So, what is self-esteem?
Here’s an interesting question we seldom ask ourselves:
Do you actually like yourself?
Take a few seconds to think about it. When asked this question, most people either don’t know how to respond or they respond with a pat, canned answer like, “Like myself? Of course, I like myself”, or they maybe even react defensively and say, “What kind of a dumb question is that?!?”
Regardless, if you ask enough people (which I have actually done in my therapy practice), you will quickly discover that people who haven’t thought about this question much, either have a high sense of natural self-esteem or they are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and they don’t seem to like themselves all that much.
Are you someone who’s truly happy in their own skin? Are you happy with your appearance, how much money you make, your education or job, your intelligence, your abilities, or the past life decisions you’ve made; or are you continually comparing yourself to other people, really wishing you could be more like them and less like yourself? Does it feel like everyone else is smarter, richer, better looking, more educated? When you look in the mirror, who do you see looking back? Do you see someone you like or someone who just doesn’t quite live up to your own high expectations?
Our own judgment of our self-worth, or in other words, our self-esteem, is largely based on how we feel about ourselves, right now at this moment and secondly, how we see and judge ourselves through looking back at our past.
What exactly is self-esteem? Self-esteem is about how we value ourselves; how we perceive our value in the world and how we perceive how valuable we think we are to others. Self-esteem affects our confidence, motivation and resilience and our ability to trust in others. It affects our relationships, our abilities and skills at work — really every part of our lives. Self-esteem gives us the inner strength and adaptability to take measured gambles in our lives and drive forward through difficult circumstances. Self-esteem gives us the super useful ability to make blunders and mistakes, yet still be able to forgive ourselves and actually grow from those mistakes into fuller, stronger more resilient people.
What about low self-esteem? Low self-esteem can be both a socially and emotionally troubling condition that keeps many people from living their lives fully or from realizing their full potential. A person with low self-esteem can feel unworthy, shameful, inadequate, and incompetent.
Often because the person with low self-esteem feels so poorly about themselves, it becomes a vicious cycle where their thoughts and feelings of low self-esteem may actually be part of what’s maintaining the person’s continued low self-esteem.
In other words, low self-esteem can become a viciously self-perpetuating habit of thinking.
So, self-esteem is actually quite crucial to us if we want to “feel good”, in fact, for many people experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental illness low self-esteem is often both a symptom and a cause.
If you’re someone who is overly critical of yourself and you feel down about who you are as a person, here are 7 ways you can start to learn to like yourself better:
1. Accomplishments, Successes and Achievements
Sometimes we focus really hard on everything that might be wrong with us, rather than on what’s right. When you’ve done something well, it’s important that you acknowledge this victory, no matter how small it is and maybe even relish it?
It doesn’t have to be something super huge, either. It could even be that you make a really delicious gourmet meal or that you’re a really good friend. It can be that you’re really making an effort to be physically fit or even that you’ve finally started reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare, or maybe even just reading your first book in a long time. Allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying every little thing you do right rather than focusing on what you do wrong. Change your perspective about yourself and really make an effort to look for all the good things about you! Look accurately at yourself and the long list of achievements you’ve already made in your life — learn how to feel good about who you are and what you’ve done.
2. Really, Who’s Perfect?
If you’ve been relentlessly comparing yourself to other people all your life, it’s time for you to stop this terrible habit and realize that no one, absolutely no one is perfect. Not the talking heads on breakfast TV, not the models you see online or on the cover of magazines, nor all the actors you see on Netflix. They all have on-call makeup artists and even plastic surgeons — not to mention the magic of photoshop and their powerful marketing teams promoting their “brand”.
Intellectually, there’s always, always, someone smarter than you. Or financially, always someone that makes more money or has a bigger house. Comparing ourselves to others is truly folly. No one is perfect, no one.
3. Looking at Values
Maybe it’s really and truly okay to just be an average person? Maybe it’s actually okay to work an average job, live in a small, rented place and drive a 5-year-old fuel-efficient Hyundai? Maybe instead of buying into the idea that we can purchase the right clothes, car, cookware, home and lifestyle that will make us “fit in” — we should maybe instead decide to pride ourselves on being a truly good person, honest, compassionate and caring? Rather than comparing ourselves to others and their bank accounts and achievements, we should instead really look to our own deepest held values? Perhaps holding the values of kindness, caring and compassion for others will actually help us build our self-esteem from the inside out!
