How To Improve Your Self-Esteem: 7 Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Boost Your Self-Esteem
“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”
― C.G. Jung
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to improve self-esteem.
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to feel like you are number one? Do you feel unworthy of it and find yourself at a loss?
There is a high price to pay for low self-esteem. It can cost you jobs, friendships and other wonderful relationships and experiences. If you make choices based on low self-esteem, you may find you never attain the life and the purpose you were meant to have.
Here are eleven ways to evaluate and elevate your esteem.
It is time to return to innocence. You were not born with low self-esteem. It was taught to you and now it is time to learn how to be what you were meant to be.
1. Find the root of your low self-esteem. Go and grow from there.
Old messages from childhood can infiltrate adulthood and cause a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. Low self-esteem is implanted by people who are important to you, such as parents, siblings or caregivers. Self-neglect and self-loathing are two by-products of low self-esteem. There are many more. Roots go deeply into dark places. If you want to get rid of a weed, you must get to the roots. They wither in the light. Don’t stay root bound in your misery.
Find your roots, name them and when you are ready, quickly rip out the roots of your low self-esteem by challenging those past messages in an enlightened way.
If you have been programmed to believe you are unworthy, damaged or weird change those negative inputs. Grow by doing things for yourself that make you feel you are worthy, valuable and unique. Ask for help if you need it.
2. Posturing yourself for greater esteem.
There is neuroscience and biology attached to the feelings of low self-esteem. All of the feel-good chemical reactions we are meant to have decrease when our esteem is low.
What we think about ourselves is mirrored by others.
Simply put, we have mirror neurons that tell people how we feel by facial expression, posture and all kinds of verbal and non-verbal signals. You can change the biological responses by employing psychology. Smile. Extend a relaxed but firm handshake. Lift up your chin.
Speak more slowly and in a softer tone. Voice your words deliberately and not as quickly or anxiously. People will take you more seriously. Stand up straight. Open your chest. Relax muscle tension. You may even want to hire an image consultant. What you wear projects how you feel about yourself. It is also a sign of being respectful to others to look your best.
Practice yoga for better posture. Exercise is good for the brain, too. It creates a sense of well-being. The better you feel about yourself, the better you will want to look. This creates a cycle of looking and feeling good and you will crave it more than anything else you are using to medicate your low self-esteem such as food, alcohol or sugar.
3. Self-Love is really self-respect and respect for others.
Self-love is a term getting passed around a lot lately. It can sound so foreign and feel so self-absorbed to those who suffer from low self-esteem. However, it is a form of self-absorption to be self-conscious and nervous around others. It is best to think of self-love as self-respect. It is time to regain your self-respect or receive it for the first time. That is what self-esteem really means.
Respect reaches for a pure and lovely form of love that encompasses kindness and graciousness that honors yourself and others.
If you don’t have self-respect, you may become self-absorbed in ruminating with depressed thoughts. You may be constantly thinking about how bad you feel. This is like narcissism in reverse. It can leave a negative impression on those you meet. Not feeling good enough is self-loathing.
What you think about yourself affects how others see you. Again, check yourself in the “mirror” of your mind. No matter what you think you have done or has damaged you is in the past. You can move forward with grace and mercy toward yourself. We all make mistakes. We all get hurt.
Take any mess and turn it into a message and you will find a reason to gain self-respect by making choices based on kindness toward yourself. You won’t beat yourself up if you lift up yourself and then you can lift up others.
Being loving and forgiving toward yourself is essential to your ability to love and treat others well. This is the beginning of true self-love and will teach you to reach out to others with purpose and wholeness.
4. Silence, challenge and change your Inner Critic.
It is time to reject and eject the past. Hit the pause button on your inner critic tape loops. Think of cognitive behavioral therapy like pressing rewind and then recording new messages over the old ones. It will erase and replace. Your inner critic may be deafeningly loud.
Many of us tell ourselves the same false messages we heard throughout childhood.
They can seem like endless tape loops of some version of, I’m not good enough, I’m not good and I’m not enough. Some messages are, you’re too sensitive or you’re weird.
Others may be, you will never amount to anything. When you find the negative origins of these messages, as you did in the roots section, you can now begin to “record” new messages over the old ones. Again, you will erase the past ones and replace them. This is expedited by meditations and affirmations.
Think well of yourself and see yourself happy and whole in guided meditations with music. Speak well of yourself, out loud in repetition. It is by repetition of the negative that you learned these thoughts.
By repetition you can change these thoughts, words and beliefs. In time and with steady practice, you will begin to feel the self-esteem catch up later and override the past messages.
