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Lack of money.
Lack of friends.
Lack of fulfillment.
Lack of time.
Lack of confidence.
What do they all have in common?
They all stem from a lack of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is all about how you feel about yourself and how you judge your worth. It is about how you perceive your personal value.
But where does this perception come from? Usually from early childhood authority figures and the beliefs we create as a result of how we are treated. Below are some common factors that contribute to low self-esteem.
Critical Authority Figures:
When we are young, our feelings about ourselves are heavily influenced by how others feel about and treat us – especially our parents, guardians, older siblings and teachers. If you were excessively criticized no matter what you did or how hard you tried, then you may feel that whatever you do isn’t good enough which translates into you feeling like and believing that YOU are not good enough.
Religion and other belief systems can have similar effects because of their authoritative nature. All religions have higher powers in authority. Most of them have only one known as God, Allah or Jehovah and avoiding sinful behavior is a cornerstone of their principles to live by. If you believe you are a sinner, then you may feel that what you think and do is wrong and feel ashamed. This evokes feelings of guilt, inner conflict, self-loathing and disappointment in yourself further compounding the belief of unworthiness.
Lack of Attention
Criticism is a form of attention, albeit a negative one. But a lack of attention of any kind can be devastating to self-esteem. Whether parents/care givers are preoccupied with work or other responsibilities, have mental health/substance abuse or other issues, the resulting inattention and lack of guidance can make one feel rejected, unimportant, forgotten, not cared for and unloved. Feeling unrecognized can result in the belief that you are supposed to apologize for your existence – and compound the feelings of unworthiness.
A lack of self-esteem can lead you into unwanted abusive situations. Bullying can take many forms and deep down, those that bully, have their own self-esteem issues. They don’t feel good about themselves so they need to be dominant over others to feel good and powerful.
When we think of a bully, a school environment usually comes to mind. Let’s face it, kids can be cruel. So cruel, that about 28% of students ages 12-18 report being bullied at school and the Department of Justice estimates that 160,000 kids per day do not attend school for fear of being bullied. But bullies aren’t just in the school yard. They show up as spouses, bosses and are in sports teams, social organizations that you may volunteer for and yes, even organized religion.
Bullies put you down. They make fun of you in front of your peers which adds insult to your already injured esteem. If you don’t defend yourself or no one comes to your rescue, feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, being unsafe and lost set in. You hate yourself for not standing up to your perpetrator. You feel damaged which further cements the belief that there is something wrong with you.
Academic challenges can be particularly devastating to self-esteem. Falling behind in school work because of illness, family obligations, or just not understanding the course work can make anyone feel stupid or somehow defective. You may close down during class and not raise your hand to answer questions for fear of getting the answer wrong and be exposed to ridicule or punishment. Getting further and further behind causes panic, overwhelm, hopelessness and feelings of despair. You give up, feel like the class dunce and become angry with yourself, your circumstances and anyone you come in contact with. You believe you are not good enough, not smart enough and will never make the grade.
Abusive/traumatic experiences – whether physical, emotional, sexual or a combination of these – are particularly devastating to a person’s self-esteem. Being forced to do something against your will makes it very hard to like the world or yourself. You may feel like you did something to deserve the abuse and that it was your fault, so you take the blame for what happened and feel ashamed. You may feel weak, helpless and powerless You may develop a distrust of yourself and others and regress into a fearful state in even benign circumstances.
There are many more reasons why one can develop a sense of low self-esteem. Although very general in nature, this list may have brought to light some unpleasant experiences you may have had. Can you connect the dots between those events and how you have reacted to someone or something in your life?
Write down any aha moments that are surfacing for you. Make note of your age, who was involved, what was said or done, where you were, what time of day it was, how did you react, what emotions did you feel then, what are you feeling now, what belief did you decide on as a result of the experience? Put down as many details of the incidents that come to mind as you can think of. You may choose to pause this lesson and begin using EFT to release the negative emotions and beliefs or simply make some notes and return to them at a later time. Either way, resolving how you feel about these times in your life will go a long way towards shifting you away from the debilitating effects of low self-esteem.
