It seems to me that there is a worldwide pandemic of low self-esteem, especially among those of us who have had mental health issues or been traumatized or mistreated. Although I am retired, I continue to have many opportunities to support people. And these days I find that the issue that comes up most often is low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem has been an issue for me all my life. Even though I have had several successful careers, have a wonderful family, many close friends, and a good place to live, for most of my life I have had a persistent dark cloud over my head that kept reminding me I wasn’t good enough. It was always there. It interfered with every aspect of my life. I never had as good a time as I wished, as that cloud was always pulling at me. I was never able to fully appreciate accomplishments or have a really good time.
I have been working at getting that cloud to dissipate for many, many years. I have worked with fine counselors and therapists. I have attended support groups. I have repeated positive affirmations over and over and over. I have tried “turning negative thoughts to positive” activities. I have read numerous self-help books, taken courses, and even attained several advanced degrees that included training on how to work with people to get rid of such a cloud. I have worked as a counselor, given lectures and written books trying to convince others that they are worthy. I have learned to avoid people who insist on critiquing me negatively. I only spend time with people who treat me with dignity, compassion, and high regard, the same way I treat them.
I also have a powerful Wellness Recovery Action Plan that guides my life. My wellness toolbox has many wellness tools that help me feel better about myself, including staying away from people who treat me badly. I have persisted in this journey to believe in my own value even though there were many times when I have been so discouraged that I almost gave up.
I am finally absolutely thrilled to report to you that I have been successful. Through the pandemic, I read more self-help books, continued my journaling, took a course that focused on meditation and self-compassion, attended an online peer support group, and had several sessions with a spiritual leader who I have admired for a long time.
One day, about three months ago, I had a strange feeling that I didn’t recognize. And then I realized what it was. The black cloud was gone. And no matter what I do, I can’t get it back. Since that time I have cooked meals and baked things that didn’t turn out so well, I have broken dishes and had spills, I have said and done things I wish I had not said and done, I have eaten foods that are not good for me—the cloud does not come back. I find myself repeating over and over in my mind many of the affirmations that I have been practicing for years: I am worthy, I am great, I am deeply loved by many, I have done good work, I look fine. That is new for me.
Sometimes when I am trying to get myself to sleep at night, I even do this corny thing where I go through the alphabet starting with A and find a word that starts with each letter that has to do with how great I am: I am amazing, I am brilliant, I am courageous, I am dedicated, I am excellent, I am fantastic, and so on.
Also gone is a self-consciousness that has made my life harder. I felt like I was always not dressed right, too fat, not saying or doing the right things—the list goes on and on.
At this point I am convinced that there is no way to get that cloud back. I hope it no longer exists, and that it hasn’t settled over someone else’s head.
If you have a cloud like I did, or if your self-esteem is in the pits, keep reminding yourself every way you can think of how great and special and worthy you are. Don’t let up. Use some of the wellness tools I have shared. Develop wellness tools of your own. Use your WRAP. I am convinced that someday soon, you too will notice that the cloud is gone. And every moment you get without the cloud is worth it.
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.