5. Release the invisible gavels of judgement.
When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we often judge others. It is okay to judge horrible behavior such as abuse, but you can distance yourself from those people. This is about releasing judgments and opinions that come from a place of lack within yourself.
If you want something you don’t have, you may find yourself judging someone who does.
It is subconscious and very destructive to self-worth. Instead of judging, try observing. It is a subtle, but powerful shift in transformative energy.
For example, let’s say you want a new car and someone you know gets one. Instead of being happy for them, you may find yourself inwardly thinking judgmental things such as, they can’t afford that, look at them bragging or more harmfully, they don’t deserve or need that! I do! It is difficult not to judge others.
It is harmful to self-esteem because by negatively evaluating others, you are creating a barrier in your mind that you can’t afford it or deserve it.
This happens by projection and rejection and affects your subconscious. The cure for judgement is observance. If you say, what a lovely car. I will get a new car someday. You are lifting yourself away from self-limiting beliefs, into abundant thoughts.
Your thoughts will change your perspective and you will spend less time on judging others and more time on figuring out how to attain what you want for your life, be it a car, home or a better life in general. Judging comes from a lack within and can be eradicated by observing facts, stating and releasing those, and not forming harmful opinions about others.
6. Paying compliments returns a high yield of self-esteem.
This is one of the most expedient ways to gain self-esteem. It engages mirror neurons in a positive way. It is a way of reducing social anxiety. Pay at least three sincere compliments a day. This is not flattery, which is easily detected as false, but sincere honor of an expressed observation.
The compliments can be paid to people you know or random strangers. We call it paying because we are making an exchange that yields great returns. It will relieve you of judging and put you in a higher and healthier level of communication with others.
When you compliment someone, you are immediately letting them know you are secure enough within yourself to offer praise. If you do it with a smile, you are letting them know you are friendly. When you are friendly and less timid or guarded, people respond more positively to you.
You, in turn feel more positively toward yourself.
It is another way to release the invisible gavels of what is wrong with others and finding what is right with others. It will make you and everyone around you feel better. Implement the compliment at least three times a day. When you praise others, you raise yourself and everyone around you into a higher vibration and loving, happy energy.
7. Divest from toxic people and invest in yourself.
The way you know someone is toxic for you is to become very self-aware of how you feel about yourself in their presence. Again, this is not judging others, but observing how you feel.
If someone is overtly abusive, passive-aggressive or anything that hurts you, limit your time with them and distance yourself from them.
You may feel false guilt at first because these are often the people who implanted messages of low self-esteem in you or are perpetuating them. You no longer have to chase after the attention or affection from those who are unable, for any reason, to give it to you. Being kind to yourself when someone is unkind to you, is one of the best things you can do.
For example, if you often buy gifts for someone who is unappreciative, simply stop. Go out and get something or do something nice for yourself. It will no longer hurt you when you or your gift is rejected. It will help you to do something good for you and you will lose resentment and come up higher on how you feel about you. If you don’t put yourself in a position to get hurt, you won’t get hurt!
8. Physiological responses to self-esteem.
Understanding the biology of what makes you tense around certain people and relaxed around others will also improve your self-esteem.
In our bodies, there is the vagus nerve. It is huge and has many branches that begin in the brain stem, go up in the forehead, go down through the face, throat, heart, lungs, vital organs and gut.
It is a parasympathetic nervous system, which in very simple terms means, if we are emotionally reactive, our vagus nerve lets us know. It is why we use expressions like I have gut instincts, butterflies, or it takes my breath away.
Pay attention to your tension.
Your vagus nerve sends signals back and forth to your brain and body and people with low self-esteem may be responding to it subconsciously. When you feel relaxed, your self-esteem is higher.
When you are nervous, people notice, and it may cause communication deficits and reactivity such as shaking hands or clammy palms. It can make you feel very self-conscious. There are many ways to relax it and regulate it. The most important thing to do is recognize what triggers your tension, gain insight and learn to relax. Meditation, yoga and slow and steady breathing are quick ways to achieve this.
9. Peaceful is powerful.
Gaining peace within and without is crucial to self-esteem. When you make peace with yourself about past mistakes, you are allowing yourself to learn the lessons from them. You are releasing residual guilt or shame. You are allowing yourself to be fully and freely human, accepting and caring for all your flaws, faults and facets.
If you are a highly sensitive or empathic person, peace is essential to your well-being. Do your best to remove chaos, drama and trauma from your life. Process things with a professional if you need it.
