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Boost Self-Esteem Month: The Relationship Between Positive Talk & Self-Esteem

Self-esteem has to do with our inner relationship and how we value and perceive ourselves. It encompasses major facets of our personality including self-confidence, identity, levels of self-worthiness and competence, and feelings of belonging. It’s an important component to why we make the decisions and choices we make, as it can motivate us to explore our full potential. There are many benefits to having a healthy self-esteem (meaning not too low or overly inflated) including better health, a higher quality of life, and being able to cultivate a more optimistic viewpoint, which studies show leads people to lead more fulfilling lives.

Low self-esteem happens to all of us at some point, but when it becomes chronic it can lead to depression, anxiety, and obsessive perfectionism. Low self-esteem manifests for many reasons including overuse of cognitive distortions, which are negative thinking patterns we often use to help cope when we are in distress. These include:

  • Filtering - only seeing the negative aspects of an event

  • Magnification - fixating on one thing that went wrong

  • All-or-nothing thinking - thinking an outcome of an event was a total success or failure

  • “Should”’ing - using a lot of “should of’s” and ought to’s” in our self talk

From our early relationship patterns we may have built up a lack of recognizing our own accomplishments as meaningful or having an unreasonably high, internalized standard of what goodness or worthiness means.

How can we combat this and cultivate a healthy self-esteem to draw on in times of self-doubt? One way is to become aware of our negative thought patterns. Examining a thought in a different light can help offer a new perspective when we commonly default to negative self-talk such as “I’m so stupid” or “I never do anything right.” Here are some questions to ask when you are examining a negative thought:

  • Is this thought really true?

  • Would I say this to a friend or loved one? If not, why am I saying it to myself?

  • Is this thought serving me to do better?

Examining your thoughts as though you are an outsider looking in and asking yourself the above questions is the first step in noticing how often you are engaging in negative thinking. Writing the thought down can also help for a more objective look.

The second step is to develop reframed statements to say to yourself to replace the negative thoughts. For instance changing, “I always mess up” to “I do many things well” or, “I will always be alone” to “I have friends and family that love me.” This is a deceptively simple exercise that may take some time and persistence to get the hang of, especially for people with high anxiety and low self-worth. Some good rules of thumb to follow when practicing reframes are:

  1. Think of what you’d say to someone you care for.

  2. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself.

  3. Think about things you're thankful for in your life.

Here are two other tips to work on your positive self-talk:

Positive Affirmations

: Write down statements you believe about yourself or you aspire to improve. Repeat them out loud or mentally every day to calm your nerves, increase your confidence, and improve your chances of a successful outcome. Some examples are: “I am a leader in my organization,” “I have plenty of creativity for this upcoming project,” or, “I am honest in my life and my work.”

Create a Collection of Praise List: If you’re having trouble thinking of positive affirmations, start a “Collection of Praise” list, where every time someone gives you meaningful positive feedback, write down what they said and read it during periods of self-doubt and stress, when negative self-talk is most likely to rear its head.

Creating a new habit takes time and patience, but committing to positive self-talk will boost your self-esteem and eventually give you a more optimistic outlook on life!

By: Ilise Reznick

Mental Health Counseling Intern

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