and requires strong psychological awareness. Such individuals may be defensive about accepting that they might have a problem with self-esteem, although they constantly harbour self-doubts.
The symptoms of poor self-esteem can be evident or latent, depending on the person. It may not always manifest as low self-confidence and poor self-image. Individuals having a deep-rooted problem with their self-esteem may have problems opposite to the others.
They may have an apparently inflated self-concept, that is they might get themselves into thinking they are only too good for others, they are the best, they know-it-all. Such individuals have the tendency to talk too much, and seem like they are always flaunting their achievements and thus trying to prove their “hypothesis of superiority” to others.
Our environment and the people around us are powerful forces that shape our beliefs and personalities. Being human also entails being able to manipulate and change our environment.
How we feel about ourselves depends on what we choose to take as feedback. Building upon our self-esteem is therefore akin to tuning the environment to give us the “good vibes” and changing the way we feel about ourselves.
Here’s how you can work towards improving your self-esteem:
- Identify positive traits and talents. It is important to know what you are good at to know who you really are. Explore your talents and find your true calling.
- Discuss your feelings with close friends rather than bottling them up. As far as possible, surround yourself with positive people who encourage you rather than those who discourage you or keep backing your negative thinking.
- Do not compare yourself with others. You are the way you are–neither more nor less than others.
- List your positive traits; this will increase your self-confidence. Positive self-talk is conducive to self-development. Talk to yourself and give positive feedback when you achieve a target.
- Do mirror exercises. Stand in front of a mirror and simulate social situations. Practise saying “thank you” upon receiving a compliment and social skills like eye-contact, smiling, greeting as well as assertiveness-skills like refusing politely or saying “No”.
- Set and revise goals to make them realistic and achievable.
- Identify situations, which induce anxiety and rehearse ways of handling them.
- Read books on self-growth. Also, befriend people who have overcome poor self-esteem. This will foster self-acceptance and forgiveness that will help resolve your past.