10. Take inventory. A list to help you listen to yourself.
Take inventory of yourself. You have long been making internal notes about what is wrong with you. Make a list of what is right with you. This is sometimes the most difficult thing for my clients to do. It feels like bragging. It is not. Often, these are the people who let others win. It’s okay to win.
People with low self-esteem feel bad when someone loses.
They often self-sabotage, consciously or subconsciously. It is time to make a list of things you can be proud of about yourself. It is not prideful to make a list of your accomplishments. We are forced to do this exercise when making a resume or CV (from Curriculum Vitae in Latin) which translates as, the course of my life. When you make a list of what is right with you and work on that, the things that are wrong with you fade away or extinguish with little effort.
Practice patting yourself on the back and be grateful for things that you do like being generous, kind, forgiving, educated, talented, etc. If you have a hard time with this, get in a place of solitude and peace. Take paper and a pen.
Get out in nature and nurture yourself and let the things you like about yourself flow from your heart, on to the paper. Hold it and cherish these things about yourself. Read it often and add to it. The list will elevate you and will set a new course for your life by improving neuroplasticity.
11. Self-actualized is not narcissism. It is self-confidence.
People with self-esteem are self-actualized. This means they are whole and freely able to be themselves. They allow others to be themselves. They are capable of reciprocal loving and lasting relationships. They are not conceited or prideful. They are peaceful and interdependent. They value others in equitable ways as they do themselves.
They are givers and also receivers. They are not afraid to receive or give. They are happier because they are truthful and honor themselves. They don’t compare themselves to others. They are okay if they win and okay if they don’t. Some people with low self-esteem can be fiercely competitive. They need to win to feel better. They beat up on themselves if they don’t.
Conversely, some people with low self-esteem might not be competitive at all.
They lose on purpose, so they don’t make anyone feel bad. These are both fear-driven responses, but they don’t work. Narcissists must win. They are not self-actualized. They are actually disordered.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is actually an inferiority complex turned inside-out. They overcompensate for their low self-esteem by berating, belittling or demeaning others. They can be exploitative, abusive and just plain self-absorbed. Their relationships are usually one-sided, and they can be very controlling. Reach for self-actualization.
Self-actualized people enjoy peak experiences and epiphanies.
They don’t feel a need to control anyone. They enjoy life. They enjoy others. They enjoy a balanced life of rich and rewarding relationships and times of introspective solitude. They simply enjoy life. Their esteem extends far beyond themselves. They honor others and themselves.
As you find your own way to become self-actualized, your self-esteem will increase, and you will add on to these eleven ways with many more of your own choosing. As you confide in yourself in solitude your self-confidence will show and your esteem will grow!
Mary Joye, LMHC – www.winterhavencounseling.com
The definition of self-esteem is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.
What influences a person to have positive self-worth? There are two areas that come into play; external and internal assets.
External assets are things like support systems, your environment, what people say to you.
For example, positive external assets are influential in increasing your self-esteem. An example is someone telling you that you are pretty or smart or athletic. Also getting good grades, awards and people praising you for your accomplishments are positive influences on your self-esteem from external sources.
Internal assets include commitment to learning, your value and belief system, social competencies and a personal identity.
These two areas, internal and external assets, help you to write the “story” that ultimately formulates your own thoughts of your self-worth and abilities.
You and I could watch a movie together, and I think it was boring and you think it was amazing, but we watched the same movie, why the difference? The story we told ourselves about the movie.
Maybe I couldn’t relate to the movie so I was bored. Maybe the movie reflected how you feel about a certain aspect of your life, and therefore you thought it was meaningful and good. Both of us told ourselves a story about that movie and what it meant, resulting in how it made us feel.
We all tell ourselves stories.
It’s what shapes our decision making, the way we feel and how we operate on a daily basis. Let’s talk about these stories. When you feel particularly bad about yourself, ask yourself what is the story I am telling myself? It might be that I am worthless, and why is that? Are you afraid of something? Afraid you are not good enough for someone, or not attractive enough, or smart enough? Fear is a huge story that stems from anxiety which is the fear of something happening that is unfavorable.
Men and women tend to be fearful of different things.
Men tend to be afraid of shame and failure. This comes from the way society treats men. “Shake it off son, you’ll be fine”, one of my favorite examples of how stories are created in men. They are expected to be strong and unemotional, resulting in a fear of failure and shame if they do not live up to these societal standards.
What is the story there?
“I’m going to fail because I can’t provide for my family.”
