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Why self-esteem is everything when it comes to a break-up

MOST PEOPLE suffer a knock to their self-esteem after a break-up. There can be feelings of rejection or self blame. Or, if you made the decision to split up, there can be periods of doubt, guilt or anxiety.

How you handle these negative emotions in the first few days can be the difference between a severe knock to your self-confidence that can become deep-rooted, and a period of natural sadness at the loss, before moving on.

Try this simple test if you have any doubts about how your separation has affected you. Jot down the answers to the following five questions. You are looking for honest answers, straight from the heart – so write what immediately comes into your head, before those critical voices start to modify your thoughts.

1. Can you accept a compliment without trying to soften it or qualify it?

2. Do you have a feeling that one day you will be caught out?

3. Can you list five things you like about yourself, without hesitating?

4. How do you act and feel if asked to do something you have never done before or go somewhere you have never been?

5. What are your inner voices saying when you are about to attempt something challenging?

So, what did your answers tell you? Before moving on from a separation – and definitely before considering reconciliation – you need to be confident in yourself.

So, work on this area before thinking about your future and relationships. Missing this step is one of the reasons that people enter into ‘rebound relationships’ that have little chance of success.

Building self-esteem

One of the best ways I know to work on your self-esteem is to ensure you react appropriately to the questions I asked you to answer. If your reaction is not great, then challenge it until you can naturally act positively. Let’s take each in turn and look at an appropriate response.


The best response to a compliment is a smile and a ‘thank you’. If you try to dismiss the compliment or tone it down, it is a sign that you are still being challenged by self-doubt. Try standing in front of the mirror and just saying ‘thank you’ as you recall compliments. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself slipping the first time you receive a compliment in real life.

Being caught out

Back in the 80s, the self-help mantra was 'fake it ‘til you make it'. I think that was one of the most damaging methods ever created. Giving yourself a message that you are a fake is quite simply reinforcing the feeling that you are unworthy. The truth is that everyone feels a little uncomfortable learning a new skill. It is a natural part of the learning process. If you have been doing something successfully for a period of time and still feel unworthy, then try looking for evidence you are not good enough. I bet you won’t find much.

Liking yourself

Try taking a piece of paper and writing anything you like about you. Even the little things. Keep adding to it. Include compliments from others. There is only one rule. No editing. It can be about looks, your moral stance or your skills. Keep adding to the list. It will build fairly quickly. Then read it and accept the positives without challenge.

Trying new things

Challenge yourself. Trying new things is a great way to build self esteem. However scary it may seem, just remind yourself that you have done new things before and succeeded. There is no reason not to succeed this time, and even if the outcome isn’t great you will deal with it. No one can always be successful, but we can all deal with challenges and learn from them.

Inner voices

We all have them. Are yours challenging or encouraging? One good way of challenging your inner voices is to take them outside. If one of your friends came to you with the same doubting thoughts, how would you advise them? The period of time immediately after an emotional event, such as a separation, will always be challenging. Take some time out, examine yourself and recharge before moving on. The result is bound to be more satisfactory.

John R. Turner has several years of experience as a relationship counsellor.

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