Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

How to care less about your looks

It is normal to feel dissatisfied with your appearance from time to time. However, if you are too concerned about your appearance it can have a big impact on your life in many ways, such as your mood, how you socialise and how you take part in activities like work, study or hobbies.

Low self-esteem is about a having a negative opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating yourself pessimistically, and placing a general negative value on yourself. People with low self-esteem usually have deep-seated, negative beliefs about themselves and this can affect their mental health and their subsequent behaviour. They may avoid socialising, eat more, drink more and engage in unhelpful self-sabotaging behvaiour that exacerbates the situation.

Early negative experiences such as being criticised by your parents, by a teacher or being bullied at school can start the process of low self esteem. Early negative experiences can lead to negative core beliefs about ourselves, such as “I am not good enough” or “I am a failure”.

It is helpful to start a “positive you” journal. In it, write all about what you do like about yourself, no matter how small. It is important to ‘break to old record and conditioning’ of negativity and rewrite your narrative on how you see yourself. You can’t change what happened to you in the past, but you can update your beliefs.

Figure out what your negative beliefs are about yourself and find newer up-to-date ways of looking at yourself. Look for evidence that supports the new version of yourself. It’s about re-programming the old unhelpful beliefs. Thoughts and beliefs are not facts!

To help you make a list of your positive qualities, ask yourself the following questions:
• What do I like about who I am?
• What characteristics do I have that are positive?
• What are some of my achievements?
• What are some challenges I have overcome?
• What are some skills or talents that I have?
• What do others say they like about me?
• What are some attributes I like in others that I also have in common with?
• If someone shared my identical characteristics, what would I admire in them?
• How might someone who cared about me describe me?
• What do I think are bad qualities? What bad qualities do I not have?


Identifying unhelpful rules-for-living and assumptions

Rules for living often take the form of “If this…then that”. For example, “if I am not pretty then I am not worthy”. Or “If I don’t please others then no one will like me”. One way of identifying the rules and assumptions that guide your behaviour is to ask yourself if you notice any themes that might be common to the concerns you have or the issues that you are preoccupied with. You could ask yourself questions such as:
In what types of situations might I experience the most anxiety or self-doubt?
What aspects of myself am I most hard on?
What types of negative predictions do I make?
What behaviours in other people are linked with me feeling less confident about myself?

Direct Messages/Family Sayings. Sometimes, your rules and assumptions for living might be direct messages given to you when you were a child or adolescent. Ask yourself:
What was I told about what I should and should not do?
What happened when I did not obey those rules? What was I told then?
For what was I punished, criticised, and ridiculed?
What was said to me when I was not able to meet expectations?
How did people who were important to me respond when I was naughty, made mistakes, or
didn’t do well at school?
What did I have to do to receive praise, affection, or warmth?

Think about beliefs you have for yourself that are negative. Consider the negative impact of these on your life. Provide a context for the rule by figuring out where it came from. Remember that parents and teachers are flawed too. They aren’t perfect and their opinions are not facts about you. You can reject them.

Ask yourself how the rules and beliefs you have about yourself are unreasonable. Also, these rules and assumptions were made when you were a child or
young person. As an adult now, you don’t have to live according to the rules you made as a child. Look at what the advantages have been of living according to yur assumptions – they will only have helped in the short term. Longterm they will be unhelpful. Also consider disadvantages of which there will be many. Self limiting beliefs will possibly help you initially to avoid stress (such as avoidance) but in the longterm you will find you haven’t shifted that belilef that is holding you back.

Find more balanced rules and beliefs

Now, think carefully about what might be a more balanced rule – what would be more realistic, flexible, and helpful? Try and think about how you could maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages of the old rule. Think about the ability to adapt this rule to different situations.
Consider using less extreme terms such as “sometimes,” “some people,” “prefer,” “would like,” “it would be nice if,” compared with “must,” “should,” “it would be terrible if…”

For example, instead of the unhelpful rule, “I must do whatever it takes to stay slim, or else I will never have any friends,” consider the alternative “I will try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and it would be nice if I could continue to be slim. However, it is unlikely that my friends only like me because I am slim.” Balanced rules and assumptions might end up being longer than old ones. This is because they are more ‘sophisticated’ – you are making it more realistic, flexible, and adaptable. If you find it difficult to think of an alternative rule and/or assumption that is more balanced, don’t worry. Just give it a try and put it in practice for a
week or two. You can always revise your rule and adjust it as you become more familiar with the process of challenging and adjusting your unhelpful rules and assumptions.

Final step

The final step is to consider what you could do to put your new rule and assumption into practice. Why do you think it might be important to do this? Remember that your old rule and assumption had been in operation for some time now so it is important that you not only have a new rule but new behaviours so that the new rule can be ‘house-broken’ and settle into your balanced belief system.


Photo by Luka Davitadze on Unsplash

For further info: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Consumer%20Modules/Improving%20Self-Esteem/Improving%20Self-Esteem%20-%2007%20-%20Adjusting%20Rules%20and%20Assumptions.pdf