“I’m ashamed because I made a mistake and my spouse is going to be mad at me.”
“I did something wrong, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed.”
“I am not able to do this one thing, so I am a failure.”
All of these “stories” lead to low self-esteem.
In women, they tend to fear abandonment and isolation. What’s the story there?
“He doesn’t want to spend time with me, I’m not worth his attention, and I am going to end up alone”
“He is always texting people and I don’t know who, maybe it’s another women, what if he leaves me?”
“If he leaves me, I’m never going to date again and end up alone; maybe something is wrong with me”
“He doesn’t understand me or give me what I need, what if he’s not interested in me anymore? He will leave me, and I’m not good enough for him”
These are just examples of stories we all tell ourselves.
Many of the stories we tell ourselves are not necessarily true, they are just stories.
And the good news is we are the authors of these stories! Meaning we can re-write them and elicit new feelings of ourselves. If you don’t know which stories you are telling yourself, it might be worthwhile to explore them through mindfulness.
Mindfulness is awareness about what is going on internally and externally at any given moment. It is to be present with yourself and your surroundings, internal and external reflection, in that moment. Mindfulness is a great tool to help you discover how your brain is wired. Through stories we tell ourselves, stories society, or parents, or friends have told us, we internalize these stories as truth and beliefs about ourselves.
When we tell ourselves these stories over and over (possibly from childhood), we often pave a path in our brain, like a pinball machine.
But when the ball is released it goes down the same negative path each time, resulting in the same RESULT, negative thinking about ourselves. So if there is only one path paved, and the pinball goes into the same path every time, how do we change that? We have to pave a new path.
If you are right handed, and one day I ask you to write with your left hand, what would that feel like? Weird? Uncomfortable? Fake? More bad messages, “I suck at this”. No one great was just born that way… they needed to practice!
Warning: there will be more negative stories coming into your brain at this point telling you that you suck at this and can’t do it. DON’T LISTEN, write a different story. In order to get better at anything, you have to PRACTICE.
Moral of the story, you will have to help yourself pave a new path, create new stories, and practice believing them in order to increase your self-esteem.
Now back to mindfulness. How can you use this as a tool to help us pave a new path?
First you need to identify your current path. What are the stories and the messages you are telling yourself? Then, what are the messages you WANT to be receiving in order to feel the way you want to feel? Then lastly, how do you get there? Sit with yourself, quietly and ask yourself these questions, and write down the answers. Now you start to repave your brain’s path.
In the realm of self-esteem, I have an exercise I ask my clients to do to help them repave their mental path.
Write three things down every night that you liked about yourself that day. It could be anything internal or external. Be creative, and NOTHING is too small. Then, in the morning, wake up and read those three things out loud to yourself. Rinse and repeat.
Do that for about a week, maybe two, and do it authentically. Your path is now being repaved in a different direction. This will ultimately elicit a more positive feeling towards yourself, and will get better and better over time and practice. This new STORY you are telling yourself is helping pave a different mental path.
And guess what, I know you can do it!
Christine Barker, LCPC – www.takingcontrolcounseling.com
What does forgiving yourself for your past have to do with self-esteem? Everything!
The word “esteem” originates from the Latin word that means “to estimate.” We use words such as good, bad, low, or high when describing our self-esteem. These words all have to do with a judgment of worth. When you look at how much you value yourself, you take your past into consideration.
All of us have regrets that include things we have done and not done.
They include missed opportunities, wrong decisions, and misguided choices. Some of those include harm we have done to others and some include things we have done to harm ourselves. We need to come to terms with those things and decide how we think and feel about them. When you feel good about something you did and think it was a wise decision, you see yourself in a positive light. Conversely, when you feel bad about something you did and think it was a bad decision, you see yourself in a negative light.
Parts of your past are painful.
When there are repercussions that affect you today, it is a reminder that it wasn’t a wise decision. And when your decisions directly impact those who you care about such as your children and spouse, you will likely have the most trouble forgiving yourself. Seeing the consequences reminds you of your past.
It is easy to look backward and see how your decisions have turned out. You have the benefit of seeing the result. You didn’t know at the time what that outcome would be.
Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself about your past regrets:
- What were the circumstances at the time?
- What was I thinking and feeling?
- What factors did I take into consideration when making the decision?
- What support or lack of support did I have from people around me?
Asking yourself those questions forces you to put yourself back into that time of your life and to take into consideration what was going on. Not doing that would mean that you would be judging yourself by who you are now and by what you know now. That is an unfair judgement. You were someone different back then with different information.
