Low self-esteem – Due to unfair self-judgment?

Some people are more comfortable providing help to others than they are receiving it for themselves. Perhaps your first instinct is to decline some help? It may be you suffer from low self-esteem because you judge yourself as undeserving of any nice things.

Not everyone likes to be in the limelight. But do you feel uncomfortable when other people notice you and show appreciation? If so it may be because you feel you don’t matter.

Pessimism is one thing but have you given up on hoping for personal happiness? This can happen when we expect disappointments in life due to what we see as foibles, failings or flaws in our character.

Negative self-judgments tend to persist if they come from a deep emotional cause. Giving them weight means they will weigh you down with low self-esteem. They can reduce your sense of well-being, lessens your self-confidence in social situations, or sap your energy when facing challenges.

low self-esteemLow self-esteem of women who love too much

Robin Norwood in her book ‘Women who love too much’ writes about a kind of sexual relationship where someone is loved who is inappropriate, uncaring or unavailable.

“We who love obsessively are full of fear – fear of being alone, fear of being unlovable and unworthy, fear of being ignored or abandoned or destroyed.”

In loving a man who doesn’t love back, she says there is a desperate unfulfilled hope that he will take care of such fears.

And so people suffering from very low self-esteem gravitate to unsatisfactory relationships in which they are denigrated or abused. It has been suggested that such behaviour is the result of their desire to maintain a stable identity by bringing others to see them as they see themselves, even when they view themselves negatively.

The writer does not intend to imply that women are the only ones who love too much as she claims some men also practise this obsession with relationships with as much fervour as any woman could. However she reckons most men who have a deep-seated sense of low self-esteem usually try to protect themselves and avoid their pain through pursuits which are more impersonal than personal becoming obsessed instead with work, sports or hobbies.

Reasons for low self-esteem

Psychotherapists maintain that a persistently negative self-attitude can be related to a childhood experience of not being loved. For example if you were emotionally neglected, had punitive parents or were exposed to verbal abuse when you were young, then the message was drummed in that you were inherently bad and deserving of punishment. Not an easy belief to get rid of.

As such a child becomes an adult he or she retains this poor sense of self-worth, often experiencing an inner voice unfairly criticising any thoughts and actions. This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents you from trying new things and puts you down. It compares you unfavourably with other people and attributes any success you may have merely to chance. Your failures are only to be expected. If you interpret what you do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’. No wonder you might suffer from low self-esteem.

Mindfully observing judgmental thoughts

Cognitive psychotherapists say that it is possible to get free of the negative voice of low self-esteem. But first you have to start to reflect on what it says in a calm way. Only then can you hear it as something separate from you. Something that can be seen for what it is, a mere habit of thinking which can be challenged and set aside. When you start to notice the biased way it selects and distorts information, ignoring or discounting contrary evidence for its damaging conclusions, only then can you consider alternative ways of thinking.

“These are the strengths I have and so I am not just full of weakness: these are good points and so I am not such a bad person: these are the people who like me and so I am not unworthy of appreciation or an ugly freak after all.”

To help get rid of low self-esteem you might also affirm the idea that as a child of the universe you are loved for who you are.

Original sin and low self-esteem

An idea still around since Christendom is seeing human nature as basically guilty of sin and thus deserving punishment. It is possible this belief may reinforce in some people their sense of low self-esteem and worthlessness.

Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th century spiritual philosopher, offered a different view of original sin which I like to call hereditary self-centeredness: this he claimed passes from generation to generation. Furthermore, the self-centered tendencies cannot be completely abolished, but can be set to one side when you reform your own life, and you are thus held accountable only for your actual own personal choices.

Swedenborg also said that in addition you also inherit specific good tendencies from your parents and their forefathers. In addition he wrote that you  have heavenly states you received during the innocence of your childhood which remain deep seated within your psyche.

The conclusion from this is that there is no need to feel bad about yourself on account of the bad tendencies you have inherited from forefathers.

In fact Swedenborg’s religious view was that you can celebrate any virtues of character you have acquired during your own life, as a spiritual gift received from the Divine Source of all that is loving and good. In other words, I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

I hate life – How can I feel better?

