One of the most pernicious and universal of all human traits is self-denigration. Chronic self-criticism leads to low self-esteem and lack of confidence and affects every aspect of the sufferer’s life, including their health and well-being. Stifling self-belief and healthy aspirations, low self-esteem creates an interior psychological climate of doubt, fear, anxiety and constant pressure.
We need a level of self-esteem to do most things in life. Indeed, self-belief is a building block in an individual’s personal development. So why is it that so many of us have such low self-worth, and indulge in epidemic levels of self-criticism? If we look at the root of self-denigration and low self-esteem we’ll find a lack of self-love and self-acceptance somewhere in there. Causal factors may include poor parenting, trauma or abuse in childhood or significant events later in life. Everyday environmental stressors such as teenage peer pressure, bullying in the workplace or an over-demanding work schedule can also play their part. Sometimes the influences are more insidious and subtle, like unkind teasing from a friend or over high expectations of family and loved ones.
Whatever the reasons, and however severe or mild the affliction, the most fundamental step in developing a healthy sense of self-worth is to learn to love oneself, and it’s never too late. There is no magic button or quick fix though. Building incrementally, self-love develops over time, layer upon fine layer. It’s a process that takes commitment to learning to value and respect oneself.
Meditation can offer a gentle way in to this process. Mindfulness brings awareness which, in turn offers us the power of choice. When we notice, in the moment, what self-criticism and negative thinking is costing us, we have the opportunity to let that thought pattern go, and breathe out the physical and emotional stress it’s triggered within us. We can begin to see negative self-talk as a habit rather than the truth.
Affirmations and positive imagery are a powerful way of training the mind to experience positive states and see things in a more useful perspective. Little by little the neural pathways that had organised themselves around self-denigration and lack of self-worth, are disrupted as new neural pathways grow to establish the ‘habit’ of self-respect and self-compassion. The road is rarely straight forward and may involve addressing old unresolved issues in need of healing, so it’s always a good idea to seek professional support if you feel the need. The beauty of meditation is that it provides a nurturing ‘holding space’ that’s non-analytical, and promotes natural healing processes.
There are small steps that we can take every day to build a healthier relationship with ourselves. Remember, self-denigration is a learnt behaviour – a habit. Here are some tips on how to develop the infinitely more useful habit of valuing and respecting yourself:
- Write down a list of all the self-critical things you habitually say to yourself. Look at where these have come from historically, and the beliefs that they are rooted in. Have a spring clean and throw them out.
- Talk to yourself in a way that is encouraging and reassuring
- Use affirmation audios to get you into the habit of using self-empowering, positive statements
- Notice the amount of stress negative thinking and self-criticism causes you. Ask if you really want to continue doing that to yourself? Breathe the tension out from your body
- Appreciate yourself for something at least three times a day, no matter how small
- Be mindful. Learn to check in with your needs in the moment. Notice if you are hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, in pain, etc. Address your needs accordingly
- Begin to acknowledge and learn to express your emotions and feelings appropriately
- Learn to express yourself clearly with others – tell them what your needs are
- Get clear about boundaries – what feels comfortable and uncomfortable. Start setting these with other people
- Practise ‘grounding’ several times every day – feeling your feet on the ground to help you feel more solid and embodied
- Show yourself small kindnesses everyday
- Use self-soothing techniques such as meditation, relaxation audios relaxing bathes, etc
- Build in some regular down time where you have a chance to rest and recoup
- Treat yourself to a day out at the spa, a massage or something else that gives you pleasure. Tell yourself you’ve earned it
- Imagine putting a kind arm around yourself when you don’t feel so good, just as you would a good friend
- Write down a list of all your achievements: all the things you are proud of in your life so far, no matter how small. Appreciate yourself for them
- Re-awaken the child within you. Be curious and playful.
- Introduce more spontaneity into your life and allow yourself to have fun sometimes
Be consistent. If being nicer to yourself feels strange at first, it’s just because it is unfamiliar. The more you do it, the easier it will become and the more ingrained in your behaviour as you develop a healthier relationship with the most interesting person you will ever know – you!
© Linda Hall
Meditations for Personal Development Volume 1
A compilation 3 CD set using meditation, relaxation and visualisation techniques to help you build personal development skills. Supportive, affirming and life-enhancing.