What are some of those choices?
Things you did as a child which need to be viewed in light of your immaturity and measured against what was going on in your life. Not having the support of your parents; being raised in a dysfunctional home; experiencing trauma; having unfavorable socioeconomic factors; and having other difficult factors all contribute to the decisions you made. You probably made decisions that were designed to make up for the things you were lacking. It may have been to feel loved, to get attention, to be popular, to be what others labeled you, or to take on a role needed in your family.
Teenage years present another challenge.
Peer pressure is huge. Values are shifting. Feelings are strong and yet typically not well managed due to immaturity and a lack of life experience. Events are dramatic. Things that will later feel like they aren’t a big deal are overwhelming to a teenager.
To feel accepted, you might have done things that you now deeply regret. Some of these may still impact your life as in the case of abortions, teen births, drug use and criminal acts. Some of the factors you were dealing with might have carried over into your early twenties and had longer term effects such as college choices, marriage, career decisions, sexual promiscuity, child birth, criminal acts, financial decisions, and re-location.
Early adulthood includes decisions that direct your life goals.
They continue to include sexual activity, marriage, childbirth, career choices, financial choices, drugs and alcohol and education. These have huge long-term effects. You might regret marrying the man or woman you chose. It might even be regretfully realizing that the person you didn’t marry was the right one.
Decisions regarding childbirth impact your life in big ways. It is during this time that you may regret doing things that have impacted your children possibly raising them in a dysfunctional home or not recognizing problems and attending to them. You may have given up a promising career or the education goals you once had to raise your family.
Decisions later include things that may impact your health, your marriage, your life style, your relationships, your finances, your religion, and your future. It is these things that impact your adult children and you may be seeing the result in their poor decisions that reflect damaged self-images from the problems in their childhoods.
When you look back at these decisions, you do so with eyes that include the growth that you have experienced from going through each of these things. You weren’t who you are now back then. When you have regrets, you must decide how to view them.
Here are some things that will help you forgive yourself for the things that you now judge as wrong or bad:
- What would you say to someone else who did the same thing under the same circumstances?
- What did you learn when you considered what was going on at the time that contributed to your decisions?
- What have you learned from those experiences that has made you a better person today?
- What have you gone through that you can use to help someone else in your circle of influence?
Finding purpose in your past is one way to overcome your regrets. Nothing is wasted that has made you who you are. Using what you have learned to help others takes something that you regret in your own life and turns it into good in someone else’s.
When you judge yourself harshly, stop and picture yourself listening to a friend telling you your story.
Imagine hearing the same emotion, confusion, pain, limited understanding, difficult circumstances and then the painful regrets. What would you say? Would it be the condemning voices you hear in your head? Would it be the harsh statements that tell you that you are stupid? No. It would not. You would not be that harsh with someone else. You would seek to comfort and understand and heal. Take those words that you would say to your friend and say them to yourself.
As you seek to forgive yourself, your goal is to be healthy.
You want to be honest with yourself and with others. Don’t let the pain or embarrassment or shame cause you to cover things up. Facing the truth is healthy. No matter how difficult it is, face the truth boldly. Seek help if you need support. Be honest with those in your life who you need to be accountable to.
Here is what you need to do with your past regrets:
- Admit the truth to yourself, God, and someone supportive.
- Make the amends you need to make to others who were impacted. Admit what you regret. Take responsibility. Ask for forgiveness. Change yourself to be who you wish you would have been. Make restitution if needed.
- Let it go. Accept your past. Stop beating yourself up. Change the thoughts and feelings that condemn.
- Move forward by living your life. Use what you have learned about yourself to make better decisions today. Use what you have learned to help others. Use who you are to make the most of your opportunities today.
The difference between guilt and shame is important.
Guilt says you have done something wrong. It motivates you to make a different choice. Shame tells you that you are no good and that there is nothing redeemable about you. Shame keeps you stuck in the past unable to let it go; unable to make something good out of it; and unable to feel good about yourself today. Low self-esteem is linked to shame.
Make the wise decision to forgive yourself for your past regrets. When something from your past surfaces, face it and work through these steps to let it go.
Karla Downing, MFT – www.changemyrelationship.com
“Who am I” is a very big question to ask yourself.
Answering it is the first step towards developing healthy self-esteem. When it comes to having healthy and secure self-esteem or self-worth the key component is the “self”. The foundation of loving yourself is knowing your self. Not the external self or persona, but the internal authentic you.
You can't have esteem for something you don’t know.
