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How Shame Affects Self-Esteem And Strategies To Break The Cycle

admin - April 29, 2021 - 0 comments

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How Shame Affects Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem can greatly influence how we navigate the world, and it has a huge impact on the quality of our lives. The cultivation of self-esteem may begin in our earliest days. Were we treated with love and tenderness? Were our basic needs met? If we have poor self-esteem, we may believe others are better than we are. We are likely to have a negative outlook on life and a fear of failure. Low self-esteem may lead to difficulties setting boundaries and allowing mistreatment from others.

Low self-esteem can also be fueled by shame. That voice keeps telling us that we aren’t good enough. It causes us to be insecure about our abilities and doubt our decision-making process.

Although we all experience feelings of shame in our lives from time to time, it is when we internalize shame, and define ourselves by shameful experiences, that it becomes toxic and unhealthy, impacting our self-esteem. When we continue to internalize highly critical messages, shame and self-esteem become “friends.” This can impact and shape our lives in the following ways:

Isolation: Shame can cause us to avoid and withdraw from others. We may fear that we are unworthy and that once others figure us out, they will be disappointed and eventually reject us.

Emotional Distress: Negative self-talk and negative thoughts will likely lead to negative emotions such as anger, sadness, embarrassment or fear.

Relationship Issues: We tend to seek out what is familiar, or what we feel we deserve. If we had a critical, distant or abusive parent we may find ourselves choosing partners that are also critical and abusive, further perpetuating the harm to our self-esteem. Shame also creates barriers to vulnerability and avoidance of being one’s authentic self.

Work Issues: We may have trouble standing up for ourselves because we are afraid of being judged. We may withhold our opinions because we don’t think they have value. If we have a poor self-image, we may remain stagnant in a dead-end job because we don’t think we deserve or are capable of more.

⦁ Defensiveness: We may become overly sensitive to any constructive criticism, mistaking it for blame or insult. This can cause us to respond in an angry and unreasonable manner.

Strategies to Break the Cycle and Rebuild Self-Esteem

The good news is that there are strategies to break the cycle of shame and the resulting low self-esteem! Some of those strategies are:

Challenge and Rewrite the Negative Script- Reframe the things you say to yourself using a self-compassionate voice. Instead of saying “I can’t do anything right!” say “I can improve if I keep practicing!”

Acknowledge that these Thoughts are Not Accurate- These negative thoughts may have originated from faulty feedback from others who were being unfairly judgmental.

Focus on Your Qualities- You can write these down so they are always handy to look at! Are you a loving parent? A caring friend? A hard worker? Brainstorm all things big and small that you are proud of, that make you special and valuable to others. Learn to accept compliments!

Practice Self-Compassion- Remember; everyone makes mistakes. You are only human and are worthy of love. Especially your own! Think about the encouraging words you would offer a friend, and offer them to yourself. Begin to respond to yourself with compassion and care.

Try Mindfulness Meditation- This is a wonderful practice that teaches you to learn how to let negative thoughts calmly pass, instead of causing distress. In time you can simply observe those thoughts and dismiss them as meaningless.

Seek out Supportive Relationships- Low self-esteem can end up in toxic relationships. Trust your gut and run! Make an effort to find and nurture relationships with others who make you feel good about yourself; those who are encouraging and non-judgmental.

Open up to Trusted Friends About Shame- You may be surprised with the response…in a good way! Not only will true friends and loved ones help you put your shame into perspective; they may also open up about having similar feelings and experiences. You may find yourself feeling validated and less alone.

Apply the “Inner-Child Technique”- You may be able to do this on your own, or you may require the help of a therapist. The idea is to “re-parent” yourself with kindness instead of blame, by being encouraging, forgiving, and supportive of yourself on a daily basis.

Avoid Comparing yourself to others- Recognize that everyone is different and valuable. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge that we can never fully know about the insecurities and struggles others are dealing with.

Process the Past- Process the negative past experiences, re-define them as learning experiences that were part of your journey.

Talk to a Professional- A compassionate therapist can offer guidance and encouragement. They can help you explore the roots of your shame and suggest strategies to challenge your negative self-talk. A therapist can also identify and treat depression, social anxiety, and low self-esteem among other mental health concerns.

Healing Is Possible

Shame can cause damage to our self-esteem but there is hope! Healing is possible. Through self-compassion, working on ourselves with the strategies shared and support from others, healing can occur. This likely won’t happen overnight, so we need to be patient. In a way, we are teaching ourselves a new language….one that consists only of kind, supportive and encouraging words. As human beings, we each have value and deserve to live our lives experiencing love, acceptance, and joy.

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