4. Creating Successes
One of the best ways to really increase our self-esteem is to really make an effort to fight our fears and anxieties and start creating more positive accomplishments in our life. Perhaps there are many things about yourself that you would like to change. Do you want to lose weight, work out and have a better body, maybe it’s about getting a university degree, or getting a better more fulfilling job?
Oftentimes we will resent ourselves for not reaching the highly impossible goals we have set for ourselves. If there are big goals you would like to reach, try to be realistic in setting the timelines and be patient with yourself. Break the goal down into smaller parts and really celebrate any achievement no matter how small it might seem. If the goal is to lose weight, start small and start tracking and reducing what you eat. And maybe going to the gym 5 days a week is too much and we should start with 2 or 3 times instead? If we want to pursue a uni degree maybe taking the first step is to contact a counsellor at a university and really explore how to start the process and then maybe start with just the first class? It all starts with goal setting and then practising how to be more determined!
Here’s a great link on how to set goals using the SMART Goals strategy:
5. Use Affirmations
One great way to start growing our sense of self-esteem is to use affirmations to actually “reprogram our brain” to see ourselves differently. Low self-esteem is created over a lifetime of experience and letting go of those deeply established feelings and actions is not easy. It may take some time and effort, and for some people, it may even require professional therapy. But there a simple, positive thinking technique called affirmations can often effectively be used to help improve our self-esteem.
Using affirmations is a way to stop using our negative self-trash-talk and replace it with affirmations, which are encouraging simple messages we can give ourselves every day, in effect reprogramming our brain. These positive messages will eventually become part of our feelings and beliefs. We can also use positive messages to replace the negative ones.
For example, replace the message “I made a boneheaded mistake, and I am no good at this job,” with “Okay, I made a mistake but I will learn from it, and now I do can a better job.”
You can even begin each day by looking at yourself squarely in the eye in the mirror and giving yourself an affirmation or even a series of them. We can also keep them as a list in our pocket or on your phone and if we sense we’re feeling kind of down on ourselves, we can grab them and immediately fight back against the negative self-defeating thoughts we might be having. The following simple affirmations can help you to work towards better self-esteem:
• I am likeable
• I have lots of skills and abilities
• I can be strong, confident and able when I need to
• Mistakes are just a necessary prelude to achievement
• I am competent, smart and able
• I accept myself just as I am
• Life is what it is and a lot of it is pretty darn good
• I am growing and changing for the better
• My life is about me, not other people
6. See Yesterday with a Kinder Eye
Sometimes we may not like ourselves because of our past actions and behaviours. It’s super important though to maybe cut yourself some slack about long past history. Hindsight is always 20/20 and perhaps it’s not fair to judge our past based on what we know now. In your past, you may not have always acted kindly toward others. Perhaps you acted selfishly, maybe in defensive or even hostile ways more often than you really care to admit. But this is all really part of being human — we all make mistakes with others and we may not always act in the best ways we could. But to put it bluntly? We can’t change it! The past is the past and we can only learn from it. Repeat this message to yourself when you feel bad about the past:
You did the best you could with what you had at the time!
The best thing to do is to maybe actually embrace your past, even with all of our faults and mistakes. Look at your past without judgement, with the intention of learning from your actions and behaviours. No one is perfect and we’ve all made mistakes in some way shape or form.
7. Like Most of Yourself
Is it really reasonable to expect to like all 100% of yourself, all of the time? Probably not, because, we’re all human, we’re all flawed and we’re all imperfect. Let’s say that again. We’re all human, flawed and imperfect. So really, maybe its OK to only like 75 or 80% of ourselves on any particular day? You can still live a really good and maybe even great life when you think ‘only’ 80% of you is awesome. 80% is a pretty good place to be. It also gives us some room to improve and grow. Growing and changing and adapting is really the very nature of being human. Being imperfect gives us something to shoot for!
Having a good level of self-esteem is really super important to our overall well-being. Getting there can be difficult for some people though; especially if you’ve endured having low self-esteem for a long time, maybe even all of your life. Working with a therapist can really make the journey to self-improvement less bumpy. A therapist can help by listening, clarifying and strategizing with you to help improve your self-esteem and your life.
If you or a loved one is interested in exploring therapy to improve your self-esteem, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.