Christine Webber

The other day, I had an email from an old friend who was obviously in a bad way.

She said she hated growing older and that the capable and confident person she once was seemed to have disappeared. 

The trigger for her distress had been one of those nightmares with a bank who kept sending a code to her mobile that she was supposed to type into a website where she was purchasing something.

Unfortunately, it kept disappearing from view before she could grasp what it was, and she became more and more panic stricken.

After that, for days, she felt hopeless and inept.  

This can happen to any of us especially if we’re not feeling particularly buoyant.

Somehow, we allow such a situation to assume huge proportions, and instead of dismissing it and saying: “well that didn’t go very well, but never mind”, we suddenly feel we’ve completely lost the plot.

And then, in no time, our carefully constructed appreciation of ourselves comes crashing down and our self-esteem plummets. Sadly, this tends to happen more as we grow older.

So, what can we do about it? 

The term self-esteem is derived from a Latin word “aestimare” which means to “estimate”.

So, self-esteem is in effect the rating that we give ourselves. And a good rating is important, because having favourable regard for ourselves is a major plank of good mental health. 

However, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, or stressed, or lacking in confidence we tend to rate ourselves poorly; we also tell ourselves we’re stupid and worthless. This is bad for us.

So, if this sounds like you, could I ask you to stop it? You’ll feel better if you do. 
I suggest, too, that you have a think about why you’re so hateful to yourself? Is it helpful?

Of course not. And would you ever be this furious or unkind to anyone else?

I seriously doubt it. Giving up the habit of castigating yourself when things go wrong would make a big difference to your attitude, peace of mind and sense of self-worth. So please try.  

The other thing you can do is to counter all this negativity by resolutely remembering all the good that you do.        

Let me tell you about a patient I once saw. His name was John. It was 2008, a time of financial turmoil, and he had a small engineering business which he ran with his son.

The orders dried up and the firm was struggling so much that he decided the only sane thing to do was close it.

Though almost retirement age, he had planned to work on and had very much wanted to pass the company onto his son, so he felt utterly devastated and redundant. 

His wife, who must have been very worried about him, persuaded him to see me. He was a broken man. It was awful to witness his anguish as he launched into a tirade outlining what an abject failure he was. 

After a while, I determinedly changed the subject and asked him about all the good things he had achieved. He looked at me as if I was mad.

But he was polite, and gradually began to relate how successful his business had been in the past. I then asked him about his relationships with family and friends.

Again, he seemed bemused by my queries, but little by little he described how he was devoted to his wife, and how much he valued everyone in his social network.

And it became abundantly clear to me that this was a man who had loads of love to give, and who was widely loved and liked.  

Then we got talking about his childhood, and he told me how close he’d been to his granny and how much he’d enjoyed her company. Then he cried. But his tears were tears of gladness, as he connected with the memory of the very loving little boy he had been. 

We spent the rest of the session on these memories, and by the end of it, I could sense John’s view of himself had shifted so that although he still lamented the loss of his company, he could see that this one incident did not define him as a man, and that there was so much about him that he could be proud of.  

As I showed him out of the building his wife was waiting for him, and he raced over and gave her such a big hug it lifted her off her feet. The change in his demeanour must have been a huge relief for her. 

So, when you’re tempted to write yourself off and feel as though you’re hopeless, please instead turn your attention to all the love you have shared and the good things you have done, instead of focusing on your failings.

When you do, your self-esteem will rise, and life will feel easier.