If you feel that you need help in safely and comfortably moving through these experiences, then contact me to set up some private sessions.
The Life Altering Effects of Low Self-Esteem
The beliefs you form about yourself and the world around you may seem more like statements of fact. This is what happened – this is how I feel about it – therefore it is a fact. But in reality, your beliefs are really just opinions – your opinions based on your interpretations of the events around you and how you reacted to them. If your experiences have been negative, your beliefs about yourself are likely to be negative too.
Some of the ways that lives can be affected by low self-esteem can be debilitating. Here are some examples.
Most people who lack self-esteem also suffer from differing degrees of depression during different times in their lives. Low self-esteem and depression both fill your mind with negative thoughts and beliefs that usually center on whether you like yourself or not.
If life experiences involved being abandoned, neglected, criticized and ridiculed, you may believe on some level that you are unlikable and unlovable. A natural deduction that follows may be that if no one else likes/loves you then why should you like or love yourself. This can turn into self-loathing and an angry attitude toward yourself, others and life in general.
Fear and Anxiety
Those with low self-esteem have four basic fears:
* The fear of doing something that will confirm their own failures.
* The fear that others will see what they’ve done and recognize and confirm their failures.
* The fear of losing what they have, i.e. that success cannot be sustained or fear of abandonment.
* The fear of repeatedly experiencing humiliation, devastation, despair or depression.
These fears can become extreme and affect many aspects of your life including the ability to:
* Develop new skills.
* Maintain ambition.
* Be emotionally stable.
* Make sound decisions.
* Learn from life’s mistakes.
* Bounce back after disappointments and emotional setbacks.
These can in turn affect choices of higher education and which career options you feel capable of pursuing. For example; if you don’t have the confidence in your mathematical ability, you are most likely not going to apply to engineering school and design rockets. Fear of failure can hold you back from even attempting to reach beyond your comfort zone even though there may be a high probability of your success.
The types of people you choose as friends and enter into intimate relationships with can be governed by the fears of how you were treated in the past. You may shy away from involvement with people that remind you of those who may have humiliated you and opt to associate with people that are safer to be with and who may have shared similar treatment. You may associate with only one or two good friends because groups of people will expose you to situations that are uncomfortable and make you feel vulnerable.
Perfectionism is one of the more destructive aspects of low self-esteem because perfectionists live with a constant sense of failure. Their personal goals and what they expect of others may seem unreachable and often leads to disappointment when their expectations are not fulfilled. No matter how impressive their achievements they don’t ever feel quite good enough.
The converse of this is when a perfectionist is too afraid to try anything new. If they think they can’t do it perfectly then they are opening themselves up to ridicule, embarrassment and failure. So, they withdraw into a smaller world of their own limiting themselves socially and professionally. They resign themselves to accept what life brings them rather than creating their own life.
A history of rejection or disapproval can create a heightened state of sensitivity in those with low self-esteem. They are spring loaded to the on-guard position and are quick to become angry or defensive at the slightest comment or provocation. Innocent comments easily offend them because they twist peoples’ words to reinforce their own negative self-view.
Loneliness and isolation can be prevalent in these people’s lives because it is easier to live with their own thoughts and demons than it is to try to interpret what comes at them from outside of their world.
You may have heard of panic attacks but there are also self-esteem attacks which is when a person with low self-esteem does or says something that they afterwards, feel was inappropriate, stupid, rude, obnoxious, off target or inaccurate. The person will immediately feel remorse, excruciating anxiety, heart racing, face turning red, have a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation.
If you remember the old Southwest Airline commercials when someone makes a foolish mistake and they “Want to get away”, this is exactly how the person will react. They are so embarrassed, humiliated and critical of themselves, that they just want to become invisible and look for any escape route available. They are terrified of being laughed at and know that everyone is thinking what a loser they are. They begin to obsess over what happened and what they should have done. The mistake they made becomes the mistake that they are and they are filled with an all-consuming and illogical self-hate and think of all of the things that are wrong with them. This way of thinking can last from minutes to days and completely control the person’s feelings and behavior.
