How to increase our self esteem

In my early twenties, I was certain the solution to increase my self esteem was to succeed, to win the holly grail of achievements. Once I would have a great job, a great partner, friends, a cool house and a cool life, then, my self esteem would be ok.

What a disappointment.

I sometimes hear people trying to explain the fleetingness of good feelings when reaching their goal. For me, even fleetingly, it did not happen: achievements never increased my self esteem, not for a minute. Nothing.

You will find a self esteem definition in a previous post. I have also tried to explain the meaning of a low self esteem in another. Here, let’s talk about how to increase our self esteem. (Hint: it is not by reaching goals.)

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The meaning of low self esteem

Part one of this series on self esteem explains what self-esteem is and how you can measure yours. Part 2 now examines the meaning of our self esteem.

We often believe that our low self esteem is caused by who we are, or some mysterious vulnerability. It is not: often, it’s a direct consequence of what happened to us.

And this, my friends, makes a real difference: it is not about us.

Of course, having a self esteem issue does not mean we have necessarily been through a trauma. And violence can have many other consequences . Sometimes, our self esteem stays miraculously intact regardless. The relationship between sexual trauma and self esteem is not that simple.

But psychologists have long known that sexual violence creates long term damage in our self esteem. Why it is so is not that difficult to understand: it’s all about the messages we receive.

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Me too: what is sexual violence ?

Stranger violence

My friend Sara always stayed in her home country, France. For reasons she never articulated, she did not like the idea of travelling abroad. It was not a real problem for her though, and she organised her life around it.

One day, Sara was promoted. Part of her new responsibilities included travelling abroad. Before her first trip, anxieties mounted to an almost unbearable level. When the day came though, her business trip web very smoothly, and she came back relaxed and satisfied.

This episode triggered some self reflexion: why was it initially such a problem for her ? She remembered that as a yound adult, she travelled to North Africa with a few other friends. The whole time, the group of girls had been harrassed by unsolicited, insistent and intrusive male attention. Some nights, it was impossible to sleep because of the never ending ringing at their doors. Sara realised that her anxiety at the idea of travelling appeared after this unfortunate first experience.

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