Overcoming low self esteem may seem like a problem “other” people have, or that children may deal with. And if you’re beyond the age of 35, surely (the thinking goes) you should have your self-esteem handled.
However, studies show that over 85% of all adults have at least some difficulty with confidence. And many people don’t realize that a hidden form of low self esteem is at the root of many patterns such as anxiety, procrastination, perfectionism or fear when speaking in front of a group.
Even when you recognize a self-esteem deficit in some area of your life, gaining confidence can feel like a mountain to climb unless you have the right tools.
Regardless of where you are regarding your self-esteem, all of us want to know how to gain confidence in the areas we don’t yet feel it.
What is Confidence?
In our coaching and training programs there are 3 kinds of confidence we work with, self confidence, confidence in your direction and financial confidence.
I define confidence as a sense of certainty—certainty about your value, your abilities, your direction, your choices, your relationships, your finances and then certainty in your business or profession.
Healthy self esteem contributes to high emotional intelligence—which is the ability to maintain internal stability when dealing with tough challenges.
And low self esteem is one of the biggest blocks to enjoying this inner peace and even your outer fulfillment…no matter your direction or financial status.
Is Having Confidence Normal?
Today I want to address a particular element of confidence. Because having a healthy and vibrant self esteem is what allows us to move forward and tackle any circumstance in our lives with confidence.
When “Jane” first came to me for coaching she was terrified of public speaking. This fear came up not only when she was speaking in front of a group of people, but also when mingling at a party or in casual social settings.
Jane did not realize that her hand-sweating and throat-constricting tremors, whenever standing to speak in front of a group, were connected to a hidden form of low self esteem.
During our first session Jane asked me, “isn’t just about every one afraid to speak in front of a group? I have read studies that show people would rather die than stand in front of a group to speak.” Jane believed, like many people do, that public speaking was naturally scary. And she has since discovered that this is simply not true.
Whenever there’s a set of beliefs that many people share, such as fear of public speaking or even discomfort in a group of people, it can seem like a “fact” that you “should” be afraid—like it is normal.
Well, what if it isn’t “normal?”
What if your fear is caused by something as simple as what you interpret, and it is what you believe that makes you feel so uncomfortable?
When you become aware of an emotional or behavior pattern that inhibits you, holds you back or sabotages your goals, you can feel stuck with it—especially if it has been with you along time. I can tell you with confidence that feeling stuck is just a feeling, and it is not based in truth.
Overcoming Low Self Esteem
Studies show that self-esteem beliefs are formed by age 7. And because children are dependent upon their parents or other caregivers for survival, they tend to take personally everything their parents say and do.
Cognitively, a child hasn’t yet developed the ability to interpret Mom’s or Dad’s behavior other than it being all about the child. So when a parent is angry, critical or impatient, a child will instinctually respond with fear.
So when Mom gets mad or yells at her child, often the child’s first thought is “there must be something wrong with me.” Instead of “oh Mom is feeling angry right now, but she still loves me.”
Children are very sensitive to the emotions, tone of voice and of course the physical expressions and behavior of their parents.
Here is a simple illustration of how a child will form a self-esteem belief: Little 5-year-old Mary rushes into the living room while her dad is watching T.V. and says, “Hey Dad, can I show you….” Dad interrupts and exclaims loudly and angrily: “I’m BUSY!!!” Mary feels hurt and frightened and thinks, “I’m not important”, then while Dad keeps watching TV ….Mary keeps feeling, “I’m not important.”
Keep in mind, Dad would have to behave this way as a general pattern over time for the child to adopt the belief that she wasn’t important. Single incidents usually don’t create a negative self-esteem belief, unless it is a traumatic event.
So any unwanted pattern that gets formed later such as fear of speaking in public is not the result of anything their parents did, but, instead, is the result of their interpretation of what their parents did.
Children inherently want attention, affection, and acknowledgment, and conversely parents want children to be quiet, do as they are told, to be neat, and to essentially behave like adults.
Many parents simply have unrealistic expectations about what young children need and what they are capable of.
How to Gain Confidence
Imagine that I’m working with you and we uncover the following hidden beliefs:
I’m not good enough
I’m not important
I don’t have what it takes
Mistakes are bad
If I make a mistake I will be rejected.
I am not capable
Logically you may know those statements are not true, but when you say them to yourself out loud, they may feel true on some level. You may even feel a little embarrassed when saying them.
Can you see how hard it would be to stand up in front of a group and be seen and heard if you had those hidden beliefs going on in the background.
So how did Jane gain the confidence to start her career as a professional speaker? She eliminated all of the beliefs related to being seen and heard that she had formed during childhood. And she invested her time and resources in more training so she could feel confident both inside and out.
Here are 5 simple steps you can take right now toward overcoming low self-esteem:
Step 1: Notice what feelings come up whenever you are triggered emotionally. (Sad, angry, frustrated, afraid, anxious, guilty).
Step 2: Re-look at the triggering event. Remember what you thought about the person or people involved, and what you made their behavior mean.
For example, “Julie’s” Mother-in-Law had recently passed away. Then after having a hair cut by a man who also knew Julie’s husband, the hairstylist said, “Tell your husband I send my condolences about his mother.” Julie suddenly felt very angry.
When she traced back her thoughts, she realized that she had interpreted the stylist’s statement as an insult because he did not acknowledge Julie by giving her condolences as well. She felt snubbed.
Working together we found several other ways to interpret this:
a) It wasn’t that the stylist was “snubbing” her. He was instead being kind to offer his condolences to her husband, and just did not think at the time to offer them to her as well.
b) It wasn’t that he snubbed her, it was that he was just nervous cutting her hair since she was a new client, and just didn’t think to offer condolences to Julie at the time.
c) Maybe he was not close to his own mother-in-law, but he related to losing a mother as a big event, so he just didn’t think to offer condolences to Julie.
d) Maybe the stylist felt awkward about death, yet felt like he should say something to Julie. So he said what he thought would be appreciated by Julie’s husband about the loss of his mother.
So now, you can see there are many ways to interpret the very same event.
Step 3: Recognize how we are constantly interpreting events and judging other people’s behavior. So whenever you find yourself getting upset, look at your interpretation and then find at least 3 or 4 other ways to interpret the very same event.
Step 4: Notice how you feel with the new interpretations. Such as feeling lighter, silly, and happy. You’ll know you have successfully released a disempowering interpretation when your mood lifts up.
Step 5: Go easy on yourself when you get upset and are unable to initially reinterpret the event. It takes time and practice to learn to observe events and take things less personally.
Overcoming low self esteem and gaining confidence in any area of your life is one of the most liberating and empowering choices you will ever make. And finding new interpretations for what has happened in your life is a powerful first step.
Look for repeating themes in your relationships, and in your career and finances. Look for signals such as worrying about what other people think of you, feeling not good enough, anxiety, procrastination or avoidance, fear of failure, not speaking up for yourself, fear of making mistakes, over spending, inability to trust, and so on.
Then look for the hidden beliefs and begin reinterpreting them.
Once you see that most self-defeating patterns are rooted in the limiting self esteem beliefs you formed as a child, the mystery of why you behave a certain way begins to unravel. That alone is a huge relief to many people.
It Doesn’t Have to Take Long to Overcome Low Self Esteem
It is amazing how in a matter of a few weeks working with the right processes, you are suddenly free from a pattern that has plagued you for years.
And then you are well on your way to overcoming low self esteem and gaining the confidence you need to realize the dreams of your heart—ones that used to seem out of reach.
Desirée Watson is a transformational coach and trainer who specializes in helping people clear away patterns they wish they didn’t have. For more information go to CoachDesiree.com