The list of repercussions is endless and everyone is affected in some way and responds differently. But if you suffer from lack of self-esteem on any level, for any reason, it is essential to break the cycle in order to build the self-confidence, self-love and inner support that you need to create your ideal life.
Breaking the Cycle
Identify the Behavior
Self-awareness is the first step to rebuild your self-esteem. Notice the negative self-talk you may revert to when you mess up – even just a little.
Negative self-talk usually contains “I can’t”, “I don’t”, “I’m not”, “I always” or will be a critical statement about yourself of not being able to do something.
I can’t do anything right.
I’m a failure/loser.
I’m so stupid.
It will never work.
What if it doesn’t work?
I don’t deserve that.
I am fat.
What’s wrong with me?
I could never do that.
I cannot repeat this enough, but EFT is an essential tool to help you break out of the lack of self-esteem cycle. Once you identify the negative self-talk, take a moment to think about when there was a time that you felt the same. What memory comes to mind? How recent is it? As mentioned above, ask who, what, when, how and why. Tap on that memory and all of the aspects of it and make note of others that surface and tap on all of them. Focus on the emotions associated with these memories. (Remember the explanation of how the amygdala stores the memory and emotions in the brain in Module 5: The Stress Factor. It is essential to include any and all emotions associated with the memory to release the hold it has on your life.)
Dissociate from the Inner Critic
You weren’t born with an inner critic. It is something that you internalized and made a part of you based on outside influences and learning. So, unmake it!
A way to do this is to personalize it. Try this exercise. Close your eyes and get in touch with the critical voice. Listen to it. Visualize it. What does it look like, sound like, where does it live? Is it sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear? Now, give it a name. Make the name reflect what this critic is to you such as Old Hag, Grouch Bucket, Wolf, or a common name like David or Julie. It makes no difference as long as the name resonates with you.
When you can identify your inner critic, you can take steps to fight back. You can face it, look it in the eyes, contradict it. Your power against it increases while its power decreases because you are acknowledging that you are not the problem. You don’t need to be fixed. The real problem is that you have been believing everything the critic tells you. So, turn that around and question everything the critic says.
Create Your Inner Champion
If you are uncomfortable confronting your inner critic by yourself create an imaginary super hero to do the work for you until you feel strong enough. Your super hero can mentor you, give you a new perspective on who you are and the situations that cause you so much fear, self-hatred and humiliation.
Your super hero could be fashioned after:
The ideal supportive parent you always wished you had.
Someone who has always been kind to you and that you trust like a teacher, neighbor or sibling.
A childhood comic/TV show or movie hero.
Someone you aspire to be like.
A large, protective animal that makes you feel secure.
Someone very wise like Yoda.
When you hear the critical voice, stop, take a breath and analyze what just happened. Allow the voice to speak its piece then consult with your imaginary super hero to hear its perspective on the situation. You are the judge and jury and have the power to discern the truth and decide what thoughts to adopt and actions to take.
Be Your Own Champion
It takes courage to stand up to bullies that want to do you harm. If you feel confident enough, be your own champion. Just go through the same steps in number three, but you hold the conversation with the inner critic.
Tell the critic to take a time out. Make sure you understand what the critic is saying. Is it really true? If not, then come up with an argument against it. Gather your evidence just as you would if a co-worker was saying negative things about you to your boss so that you can refute their claims. List all of the times you did things right, and compare them to the one thing that the critic is supporting. Understand the differences and speak your truth.
Consistently Replace the Critic
If you want your inner critic to take a back seat in your life, then you are going to have to put it there. Although it may not seem like it, your inner critic is looking out for you. It is trying to protect you. It wants to keep you safe from failure and humiliation and the best way it knows how to do that is to keep you from trying anything new. That is where the “I can’t, It won’t, I don’ts” come from.
