July 2018 Project TableTalk Conversation Starter:
What is self-esteem?
It is what you think about the type of person you are, your abilities, the positive and negative things about you and what you expect for your future.
If you have healthy self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will generally be positive. You may experience difficult times in your life, but you will generally be able to deal with these without them having too much of a long-term negative impact on you.
If you have low self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will often be negative. You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made, and may find it hard to recognize the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have.
Low self-esteem is unfortunately all too common in adults, teens or children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Constant abuse (or exposure to abuse) causes individuals to question what is “wrong” with them for they continue to be hurt by the same people, and they begin to overanalyze their personality flaws or weaknesses that they believe make them susceptible to abuse against them. They experience guilt and low self-worth because their relationships with others are “unsuccessful” and they often blame themselves for that.
What can you do if one of your loved ones is struggling with their self -esteem as a result of trauma?
- Show them that you care – reassure them that you do value and care about them. You can show them how you feel by being affectionate, listening empathically, or simply by spending time with them. It is important too that you offer them options as to what they need and not just assume.
“It sounds like you are going through a rough time. Are you looking for advice, a hug, or just someone to listen? Let me know what you need from me. “
- Remind them of the positive things – while you can’t change someone else’s negative image of themselves, you can help challenge this by reminding them of their good points, such as good qualities they have or positive things they have done. It is best when reminding of positive things to simply make an observation statement such as:
“It’s great to see you playing baseball again. You are a very talented player.” Or “I love seeing your smile.”
- Avoid blame – people with low self-esteem often blame themselves for negative experiences, including mental health problems. Reassure them that this isn’t their fault, and avoid telling them to “get over it”. Also avoid statements like “It could be worse”. Meet them where they are at and how they presently feel about the situation but then gently reassure them that again, it is not their fault.
- Try to be patient – low self-esteem often builds up over many years. Changing someone’s opinion of themselves can take a long time and they may need repeated reassurance.
- Let them know that it is okay to feel bad from time to time – nobody feels happy and confident all of the time, and it’s important they don’t feel under pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.
- Be encouraging – if your friend or family member is working through a self-help program or seeing a therapist, be encouraging and positive. Normalize that all people need help sometimes. You could also offer practical support, such as offering childcare so they can attend appointments.
- Help them to seek appropriate treatment – if you are concerned that low self-esteem is causing a mental health problem, encourage your friend or family member to seek appropriate treatment.
Download the Self-esteem and Trauma conversation card here.
Content provided by: SSM Health- Agnesian Healthcare domestic violence services