When you have low self-esteem and depression it is hard to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Even the smallest of things can seem daunting to someone who is suffering either low self-esteem, or depression or could be any other mental illness. It is common for them to look at some people accomplishing things and going somewhere and think, ‘Why can’t I do that?, or ‘I will never be able to do that; seems too much.’
One of the common thoughts at this time is that someone feels they ‘should’ be like others and ‘should’ be achieving and have something to show for their time. However, it is quite common for people who have depression and low self-esteem to think these things happen overnight; when they do try something they find that if they fail at the first hurdle, then they can’t do it.
There are a few explanations for this behaviour, the person who has a mental illness will find the evidence to match their beliefs, so when they don’t get the desired outcome this reinforces their beliefs about themselves and they believe that they can’t do what it was they tried to do. They start to get learned helplessness, where they start to have discouraging thoughts and no longer believe they can do anything, and get stuck in the same routines. They have self-defeating thoughts and get stuck in a cycle where everything they think they could do, they can’t as they always fail. They are more likely to generalise too, ‘I failed at this, so therefore I can’t do anything’, is a possible statement they would say.
As part of a way to get out of this mindset is to start thinking in a more positive and realistic manner. This is easier said than done, but by taking small steps it is possible to improve your mental health. It has to begin with small easy accomplishments and achieving those. It is important that people don’t set themselves up for failure.
The goals need to be realistic and individual for that person. It is too common for people to compare themselves to others when they are feeling low, as they are not giving themselves the praise they deserve; they struggle to see their good points. It is advised that the person seeks professional help for their mental illness, as it can be quite detrimental if they perceive everything they are doing as failure, it can lead to deeper depression.
Speaking from personal experience of these matters, I sought professional counselling for my mental illness, and began to look at what I could set as easy goals to achieve. One of main goals I set was to cook an evening meal, and to do so I set myself easy steps to follow. The first of these was to make a sandwich; and after making the sandwich I noted in my reflective journal as an accomplishment and a step towards my overall goal I had set myself. By taking little and often steps, I was able to make an evening meal in the same week. By achieving these little goals it began to build up my self-esteem, and I began to feel I could achieve other little, and medium goals. I started to feel good about myself.
The overall point which I am getting to is that mental illness can, and does, take its toll on how a person sees themselves and what they are able to achieve. When someone is low, and possibly at their lowest, it doesn’t matter what you say to them – it won’t change how they see themselves. They need to feel the achievement themselves, and it’s important to support them at this time. To provide reassurance, they have to realise that it is acceptable to fail at things; we aren’t born to be professionals in everything.
To master something takes time, patience, perseverance and to accept failure, and mainly to learn from failure. It is also important to emphasise that it won’t always happen correctly the first time. It doesn’t make that person a failure, it makes them human. I feel this is why planning out steps to take to achieve the end goal is important, as it allows you to see the progress which you are making and the steps which are being made to the final goal. This can be written down somewhere which is seen every day by the person, and reminds them of their progress. This is something which I followed myself, and continue to follow to this day, is setting a goal and planning out the steps to attain that goal. Setting out steps and following them was one of the main components to overcoming issues with my self-esteem.
Dale Burden is a correspondent for Psychreg. He holds a dual honours degree in Psychology and Neuroscience from Keele University.