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How to deal with low self esteem

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Tunde Ajaja    

For the first time since they graduated nine years ago, Rotimi Aderemi and his colleagues finally agreed to have a reunion. It was to be the maiden edition, and for the obvious reasons, most of them looked forward to it.

The venue was their alma mater. And apart from seeing one another again after several years, the occasion would also afford them the opportunity to exchange contacts, trade some banter and discuss how they could be of help to the school.

Rotimi, who teaches in a public secondary school, said, the day of the meeting was one he would not forget in a hurry. That was not because he had so much fun at the programme; perhaps that would have been comforting if he did. He said he felt out of place among the people who were his classmates less than 10 years ago as they all had some opulence around them.

Rotimi, who boarded about four buses from his house in Ibadan before he arrived at the venue and had become drenched with sweat, said, “Most of them looked rich and comfortable. They came in different kinds of cars, and one even came in my dream car.”

On seeing the glamour that surrounded some of the people he once shared room and even bunk with, the 33-year-old teacher said, “I felt deflated. It was as if I had been left behind by my mates. I just realised I was losing my composure by the second. When I couldn’t hold it any longer, I left them to sit in the hall until the programme started. And I left before the end of the programme so I wouldn’t be further intimidated.”

According to Rotimi, that was the last time he would attend a reunion, “until things get better for me and I can reasonably compare with them.”

Notably, one of the things that shape people’s happiness, boost their ego but can as well erode their confidence is self esteem. It is described as the confidence in one’s own worth or abilities, in which case those who do not have the confidence look down on themselves and feel disadvantaged.

To avoid self defeat and favourably compare with others, people have had to do many things, like pretend, acquire needless liabilities, tell lies and even gossip so as to make them feel even with some other persons they compare themselves with.

It is sometimes for this reason that some persons take to the social media to post pictures that could impress and signal that they live a good life, even when they don’t.

And this explains the reason why several studies have shown that people who spend more time or are addicted to social media tend to be depressed, because they could feel poorer or less advantaged than others. A famous quote by Malcom Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes magazine, helps, “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”

According to a British psychiatrist and philosopher, Dr. Neel Burton, who is the author of ‘Growing from Depression, ‘The Psychology of Self-Deception’ among other books, having low self worth (or low self esteem) could stem from unpleasant childhood experiences, disproportionate financial status, certain ailments, such as having mouth or body odour, or being a victim of discrimination, etc.

He added, “People with low self-esteem tend to see the world as a hostile place and themselves as its victim. As a result, they are reluctant to express and assert themselves, miss out on experiences and opportunities, and feel powerless to change things. All these lower their self-esteem still further, sucking them into a downward spiral.”

Given its prevalence and the fact that it could lead to depression if not checked, it is therefore pertinent to point out how people who feel ‘disadvantaged’ could address this problem:

Think positively about yourself: According to experts, this is one way to tackle low self esteem. Such persons are also encouraged to identify their strengths and weaknesses, so that they could have an edge over others in their strong areas and work on improving themselves in their weak areas. As an American motivational speaker, Denis Waitley, once said in a famous quote, “To establish true self-esteem, we must concentrate on our successes and forget about the failures and the negatives in our lives.” And in his piece to Psychology Today, Burton said people with low self esteem should remind themselves that they are unique and deserve to have a happy life, regardless of the situation.

He said, “Identify and challenge any negative thoughts about yourself such as ‘I am a loser’, ‘I never do anything right’, or ‘No one really likes me’. Whenever I clean my windows or just water my plants I seem to feel much better. Display items that remind you of your achievements and the special times and people in your life.”

Always be at your best:

According to findings and some experts’ opinions, one of the reasons people look down on themselves is physical comparison; when they think others look better than them. Burton advised that such persons should pay attention to their personal hygiene; have their bath regularly to avoid body odour, brush their teeth to avoid mouth odour, brush, comb or pack their hair to avoid looking tattered and out of place, keep their homes tidy and well arranged in case they have visitors and be polite when relating with people, so no one would talk down on them or ridicule them. He added that such persons should make sure they do things they enjoy doing, so that the joy they derive from it could sustain them and give them reasons to remain happy.

Talk to a friend/expert:

According to the popular saying, a problem shared is a problem half solved. Thus, people who have low self esteem are often encouraged to confide in a friend on what they are going through, with the hope of getting the friend’s support and counsel. This has been found to ease the pain as such persons are assured of having someone they could run to in case the situation repeats itself. Also, talking to a psychologist might be the way to go, as such experts are better informed and equipped to help people deal with such situations. Usually, from talking to others, be it a friend or an expert, such persons might soon realise they are not alone and that some others even have worse experiences. That alone could create a better feeling.

Avoid places that make you feel bad:

Ideally, it is good to dare the odds and visit places one would love to visit, even without the wherewithal, but according to findings, people who are not sure of their inner strength and confidence should avoid going to certain places they would feel bad about, like upscale restaurants that are beyond their reach, as well as avoid people who make them feel bad or talk down on them. This, according to experts, would help.

Dress well:

It’s a popular saying that the way people dress is the way they are addressed. But beyond that, it has been found to influence how confident people are. This explains why people are confident when they wear clothes they cherish than the ones they are not very comfortable in. According to a professor of developmental psychology, Karen Pine, people are what they wear, noting that clothing has a significant effect on self esteem and confidence. Pine, in her book, ‘Mind what you wear’, noted that clothing influences how people are perceived. She said, “We know our clothes affect other people’s impressions of us. Now research shows what we wear affects us too.” And for those who can’t afford expensive clothes, wearing clean and well-ironed clothes at all times would matter.

Notably, one other thing people do to address low self esteem is gossiping, even though it is seriously frowned at by the major religions. Studies have shown that when people receive or share negative stories about someone, it boosts their self esteem, but when the news (about the contemporary) is positive, such people tend to become jittery and deflated.

Another psychologist, Dr. Eze John Eze, said low self esteem could stem from people’s inability to match their capabilities with the opportunities around them. He explained that self esteem is not a unitary issue, as some people could have high esteem in one aspect and have low self esteem in another aspect.

Thus, he advised that people should find a way to address areas they feel disadvantaged, and if they can’t, they shouldn’t compare themselves with others and remain contented with life.

He added, “To accept yourself and be contented with life is the way to go, but some people go about it the wrong way; by assuming a false identity and that is why people tag themselves with others, to share from the other person’s self esteem, even if the person does not like them. That is a wrong way of approaching it. The positive approach is for such people to evaluate their potentials and opportunities and align them. If people sit down to evaluate the issues, they would be able to deal with them better.

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