Without this criticism, a void is left that might feel uncomfortable to you. If you no longer think that you are stupid, then what are you? Find a statement that resonates with you and that you are confident with, is comfortable for you to say and most of all – is the truth. It has to be something that you believe about yourself. Think about things that you are really good at – that take some knowledge and skill. What is it that you are better at than anyone you know? It could be crossword puzzles, growing a garden, having a way with animals. Maybe you don’t have a PhD, but that doesn’t mean that you are stupid. Everyone is better at some things than others. The more examples you come up with to support a positive view of yourself, the less the critic has to say. So, focus on your strengths and generate positive feelings about them throughout your day.
Some Things You Can Do to Keep the Positive Thoughts Flowing Strong
Three Things a Day List
Keep a pad of paper next to your bed and every night before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
In the morning, read the list before you get out of bed.
Keep adding three new things to your list every day to keep the list growing.
Do this every day for 30 days.
These don’t have to be big, all-encompassing things like “I am a kind person”. Make them simple like “ I didn’t lose my temper in traffic today” or “I feel good that I exercised today”.
Research shows that it requires more attentional effort to disengage from a negative thought process than a neutral one. This exercise will help you build the strength to disengage from negative thought streams, redirect your attention to positive aspects of yourself and retrain your brain.
As you make this a daily habit, you begin to interpret what happens around you in a more positive light. A new view of yourself emerges and you can actually receive compliments graciously because you are less self-critical. Your self-worth and overall well-being improves.
Changing My Negative Self-Talk Exercise
Get the notebook you have dedicated to this program, or a piece of paper and a pen.
Make two columns on the paper by drawing a line down the middle of the sheet.
Give the left-hand side the heading “Bad self-talk” and give the right-hand side the head “Change to good self-talk”
On the left-hand side with the heading “bad self-talk” make a list of all the bad self-talk you engage in and the negative things you say about yourself. For example, “I’ll never be able to get a good job” (list as many as possible)
On the right-hand side write a new self-talk that you would like to change the negative one to. So, continuing with the example above, if you had “I’ll never be able to get a good job” on the “bad self-talk side” on the “Change to good self-talk side” you would have “I can get a great Job”
Now every time you find yourself in the bad self-talk mode, whenever you are felling low and beginning to sink into thinking negatively, immediately replace that bad self-talk with its corresponding good self-talk that you wrote down and keep repeating the good self-talk either internally or out loud (if you are in a quiet place where no one will think you’re crazy!) until you begin to feel energized and positive again.
I Reject It!
This needs no notebook or written exercise.
As soon as you say or think something negative about yourself, as quickly as you can, tell yourself “I REJECT IT!” and say something positive instead.
So for example…
If you’ve been thinking or saying to yourself “why is my life so messed up” as soon as that thought creeps up on you, immediately say:
“I REJECT IT!”
Then say something positive to replace the negative like:
“My life is great and wonderful, I am so blessed.”
Saying “I reject it” defends you from accepting that negative thought or belief – but you must reject it with conviction!
Always remember that your thoughts and the things you say about yourself affect you and control how you behave, these self-esteem building activities give you a defense against negative thoughts and beliefs. The more you do and practice these self-esteem building activities, the more the negative things you believe about yourself will begin to change.
Try each of these out for a few days or a week at a time and find which one works best for you. It may be that each one works best depending on the situation that you find yourself in. Whichever one most resonates with you, use it consistently. Critical thinking is a habit and the way to change habits is to consistently do something that is more desirable.
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Christine Hunt hereafter known as “The Coach” is a Certified EFT Practitioner but not a medical professional. The information The Coach conveys during the Resolution Obstacle Buster program is primarily from her experience as an EFT Coach or from books, articles, newsletters and papers, written by medical professionals or experts in the health & wellness fields. Your participation in this program signifies your acceptance of complete and full responsibility in your use of this information and will in no way hold The Coach liable. The Coach cannot guarantee participants’ expected outcomes, from use of this information, since participants’ results will vary based on their diligence in applying the recommended work and the complexity of their life history. It is recommended that you consult a medical/psychological professional if you have any concerns.