I will start by saying that until I realized I had low self-esteem, I was sure I had high self-esteem. I was a hard-working, happily-married adult who had overcome an eating disorder, who had forgiven her father for emotional absenteeism, who had forgiven her childhood bullies and had even come to feel sorry for them, etc.
None the less, I had one debilitating quality that when I finally decided to look into it, it cracked the code. My therapist (Google) and I searched, “why do I shut down when I receive positive feedback?” For years, getting any kind of positive feedback on my writing, my painting, whatever, would cause me to shut down. If the praise was too effusive, I would stop whatever it was I’d been praised for and wouldn’t return to it at all. How insane, right? Positive feedback should encourage a behavior, but it sent me running.
I didn’t know what to expect, but article after article identifying my issue as low self-esteem wasn’t it. I initially thought malarkey, but there was too much evidence to support the reality: I had low self-esteem. My shutting down had to do with fear of failure or a fear of disappointing others if I failed to live up to their expectations. It also created the sensation that there was a spotlight on me and that I and my work was being watched despite the reality that others are watching me about as much as I’m watching them (what other people?).
I immediately downloaded and listened to a top-rated self-help book on Audible and learned that other behaviors (overwhelming my plate with work, feeling guilty and anxious for "relaxing" if I had work to do (I would often get stressed when my husband suggested movie nights if I still had work to do), for lying awake at night thinking of all of the wrong, bad, or inadequate things I’d done, etc.) were symptomatic of low self-esteem. I immediately heeded the author’s advice to address the problem because I’d already sacrificed too much time and creativity as a victim of something that only I had the power to fix.
How Low-Self Esteem Hinders Your Creativity & Potential for Success
As you know, low self-esteem was detrimental to my creativity because positive feedback caused me to shut down. I was also hypercritical of my work. Anything I created was "stupid". Someone else was doing something better. The plot was cliché. The characters sucked. The writing was clunky. It was just plain bad. Delete, delete, delete.
I’d have dreams of grandeur, of red-carpet-level success, too (I mean, if E.L. James can do it...); however, I was so stunted by my low self-esteem and negative self-talk that my writing existed in a mobius strip of starting and stopping and moving on to the next “exciting” idea. This is a common form of self-sabotage among writers that may or may not be symptomatic of low self-esteem.
I also ensured that I had little-to-no time for writing. I was so busy with everything else that I did that I had no time left for writing.
Writing, as we all know, is a challenge from a technical standpoint. It can be difficult to come up with an idea and to develop and organize that idea and then to get it on the page. If you’re perpetually struggling with your belief in your ability to do that, then it’s unlikely that you will be able to do that (write).
How to Start Overcoming Low-Self Esteem
If you’re a writer who struggles to write or to finish, your tendency toward self-sabotage could be internal. I know that once I realized that my problems were related to low self-esteem, a lot of other questions about myself and my behaviors slotted into place.
If you think you might have low self-esteem, I highly recommend Dr. Jennifer Alison’s book, Self-Esteem: Fast Proven Treatment for Recovery from Low Self-Esteem because it covers more than what I am about to outline below. (I purchased it as an audiobook and listened to it in four-and-a-half hours.)
Click the Audible link to become an Audible member, or if you already are a member, click the link to Alison's top-rated book on self-esteem.
- Treat yourself like you’d treat a friend. If your friend screwed up, you’d forgive that person, right? If your friend was late on a deadline or didn’t hit his goal word count, you wouldn’t berate him or make him feel bad, would you? So, why make yourself feel bad?
- Do nice things for yourself without feeling guilt or anxiety. Just as you’d tell a friend to take time for themselves, you should also do the same. If that time is your writing time, unapologetically make that time. Likewise, you might garden, read, cook, take a walk, etc.
- Forgive yourself for things that happened in the past. A lot of times, people with low self-esteem engage in toxic or addictive behaviors including binge drinking, drug abuse, eating disorders, cutting, etc.
- Let go of the pain that others have caused you. Low self-esteem is usually the result of things that happened in childhood. Even if you had a good childhood by all accounts, living with parents who yelled a lot, who divorced, who had multiple partners, who were in fact abusive, addicts, or extremely impoverished / unstable are all factors that can lead a child to develop and to grow up to have low self-esteem.
Some have more trauma to work through than others. Some of the pain inflicted upon you may have come from external sources such as school. Victims of bullying might also have low self-esteem despite a wholesome and nurturing home life.
As you embark on a journey of healing, remember: you cannot undo the past. You cannot go back and make those things better, but you can work through the pain and let go of its hold over you. What happened to you wasn’t your fault, and it shouldn’t be something that keeps you from living to your full potential as an adult.
Why You Should Want to Overcome Low Self-Esteem
Dredging up the past can be painful as can admitting that one has low self-esteem, so why do it if you feel you're "fine"? Put simply is that by improving your self-care and learning how to let go of setbacks, disappointments, and negativity in your past (and possibly, present), you are better-equipped to handle life as a writer.
- You will have more self-assurance writing your book. You’ll be able to let go of the niggling voice in your head that says, “This is a stupid / trite / cliché, etc. idea,” and will instead because to enjoy the high of writing like Pegasus in flight.
- You will be able to open your eyes to the feedback of others and to acknowledge they are trying to help your writing. You will not see any critical comments as attacks on yourself but rather as useful insights for how you can improve your work.
- You will be better-able to emotionally detach from your writing, so you can make requisite revisions and edits to perfect it.
- You will be able to cope with any rejection the work might get from literary agents or negative feedback from readers (there will always be negative feedback). High self-esteem will give you the confidence to acknowledge those comments but to largely focus on the positive feedback.
In effect, high self-esteem will help you better roll with the punches of your dream profession. It will help you live and to write more freely. You deserve that. Everyone deserves that. So, if you self-sabotage or perhaps have trouble seeing writing through to the end, it’s possible that your self-esteem is suffering from something that has damaged it. Having low self-esteem isn’t something to be ashamed of, but it’s also something you shouldn’t have to live with. I’m definitely glad that it’s something that I no longer live with.
I’m not a therapist or a psychologist, so I can’t coach you to heal your mental health struggles; however, I am an editor, and I can coach you to be the best writer you can be. Click here to learn about the editing and ghostwriting services I offer. Click here to contact me or send an e-mail to email@example.com. Above all things, I hope you write, I hope you are happy, and I hope you are well.