We all have those days when we feel like we just can’t rise to the challenge, or when we may feel that we aren’t good enough. It’s normal to feel down on ourselves sometimes. But why is that? This matter of mental health has to do with self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as “confidence in one’s abilities or worth.” There are various ways self-esteem can be impacted, and several things one can do to maintain a positive self-image.
To better understand this important aspect of life, self-esteem must be examined from a neurological perspective.
A recent Dartmouth study reveals a possible source of self-esteem within the brain. It appears that internal locus of control—how much control over our lives we believe we have, which is directly correlated with self-esteem—is related to how well regions of the brain connect. This finding could help with future treatments for depression and anxiety disorders. The study found that people with stronger white matter connection from their medial prefrontal cortex (responsible for self-knowledge) to their ventral striatum (involved in reward sensation) showed high long-term self-esteem.
Understanding how the brain works in regards to this topic will help improve self-esteem when necessary. The way you think about yourself is developed in the same type of process as learning how to ride a bike. The more practice with the bike, the stronger rider you are. Eventually you can ride without thinking about it. A strong pathway in the brain has been created. When we are children, our thoughts about ourselves are created by the messages from those who we believe are important, such as family members, schoolmates, and friends. For example, if you were constantly picked on in school, this most likely led to the formation of low self-esteem and a negative self-image. Now as an adult, your thoughts repeatedly revert back to the messages engrained in your mind. If you went to a party, your self-esteem and pattern of negative thinking could kick in and lead to social anxiety and the belief that no one likes you; the reality is that the others at the party have not even met you yet! The default to pessimism is a dominant thought pattern. It is automatic, just like riding a bike after lots of practice. Circumstances trigger thoughts that, even unconsciously, cause the reactions— based on your established self-esteem. The good news is that these thought processes can be changed and self-esteem can certainly be improved! Here a few solutions to promoting a healthier self-image, based on cognitive behavioral therapy.
· Be aware of what you are thinking and feeling.
Once you are aware, you can practice new, positive, thought/behavior patterns.
· Identify difficult situations that may decrease your self-esteem ahead of time.
Anticipate the negative and inaccurate thinking and challenge initial thoughts that revert back to a negative concept of yourself.
· Focus on the positive!
Remind yourself of all the good things about your life, all the things that have gone your way in the past week, and the skills and talents you have. You truly are more amazing than you may realize.
· Re-label thoughts that upset you.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that you must react negatively and beat yourself up, step back and ask yourself, “What can I do to make this situation less stressful on myself?”
Self-esteem is a product of unconscious and unconscious processes that occur within the brain. It is a common problem among all people to develop a negative self-view, or sometimes underestimate one’s own self worth. However, there is no need to feel stuck in a negative mindset. Adhering to a few simple changes and recognizing your thought pattern can make a world of difference. So, before you automatically think negatively about yourself or a situation, take a deep breath, step back, and realize that these feelings are not facts.
Jada Jackson M.S., M.A., LMHC, NCC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Author, Talk Show Host, Life Coach and Communicator
Total Life Counseling Center (407) 248 0030 1507 S. Hiawassee Road #101 Orlando FL 32835
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Author: Emily Simpson (Intern)