You may have tried to improve your self-esteem by thinking more positively, acknowledging your strengths, learning to love yourself, and engaging in more healthy activities. While engaging in healthy thinking patterns is essential for self-esteem building, you may have neglected to address your unhealthy thinking patterns due to the overemphasis of positive thinking. The first step to reduce your negative thinking patterns is to identify the pattern. Once the pattern is identified, your negative thinking pattern will be easier to cope and replace it with positive thinking patterns, leading you to a healthier self-esteem. Here are the 4 unhealthy thinking patterns that lower your self-esteem:
1. You have high expectations of yourself
There are many “shoulds”, “oughts”, and “musts” in your thoughts. For example, “I must not make mistakes. I should get good grades. I must make everyone happy. I must get the best results, or else it doesn’t count.”. When you consistently do not meet your high expectations of yourself, you might start mentally beating yourself up or feel extremely guilty for not fulfilling your expectations. This thinking pattern is cyclical – when you don’t meet your expectations, you beat yourself up over it, which leads you to setting even higher expectation to ensure you don’t fail. As a result, this lowers your self-esteem and you constantly feel pressured.
2. You have an all-or-nothing thinking pattern
You think of your experiences and reality in terms of the extreme good or bad, with the negative category more salient. For example, perfect vs. imperfect, success vs. failure, saint vs. corrupted, smart vs. dumb, bad vs. good. When you think dichotomously, you are prone to disappointing yourself when “errors” happen. For example, you did not get hired from one interview which leads you to believing you are a ‘failure’, or when you are believing you are ‘dumb’ because you forgot to grab your keys. When you put yourself in the negative category consistently, it will lower your self-esteem.
3. You dismiss your positive experiences
Whenever you do something wonderful, you consistently dismiss or downgrade it as unimportant. For example, “Eh, it’s nothing – everyone else can do it”, “It was a small achievement”, “He’s just saying that to be nice, I’m not that great.” You got habituated to be attuned to negative experiences that you instinctively believe any positive experiences you have achieved is amounted to nothing. Because you do not consider your positive experience as legitimate, your self-esteem is lowered.
4. You think that your feelings reflect the truth
You believe your feelings are the absolute truth. For example, you feel dumb so therefore you must be dumb. Or you feel incompetent, so therefore you are incompetent. While feelings are convincing and persuasive, it does not mean it is true. You are using emotions to reason, but we all know emotions are not the most reliable when it comes to truth-seeing. When you believe in the negative feeling, your self-esteem lowers because you genuinely see yourself as what you are feeling.
Begin Identifying Your Thinking Patterns
The 4 unhealthy thinking patterns have one thing in common - they distort your reality and making you believe you are unworthy, but the truth is that you have done wonderful things that you don't see. Once you begin to identify your unhealthy thinking patterns, you will begin to find ways to counteract these thoughts which will empower you to think more positively and allowing you to have a higher self-esteem.
The ideal way to identify what your thinking patterns is to use thought diaries to record your inner thoughts. Click here to find out 3 easy steps to get started on thought recording. Once you write down your unhealthy thoughts, you can systematically tackle them to increase positive thinking.
About The Author
Jasmine Tsang is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) under the College of Registered Psychotherapist Ontario (CRPO) and the founder of Reflections Therapy. She specializes in providing counselling services for people facing challenges in their adulthood such as relationships, self-esteem issues, school & career stressors, anxiety, and depression. For more information about Jasmine, click here to read her bio.