Low self-esteem is keeping me from true happiness.

 

This blog is about helping me manage my mental health, letting others know they are not alone in living and dealing with Anxiety and Depression, and showing those who don’t live first-hand with the illnesses what it is like — if only through the eyes and mind of one person. I think I’ve done a pretty good job getting these points across.

But there has been a part of my experience that I have not named, or at least not as directly as I should be. Despite the fact that my mental health is currently better than it ever has been before, I still struggle with at least one major hurdle to true happiness.

That being that I do not have the healthiest ego; I do not possess high self-esteem. My mind finds it very easy to focus on my failures rather than my strengths. And there are times my mind can be filled with doubt.

Does this mean I am depressed? Some would say I am. And based on a recent doctor’s visit, I have been advised to see my therapist again just to check into this … which I will be doing soon.

However, I don’t think Depression is where I am at. During much of my daily life, I am happy and I can conjure up joy. There are huge parts of my life where I am confident in my contributions.

It just so happens that for my whole life I have also found it easier to struggle with my failures than automatically see myself through my strengths.

I am guessing this is true of many people who have struggled with Anxiety and Depression since a young age or for a very long time. Our brains have a muscle memory — if that’s the right phrase — to fall into the negative more than most people.

I am writing this now, because I have recognized that this is a dominant way of my thinking, and it is holding me back from optimal mental health.

I’m curious. First, can I feel these feelings without being seen as depressed? Can the other joyful and confident parts of my life outweigh the negativity of a brain that doesn’t always fire optimally? If so, what strategies can be taken to build self-esteem to match the positive feelings I have?

I am lucky. Again, I am living the best year of my whole life thus far! I cannot discount this. However, I am also lucky because I have an incredible person in my camp. My spouse has taken to shushing me when I engage in negative self-talk. She names for me — when I can not name for myself — my strengths. Sometimes I get a little annoyed. I say that I have to and want to acknowledge my feelings … which I think she understands. But she will not let me wallow in the negativity.

Again, I am a lucky guy … a lucky guy who sometimes beats himself up.

(Note to self: Call my therapist tomorrow for an appointment soon.)

 

5 Comments

  1. Tom S. 18 November 2019 at 9:34 am

    Hi Michael. I’m glad you’re going to check in with your therapist. I’m not qualified to give you professional help. However, I’d like to give the kind of help a friend can give. I too suffer from low self-esteem at times (I prefer low self-respect). I think it happens most often when I compare myself with others. I know I shouldn’t do it but I do it anyway, mostly out of habit.

    A few years ago, I participated in a class at church called “Living Your Strengths”. The text for the class was the Clifton Strength Finder. This class taught me that everyone has strengths and if we know what these are, we can use them and not try to be someone we’re not. For example, I found out one of my strengths is “Connectedness”, and another is “Includer”. In other words, I like to bring people together.

    As a result of this course, I decided I wanted to work for social justice, using my strengths and passions. That’s how you and I met. So you may want to check out this course. We have them periodically at Pax Christi, my church, – I recommend you do it in a group so you can see that no two people have the same strengths. Let me know if I can get you “connected”.

     
  2. Tom Sampson 18 November 2019 at 2:30 pm

    On second thought, I’m wondering if I’m truly happy, or if something is getting in the way. Is true happiness even possible for us humans? I’m guessing it’s a lifelong quest. At this point in my life I can only say I’m happiest when I’m serving others and doing what I think is God’s will.

     
  3. Michael Dahl 19 November 2019 at 4:50 am

    Tom, thanks for your reply.

    I have taken the Clifton Strength Finder and Myers-Briggs tests. So I know my strenghts pretty well. Although refecting on them and doing some personal writing about them would probably be helpful.

    Also, I think I chose the wrong phrase when I said “true happiness.” What I mean to say is that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to processing my thoughts. Nothing is gained and a lot is lost when I beat myself up over things that have happened in the past. It is in no way helpful. Instead, I should be thinking about how to use my strengths to think about how to approach situations I will find myself in. But I find it nearly impossible to do because of how stupid I feel about things I cannot change.

     
  4. Tracey 21 November 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Michael,

    I know that you are not asking for suggestions or advice. I often have the knee -jerk response of wanting to comment to your posts with suggestions or offer thoughts of consolation for things you say your wrestle with. I know you aren’t asking for those things, so I hope that I can frame this in a way that just offers testimony for things I have found helpful. I think these could be things you’ve even said you do already. I have a ton of logs or journals that I keep. I don’t keep any of them consistently–but they’re there when I need them. I use them when I’m struggling with anger, resentment, or just feeling terrible about myself in some way. In one log, I list my assets or strengths–as many as I can think of. I will make this list at the beginning or end of the day for however many days or weeks I’m struggling. I repeat myself a lot. (I can never get too many compliments!) Some days, I think of new assets. Even if they are just temporary ones. I also keep similar logs of all the things I accomplish each day, and all the things I’m grateful for having. Nothing is too small or superficial to include. Same for the list of positive traits I have.

    I always think back to my lowest point with the depression, and how I sometimes had to call in to work because I couldn’t get out of bed, or physically struggled just to shower and brush my teeth. This reminds me how much everything counts. Even the smallest things I get to take for granted right now–I make sure I include them.

    I started doing this after I read the book Hardwiring Happiness. The author mentions somewhere in the book that neurologically, one negative thought is equal to three positive ones, so to speak. I decided that if that is true, then maybe six positive thoughts could actually cancel out or reverse a negative one.

    It’s been a couple years or so since I started doing this. I can see improvements to my self worth. I don’t know if I would say that I have a great self image. I think I have a life time of work ahead of me, but I know for myself that this work has made a noticeable difference.

    I’ve been in therapy for at least 7 years. Maybe 8. But one (of many) great thing my therapist does for me, is he points out when I am being hard on myself or making unnecessary expectations or rules for myself. He will stop me in mid-sentence sometimes to remind me to be compassionate and understanding. He is always careful in how he frames information or questions–he models compassionate thinking for me too. It’s all been the same lesson. All 7 years. Every time. I’m slowly getting it. 🙂

     
  5. Michael Dahl 22 November 2019 at 8:23 pm

    I love this:

    “In one log, I list my assets or strengths–as many as I can think of. I will make this list at the beginning or end of the day for however many days or weeks I’m struggling. I repeat myself a lot. (I can never get too many compliments!) Some days, I think of new assets. Even if they are just temporary ones. I also keep similar logs of all the things I accomplish each day, and all the things I’m grateful for having. Nothing is too small or superficial to include. Same for the list of positive traits I have.”

    and this …

    “This reminds me how much everything counts.”

    Thank you. I may try to incorporate these things into my daily journaling.

     

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