Could Your Self-Esteem Be Undermining Your Wellness Efforts?

By , Elizabeth Babcock, Psychotherapist and Author
Do you repeatedly get on track with your self-care, only to let it slip away again despite achieving good results? Your self-esteem could be the culprit, whether you realize it or not. 
It can be tricky to know for sure because self-esteem isn't something you simply do or do not have; it can be stronger in some parts of your life than in others. If you are confident and accomplished at work, for example, you might not realize that you are showing some low self-esteem when you feel guilty or selfish about prioritizing your health.
If you don't believe that quality care is your birthright, you won't be able to provide it for yourself consistently. Your actions will continue to be influenced by the unconscious conviction that great health isn't really "you." Improving your self-esteem and learning to truly believe in yourself and your abilities is the first step to finding lifelong health and happiness.

Is Your Self-Esteem Suffering?

Some of the nicest people you've ever met may have self-esteem issues. Why? Some people are nice not only for its own sake but also because they believe they have so little intrinsic personal value that they must earn their way in with others through extra effort. Such people usually have trouble accepting compliments, and some of them apologize often, even when they've done nothing wrong. Their mindset is all about pleasing others, whatever that takes.
Suspect self-esteem may be at the root of your problems if you allow others to treat you in ways that you wouldn't find acceptable for someone else. Suspect it further if you find yourself in lopsided relationships in which you make most of the effort. Low self-esteem is what tells you that your needs can be addressed only if there are time and energy left over after everyone else is content.
Low self-esteem often shows itself in a stream of quiet, critical self-talk, to which you might be so accustomed that you barely notice anymore. Consider if you've ever thought to yourself phrases such as:
"No one wants to hear what I have to say."
 "I have no right to feel this way."
"Everyone else belongs except me."
"I look awful."
"I get by, but I'm not really good at anything."
Sound familiar? Before you write the internal chatter examples off as insignificant, imagine saying any one of the aforementioned phrases to another person. For example: "No one wants to hear what you have to say," or "You have no right to feel this way." Now, the cruelty is obvious.
When it comes to self-care the simplest litmus test for self-esteem is this: What would it look like if another person had to live with the choices you make for yourself—what you eat, how much you move, what you do for stress management, how much sleep you get and the priority placed on your emotional needs? Would that person be nurtured, neglected or some strange mix of the two? Once you recognize the issue, you can proactively start improving the way you think of and take care of yourself.

Improve Your Opinion of You

It's important to tackle self-esteem issues in small steps so that you can tolerate the change. Trying to do too much at once will result in an internal reaction of, "No—this isn't me," causing you to drop your efforts and remain in the same rut. Seek change at a level that stretches your comfort zone without overwhelming your sense of self.
  1. Challenge critical self-talk with objective facts. Get help with this from friends or family if you need because conquering negative self-talk is essential to moving forward.
  2. Recognize your time and energy as valuable, limited resources. Invest them only where they support your values, goals and needs.
  3. Cultivate relationships with people whose positive regard for you is obvious in their words and actions.
  4. Treat yourself as well as you treat others. Require the same in return.
  5. Make time for activities that are just for and about you. This shift in priorities strengthens your sense of self while giving you a nice emotional recharge. Relaxation, recreation and physical activity are good places to start.
  6. Spend time at pursuits which give you feelings of competence and accomplishment. Self-esteem issues or not, we all need this.
  7. Take care of yourself with the dedication you offer to others. Eat quality food. Engage in regular exercise, seeking choices that you find satisfying. Make sure you get some downtime. Stay current with your medical care and checkups.
If you believe that others deserve a certain kind of life, it is your job to work hard at believing in improvement and showing yourself that you do, too.