Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
I’ve been writing a lot lately about self-esteem, including the two keys to self-esteem and how to boost it by trying new things. Today, I want to focus on one more strategy for improving self-esteem, and it focuses on increasing our sense of self-worth.
Self-worth is a basic belief in oneself as a good person and worthy of existing. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Yet many of us don’t believe in ourselves or see ourselves as worthwhile. A primary reason for this is the set of irrational beliefs we entertain in our brains.
Irrational beliefs are self-destructive ideas about the self. They cause us to suffer emotionally, but they are so firmly entrenched that they are difficult to challenge and purge from our psyches.
The concept of irrational beliefs comes from cognitive theory, which suggests that it is not our experiences that keep us in a state of low self-esteem, but our ideas about those experiences that hold us in a psychological prison. For instance, it’s not our actual job that makes us miserable, but our beliefs about our job that make us feel this way.
It follows that if we can rid ourselves of irrational beliefs and develop more realistic ones, we can reduce our emotional turmoil. But where do we begin?
Fortunately, there’s a technique called “countering” we can use to increase feelings of self-worth. Countering entails challenging the thoughts we have that are damaging to our self-esteem and replacing them with healthier messages.
Here are five steps to countering unhealthy thought patterns:
- First, take an inventory of the negative statements you tell yourself. Keep a notebook with you for a week and write them down whenever they occur.
- Second, identify negative thought patterns and irrational beliefs. For instance, after a week of self-monitoring, you might find that you often tell yourself, “I am stupid.”
- Third, create a couple of possible “counters” to your negative thoughts. A counter can be a sentence, phrase, or even a single word that disputes the self-criticism. Using the example above, you could counter “I am stupid” with “I’ve done well in school and in my career!” or simply, “Nonsense!”
- Fourth, test out each counter to see which one feels like it will be most effective. Do this by saying the self-criticism and then quickly follow it with each counter.
- Finally, practice using the counter for the next week. Whenever you find yourself making the negative self-statement, quickly follow it with the counter. Use your notebook to keep track of how often you make self-criticisms. If the counter is effective, you should see a decrease in negative self-statements over time.
This is an evidence-based way to improve your sense of self-worth and in turn, boost your self-esteem. If you try it, be sure to come back and tell me about your experience!
Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.