Autism and self esteem. I believe that high self esteem is the key to happiness. If you’re happy with yourself you have resilience and positivity which help you to cope with pretty much anything that life throws at you. If your inner voice is critical and negative then even the smallest of difficulties can lead to a spiral of destruction ending with the belief that you are bad so bad things happen to you. This can become a self fulfilling prophecy.
I know this cycle all too well, I’m constantly fighting a battle with low self esteem. I think being autistic makes me a black and white thinker. This means that if I perceive that I’ve got something wrong I can be very hard on myself, kicking myself when I’m down.
The self esteem negative spiral;
Something happens, I make a social mistake, have a meltdown, or make a mistake due to organisation issues.
I am upset. I blame myself. I think about all the other times I’ve messed up. I have proof that I am useless. I will always be useless, and stupid.
This negative spiral isn’t helpful to me or anyone else but I struggle to avoid it. Autism means I have a lot of anxiety so even small mistakes can send me on this spiral.
How to combat the negative spiral;
I definitely don’t claim to have this one mastered but since getting my autism diagnosis I’ve got much better and don’t fall into the pit as often.
Firstly I try not to catastrophize. If I’m calm enough to be rational I try to look at the situation logically, figure out what went wrong and what (if anything) I can do to sort it out.
If I’m not calm enough then the best thing to do is to find somewhere quiet and calm. Reduce stimulation and take time to calm down. Once I’m calm it’s easier to be rational.
The important thing is to try and focus and the issue at hand. When something goes wrong it’s easy to go into everything that’s ever gone wrong in a similar vein in the past. Then I prove to myself that I’m useless and I’ll never get things right. Focussing on only one issue is easier and less destructive.
How to encourage high self esteem;
I’ve talked about how to deal with problems but maintaining high self esteem is often daily work for those of us on the autistic spectrum. Here are some tips for daily ways to help maintain high self esteem.
Focus on the positives; everyone’s life is a mixture of positive and negative experiences. Focussing on the positive helps with happiness and the belief that your life is good. You could start a daily gratitude journal where you write down the best thing that happened each day, and keep reminders of the things you have achieved.
Take care of yourself; When you are healthy and well rested it’s much easier to be positive. Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep and learn about what you need to stay happy.
Be choosy about the company you keep; I prioritise spending time with people who nourish me and I them. Spending time with negative people breeds negativity, equally positive people help you to stay positive. I have spent time getting rid of toxic relationships and the people left make me feel good about life.
Do good to feel good; Find things to do which make you feel good. Perhaps this is helping friends with their difficulties, or volunteering to help in a place where you can do good like a charity shop, food bank or animal shelter. Being someone who cares and helps leads to healthy self esteem.