Saturday

Stress & Self Esteem



Stress & Self Esteem, 4: Reaching out for Help

THE FINAL STEP

The final step in the model of building self-esteem can be the hardest. Why? Because everything up till now has involved things we could do alone. Reaching out for help, however, means involving other people - which brings with it a whole host of new challenges. Reaching out to someone requires someone you trust to reach out to - not always easy when your self-esteem is low. Not only this, but for those with over-active Inner Critics, it's easy to tell ourselves it's selfish to bother other people with our problems - that we should be able to deal with it on our own - that reaching out for help shows weakness (or is only for those far worse off than we are).
So why reach out? Well, as John Donne so wisely observed back in the 16th Century, 'no man is an island'. However independent we like to see ourselves, none of us are born with all the skills we will ever need. Additionally, other people can provide feedback - offering perspective and helping us to see which thoughts are realistic, and which are totally unfounded. And if that's not enough, support networks can sometimes prevent problems. The seeds that create low self-esteem find their most fertile ground in people who feel isolated and unable to connect.

OVERCOMING INNER OBJECTIONS

Often, the first step in reaching out is dealing with our own objections. If your immediate reaction is 'I couldn't do that', or 'That's all very well, but...', give yourself a moment to just listen. Start a conversation with the part of you that's objecting, and ask it why. Treat it just as you would your Inner Critic. Your initial aim is not to argue - it's just to learn. Once you understand what your internal objections are, th! en you can evaluate and argue with them.
We'd suggest that before you start evaluating, you re-read the previous parts of this article series (see links above). In particular, we suggest you remind your inner objector that:
  • You can't give to other people what you don't already have yourself
  • True friends prefer we talk to them, rather than pretending that everything's fine
  • Recognising the resources you need that you don't currently have, then asking for them, is a sign of good planning, not weakness
  • If your objector believes your problem is 'not yet bad enough to involve someone else', how bad do things have to get before it *is* OK to get help? And won't you need even more help when things get to that stage than you do now?
Let's assume that you've spoken with your inner objector, and come to the conclusion that asking for help really does make more sense than trying to go it alone. Where can you go from here?

WHO TO REACH OUT TO

The first, most obvious port of call is among the people you already know. Look at your friends and family. Is there someone you can trust to listen without judging you? Someone you feel comfortable asking for ideas? In an ideal situation, this would be someone who has fairly high self-esteem themselves - someone you can learn from. Although your initial response might be that there's no-one you can think of, we'd encourage you to look hard before assuming you don't know anyone - sometimes support can come from the most unlikely places.
If there's genuinely nobody you feel comfortable trusting in real-life, however, a great alternative is to look for support online. Discussion groups like Yahoo groups, and online journalling communities like Live Journal both have a wide range of communities that exist specifically to share support, encouragement and feedback between members. Most of these allow you to 'lurk' for a while before you need to post - something that can help you build up your trust over time. Additionally, many of the self-help sites that offer self-help res ources (e.g. selfesteem4women.org, uncommon knowledge), also provide discussion forums that allow you to connect with other people with similar problems.
Finally, if neither of these seem like possibilities (or if you've tried both and they're not enough), you may want to consider reaching out to someone who's trained to help - generally a coach or counsellor. Unlike the above two options this will usually involve some kind of payment, although if you're still at school / university, or lucky enough to work in a company with an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), you may have free counselling available. Your local library or Citizen's Advice Bureau should have suggestions for counsellors / coaches, or you could try online coaching.
It's important to remember that different professionals will have different approaches to helping you work on your self-esteem, and not every approach works for everyone. It's OK if the first person you speak to doesn't feel quite right for you - just keep looking until you find someone you feel comfortable with. Bear in mind that if you're paying someone your hard-earned money, you have a right to feel happy with whatever you're getting in return.

THE FINAL WORD

Whatever you do, the most important thing for you to take from this article is that you don't need to do it alone! And remember too that, although we've explored the three steps to building self-esteem (i.e. Rebutting your inner critic, Nurturing yourself, and Reaching out for help) in order, there's no reason that you can't work on them in a different order (or all at the same time!)
This brings us to the end of our four-part article series on Stress and Self-esteem. If you have any feedback, suggestions, questions or comments about the advice or resources (or you'd like to suggest any websites, groups or products), please contact us on optimumlife@xtra.co.nz. We'll have a new article topic in the next issue - until then, may every day bring you closer to your Optimum Life.