"Like my child’s train set, imagine two carriages, each clearly marked with a couple of small words; there’s ‘Self-Esteem’ written on one, and ‘Self-Confidence’ on the other. These carriages are continually going round and round the tiny circular track with no obvious way to ever change direction. They’re not able to go anywhere new, in fact, they’re never-changing, just the same familiar loop. And this really scares me." This is how a young mum recently described to me how she felt. It was heart-felt and poetic.

Therefore, to coincide with International Women’s Day, I’d like to take this opportunity to set out and share some of my thoughts and experiences around working with women with self-esteem and self-confidence issues, to hopefully help guide our friend and others like her onto a new track for the future.

It’s a shame and unfortunate that women in particular occasionally have a number of self-limiting beliefs that prevent them from taking the necessary steps forward to personal self-fulfilment and individual happiness. Girls often emerge from adolescence with a poorer self-image, relatively lower expectations from life and much less confidence in their abilities and in themselves than boys. Let’s look at some of the causes and how we can work for change.

Self-esteem

Low self-esteem, ‘normal’ self-esteem, high self-esteem – throughout my career the term ‘self-esteem’ is often spoken about liberally by myself, colleagues, the media and all manner of experts, and discussed particularly in relation to women and girls. That said, what is self-esteem? Simply put, the umbrella term ‘self-esteem’ is used to describe your overall independent sense of personal value or worth. Or, to put it another way, how much you like and appreciate yourself.

Self-esteem is all about beliefs. Women may hold beliefs about the way they look and feel, thinking themselves to be unattractive, poorly presented, and emotionally fragile along with all modes of behaviours that form the framework of our self-esteem level.

In my experience, women with low self-esteem tend to focus on their weaknesses and generally have a negative outlook on life. They often put the needs of others before their own and they’re not inclined to accept praise readily.

However, women who display healthy self-esteem traits are more likely to avoid dwelling on negative experiences. They are confident in their overall strengths and weaknesses, and can easily accept them. Because of this, they generally have a more positive outlook on life.

Here are a few tips to help you find balance in your own beliefs:

Try to get to know your true self: This statement may appear odd at first. However, when embarking on building and improving your self-esteem, you must first know who you really are. How do you do that? By identifying what you want out of life and providing yourself with positive affirmations; that is the essential starting point. Developing an awareness of how past experiences have moulded the individual you are today is paramount to this. It also requires you to look carefully at how you treat yourself and how to reinterpret the internal messages you send yourself.

Please look after yourself: This could appear overly simplistic at first, but that doesn’t make it easy to achieve. Your internal voice is very powerful; if you are a person with low self-esteem, your inner voice will want to bring you down all the time. To retrain and reframe that voice you first need to take charge by developing some more effective thinking patterns. This involves being mindful that exercise, sleep, diet and setting realistic daily goals all form how you truly feel about yourself. Beyond these, aim to find things in your life you really enjoy, which raise your spirits and then, in turn, boost your self-esteem.

Respect and accept yourself for who you are: These are key to maintaining a healthy self-esteem. Fostering a pattern of regularly feeling your self-worth and building your self-confidence involves acknowledging your limits and imperfections. We all have plenty of these, so start to accept it. Gradually begin to learn from your mistakes and deal with inevitable criticisms by objectively taking them on board and not to heart. This way you forgive your faults or mistakes as these are merely smaller experiences that are part of your wider journey – they do not define you. It’s about increasing the trust you have in yourself and developing skills to become more assertive. This way you’ll soon know and improve your threshold for stress.

Mirrored love: Take a look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you love that person? You should, because she is brilliant! Truly loving what you see will mean treating yourself as well as you treat your family, friends and associates. When you like and respect yourself, you’ll create and develop better boundaries in all relationships. You’ll stand up and celebrate your strengths and you’ll learn that building healthy self-esteem is possible and shouldn’t be overwhelming. Self-awareness isn’t being self-centred; these are totally different things and shouldn’t be confused. With effort, focus and drive and a willingness to change, you too can build healthy self-esteem. The person looking back at you will love you the more for it.

Self-confidence

I often hear women saying, "I wish I could have more self-confidence like her" or, "I’m not a self-confident person" or, "I used to be a self-confident person, but not now". So, why is this the case? Well, in a nutshell self-confidence isn’t something you’re born with; it is merely an attitude about your own skills and abilities. and the good news is that like all skills, it can be learned and developed.

To become a self-confident person, you will need to accept and trust yourself and have the desire to maintain control over your life. Only you can know your own strengths and weaknesses and still be able to maintain a positive view of yourself. This is called self-confidence. When you’re truly self-confident, you can set realistic expectations and goals for yourself; you are able to communicate assertively and handle criticism.

So, what is low self-confidence and how is it characterised? Low self-confidence can make someone experience a sense of self-doubt. It can contribute towards them being passive or submissive in certain circumstances and even resulting in having difficulty trusting others. Women with low confidence may feel inferior in a particular way, unappreciated and even unloved.

Here are a few tips to improve and increase your self-confidence levels.

Know your strengths: By acknowledging, developing and understanding that you do have genuine strengths will allow you to reward and compliment yourself for your efforts. When you misstep or encounter a hurdle in life, don’t dwell on it – these things happen; everyone fails from time to time. Instead, treat yourself with compassion and kindness.

Goal setting to score: Setting yourself goals in life is a great thing to do, however, if these goals are unrealistic and unachievable, then they are doomed to fail and will most likely knock your self-confidence. Instead, aim to make your goals achievable. That does not mean they should be easy; they should be something you need to strive for but are possible to achieve. Don’t always expect perfection, you’ll soon discover it is impossible to be perfect in every aspect of life. By going with the flow, you’ll be able to slow down naturally when you’re feeling intense emotions and be able to think more logically about any given situation.

The past is just that: The ability to appreciate that ‘negative past life experiences do not and will not dictate your future’ is essential for positive self-confidence. By acknowledging the past, yet not dwelling on it, but they allow you to express your feelings, viewpoints and needs truthfully and respectfully.

Moving forward to change

The task of challenging your self-limiting beliefs begins right now. A good way to pinpoint your self-limiting beliefs is to monitor and understand your own emotional triggers. Perhaps there are situations that can make you feel like you’re out of your depth, or don’t deserve to be there, or could even make you feel anxious. Take a moment to reflect on what beliefs could be driving these emotions and feelings. A mindful understanding of your own inner narrative helps you to better comprehend these self-limiting beliefs.

Once that is done, we can work on breaking the chain of focusing on our own imperfections and failing to recognise our wonderful and valid achievements. By changing the narrative, you alter your own story by simply writing a new version. You will soon realise you are free to replace your self-limiting beliefs with a more rational, practical and optimistic version of your original narrative.

As a woman, you can create the acceptance in yourself to push you further in your abilities. You must take on personal responsibility for changing your negative beliefs, which is the first and most important ingredient in the personal change formula. Only you can make new and stimulating things happen in your life. It’s a challenge and like with all challenges, you’ll need to stick with it to succeed.

Lasting and meaningful change doesn’t come from each thing you attempt in life. If this was the case, a single failed effort would knock you right back. Genuine self-esteem and self-confidence develop from an understanding that you’re in charge and fully able to trust yourself to take action and see it through, regardless of the result.

Read more