There’s a lot about life I rather dislike e.g. crime, bad parenting, shoddy goods in the shops, bad-tempered colleagues, dishonest politicians, and the list goes on and on. I bet at some point we all have wanted to blame misfortune, fate, or life itself for not giving us what we think we need. Feeling disgruntled may even be your normal attitude. But if you actually say “I hate life”, it can make you extremely negative, disliking anybody and everybody.

Two people who wrote “I hate life”

On an internet forum one person wrote:

I hate life” I hate life. I neither like how it’s been nor how its going. I’ve had it with life. I give up. There is no point in me continuing. Whatever I do and try, it never works out. I can’t get a job. My life is pointless. Every one has made me negative. … No one appreciates me, its all an act.”

And another person said:

“I hate every feature on every worthless face I see. I know the hate and evil in mankind and I hate it.”

If you had been badly done to you may think “I hate life”

These are two unhappy people who are not okay with the world. They appear to see the problem as out there in a sick and uncaring society. If you suffer from chronic illness, are out of a job, got no money or had an unhappy childhood, then you may feel you are a hopeless victim of inadequate health care, unemployment, an unfair educational system, or neglectful or abusive parents – right? But you would also have a problem for, being at odds with society, you won’t feel at home in the world and won’t get pleasure in life. And maybe you wonder will you ever feel differently?

Here are just three things you can do that might help.

1. If you think “I hate life” then learn to criticise fairly

We may live with the experience of sickness and suffering but to reject the world as broken, is arguably an unreasonably jaundiced view.

Yes, there is a lot that is bad with life and it would be silly to go around with rose tinted glasses. But often in a desire to find fault we avoid looking at ourselves. Instead we criticise others unfairly, exaggerate their failings, jump to conclusions on flimsy evidence, or see everything in terms of only black and white when really there are several shades of grey.

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” (Mark Twain)

If you say “I hate life” because of a mood of despair then you have probably drifted into a cynical attitude that denies anything of value.

2. If you think “I hate life” then use anger constructively

To say “I hate life” also suggests that the bitterness, that came from bitter experiences, is still with you. If so, you are probably in a constant state of private complaint against the world and there is the danger that your bitterness can eat you up.

“Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, because hate in your heart will consume you too.” (Will Smith)

Often, there is not much if anything one can do about the bad side of life. But occasionally it can be possible to use the energy of your anger to do something constructive. Instead of taking on the passive role of a victim of swindlers, hypocrites, and social nuisances and stewing over their behaviour, it may be possible to get your anger out into the open and do something about it. If you have been fearfully hiding away from challenges you might try facing life head on. Why not stand up to malpractice and bullies, whilst realising you can’t fix all the world?

You could go to an anger management class and learn how to effectively assert justifiable anger in socially acceptable ways and get it out of your system rather than let it smoulder away inside. Learn to distinguish between destructive and constructive anger. Discover how to watch out for that kind of angry frustration which comes upon us when perhaps for good reasons we don’t get what we want from someone or don’t get our own way. People who do get up your nose will not deserve condemnation despite any initial feelings of contempt you might have for them. But you might be able to influence them.

3. If you think “I hate life” then recognise the positives which make life worth living

If you say “I hate life” then instead of only seeing the bad side of everything and everybody, why not try to see your cup as half-full rather than half empty? This might mean looking for something likeable in someone you don’t take to. It might mean searching for something you can sympathise with in a person who is against you. Instead of giving up on someone why not try to develop the relationship?

“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” (Jimi Hendrix)

You may want to give up on someone when you feel vulnerable in their company but if you stick with trying to communicate with them you may be surprised at finding a positive feeling of involvement.

Finding a warmer feeling towards others comes more easily when we are looking for the good in them and being ready to excuse them when they behave badly e.g. by being non-judgemental and being open to the possibility of any mitigating circumstances.  According to Emanuel Swedenborg’s visionary experiences of an afterlife, finding fault with others is an aspect of a hellish state of mind whereas a heavenly state of mind is looking for the good in others.

“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” (Sai Baba)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems