“When I can no longer proudly say ‘I am a mechanic’ my self-esteem gradually wastes away. I meet a stranger and admit that I am unemployed, perhaps have been for an extended period of time and I feel that my stature diminishes from the look in their eyes. I talk about what I used to do but I feel somehow tainted and incomplete. I talk too much about why I have no job because I want them to realize that it’s not my fault, that I really want to work and there nothing wrong with me”.

Losing your job suddenly can really play on your mind, and the facts of the situation can become blurred. Statements starting with “I should have worked more over time?” or “If I had handled things differently then…” are negative mental tapes running inside your head. These need to be stopped or you will start questioning your worth and gradually lower your self-esteem. At this stage of your transition it is important for you to maintain a good level of self identity and self esteem for the following reasons:

People with poor self-esteem are more likely to:

  1. Give up easily
  2. Avoid new situations
  3. Be super-critical of their own efforts
  4. Think it’s bad to make mistakes
  5. Feel inadequate to handle new situations
  6. Get upset when they are criticised
  7. Worry about what others think or say
  8. Criticise or blame others
  9. Put down their own talents, possessions and achievements
  10. Gossip about others and complain about life
  11. Blame others for their own unhappiness
    (Lawrence, 2006)

Everyone has moments when they do one or more of these things, but a person with good self-esteem has a positive self-image and self-respect.

People with good self-esteem are more likely to:

  1. Recognise their own talents, achievements and worth
  2. Take responsibility for their ups and downs
  3. Don’t blame others for what happens to them
  4. Feel OK about handling new situations
  5. Focus on improving themselves
  6. See mistakes and failures as learning experiences
  7. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of them
  8. Are less likely to condemn or criticise others
  9. Look to others for inspiration
  10. Avoid gossiping about others
  11. Recognise that they sometimes feel fearful but go for it anyway
    (Lawrence, 2006)

Maintaining and improving your self-esteem can be difficult. The Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas, Austin (2002) recommend the following three steps toward better Self-esteem:

Step 1: Rebut the Inner Critic

The first important step in improving self-esteem is to begin to challenge the negative messages of the critical inner voice. Here are some typical examples of the inner critic’s voice and how you can “rebut” that voice.

The Inner Critic’s Voice:

Is Unfairly Harsh: “People said they liked my presentation, but it was nowhere near as good as it should have been. I can’t believe no-one noticed all the places I messed up. I’m such an impostor.”

Your Rebuttals:

Be Reassuring: “Wow, they really liked it! Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard on that presentation and did a good job. I’m proud of myself. This was a great success.”

The Inner Critic’s Voice:

Generalises Unrealistically: “I got an F on the test. I don’t understand anything in this class. I’m such an idiot. Who am I fooling? I shouldn’t be taking this class. I’m stupid and I don’t belong in college.”

Your Rebuttals:

Be Specific: “I did poorly on this one test, but I’ve done O.K. on all the homework. There are some things here that I don’t understand as well as I thought I did, but I can do the material-I’ve done fine in other classes that were just as tough.

The Inner Critic’s Voice:

Makes Leaps of Illogic: “He is frowning. He didn’t say anything, but I know it means that he doesn’t like me!”

Your Rebuttals:

Challenge Illogic: “O.K., he’s frowning, but I don’t know why. It could have nothing to do with me. Maybe I should ask.”

The Inner Critic’s Voice:

Catastrophises: “She turned me down for a date! I’m so embarrassed and humiliated. No one likes or cares about me. I’ll never find a girlfriend. I’ll always be alone.”

Your Rebuttals:

Be Objective: “Ouch! That hurt. Well, she doesn’t want to go out with me. That doesn’t mean no one does. I know I’m an attractive and nice person. I’ll find someone.”

Step 2: Practice Self-Nurturing

Rebutting your critical inner voice is an important first step, but it is not enough. Since our self-esteem is in part due to how others have treated us in the past, the second step to more healthy self-esteem is to begin to treat yourself as a worthwhile person.

Start to challenge past negative experiences or messages by nurturing and caring for yourself in ways that show that you are valuable, competent, deserving and lovable. There are several components to self-nurturing:

Practice Basic Self-Care: Get enough sleep, eat in a healthy fashion, get regular exercise, practice good hygiene, and so forth.

Plan Fun & Relaxing Things for Yourself: You could go to a movie, take a nap, get a massage, plant a garden, buy a pet, learn to meditate-whatever you enjoy.

Reward Yourself for Your Accomplishments: You could take the night off to celebrate good grades, spend time with a friend, or compliment yourself for making that hard phone call.

Remind Yourself of Your Strengths & Achievements: One way is to make a list of things you like about yourself. Or keep a ‘success’ file of awards, certificates and positive letters or citations. Keep moments of accomplishments you are proud of where you can see them.

Forgive Yourself When You Don’t Do All You’d Hoped: Self-nurturing can be surprisingly hard if you are not used to doing it. Don’t be critical of yourself (remember that inner voice!) when you don’t do it just right.

Self-Nurture Even When You Don’t Feel You Deserve It: “Fake it” until you can “make it.” When you treat yourself like you deserve to feel good and be nurtured, slowly you’ll come to believe it.

Step 3: Get Help From Others

Getting help from others is often the most important step a person can take to improve his or her self-esteem, but it can also be the most difficult. People with low self-esteem often don’t ask for help because they feel they don’t deserve it.

But since low self-esteem is often caused by how other people treated you in the past, you may need the help of other people in the present to challenge the critical messages that come from negative past experiences.

Here are some ways to get help from others:

Ask for Support from Friends

  1. Ask friends to tell you what they like about you or think you do well.
  2. Ask someone who cares about you to just listen to you “vent” for a little while without trying to “fix” things.
  3. Ask for a hug.
  4. Ask someone who loves you to remind you that they do.

Now you need to make your plan! Using the three steps listed above, write out what you will do to maintain or develop your self-esteem. Here are some helpful hints:

  1. Write down any negative thoughts you are having about yourself and rebut them.
  2. Be specific as vague statements don’t mean a lot when you are planning to nurture yourself. For example: people involved, times of the day, rewards for certain activities.