You can't value something everchanging or vague. You can't care for, build on, or accept something you don’t understand... And as the saying goes, "no one can love you until you love you".
Your “self” or your “Identity” has both internal and external elements.
External labels like rich, smart, or athletic, are all changeable and unsteady. Internal elements like your core values and beliefs are less changeable and what you want to nurture, accept and develop.
When our self-esteem is based on external elements we can be easily knocked down by insults, shortcomings, or failures.
We can become shallow or materialistic in an effort to feel worthy. It can be a quick self-esteem fix to focus on appearance, or grades, or scorers but not lasting or solid.
When it comes to popularity, ironically “fitting in” with a group can be a very precarious way to feel worthy.
If you betray your authentic internal self to get external praise or connections you will grow to feel more unsure- not less. If you pretend to be someone you are not in a romantic relationship, you will know it's not the real you that they love but rather your persona. You will become insecure or jealous in no time. Your external self should be a clear refection of your internal self, not a costume that hides it.
Internal elements of the self come from your very nature.
How compassionate are you? What makes you laugh? Who do you most admire and why? What are you naturally good at? Where do you find beauty, safety, or joy? How does your spirituality guide you? Ask yourself these kinds of deeper questions to begin finding your true internal self.
Once you know yourself enough to know what you are passionate about, you can begin to develop a sense of competency by delving into those passions.
For example, if it's knitting and you become amazing at it, you will have better self-esteem than a mediocre race car driver; who does it so people will think he’s cool. Seriously. Competency is another internal element that builds your self-esteem when it comes from an authentic passion.
Once you are in touch with the real you, you can also accept the real you.
If you’re a professional wrapper who just realized that you love easily listening from the 70’s, buy a tape deck. If you are a professional football player who enjoys the ballet, then get those tickets. If you are homecoming queen but you secretly wish to solder, get that welding helmet girl. We value most what we invest the most in. Invest in the real you.
Picture the most secure person you can think of.
Not the most popular or best looking, but the most secure. Secure in who they really are. Comfortable in their own skin. This person is not self-conscious because they have self-acceptance. They don’t care what anyone thinks because the opinion of others won't change who they are. They are never overdressed or bragging, or attention seeking. Neither are they hiding, mumbling, or apologizing for themselves. They just are themselves. That’s solid real confidence. That’s what healthy self-esteem looks like.
Now picture the ideal friend or partner.
What are they like? Do they judge or belittle you? Do they obsess over themselves? Do you never know what they like or how they feel? Are they unreliable or dishonest? The answer should be a great big “No”. The secure person with healthy self-esteem would never have any of these qualities.
How many times have you heard that confidence is attractive?
Healthy self-esteem is real self-confidence and so very attractive to those we are compatible with. Compatible with because we share core values and traits. We share internal elements. We know who we are, and we project it and so attract the right people. Being close to good people makes us feel more secure and you guest it- helps us grow even stronger self-esteem.
You can be this secure person. You can have real and deep relationships, be comfortable in all situations, and have passions and successes. You know how when you are nervous about a social situation and everyone tells you to, “Just be yourself.”? Well, it takes time and work to know yourself before you can actually be yourself, but that advice sums up the foundation of healthy self-esteem. Know yourself, develop yourself, accept yourself -and just go be you. “To thine own self be true”!
Rachel Lee Glass (Twitter Handle: @RachelLeeGlass) BA, MA, RPT, CLC - www.rlglasswellness.com
It probably comes as no surprise that what we think and say to ourselves day in and day out, over weeks and years and decades, can have a big impact on our self-esteem.
If we really begin to bring mindful awareness to the thoughts we have as we go through the day, we may discover that many of our thoughts can be self-critical, inaccurate, distorted, exaggerated and even untrue.
Think about the last time you made a mistake.
Are any of these phrases familiar: “That was so stupid. I’m such an idiot; I can’t believe I did that – what’s wrong with me?”
On the other hand, when we do things well it is often easy to gloss over these things or to think “that wasn’t a big deal.” Often the small, positive things we do during the day don’t register at all, because we are much more focused on what has gone wrong.
If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry — you are not alone.
This is part of the human condition. Our brains are wired to overestimate “threat” and danger, to make big things of little things, and to hold onto negatives and overlook positives (our ancestors back in cave person times who faced daily predators wouldn’t have survived and passed their genes onto us if they hadn’t assumed the worst and given more attention to negatives).
But one of the ways this affects us today is that this “negativity bias” and our tendency toward distorted thinking can feed our own feelings of insecurity, unworthiness and low self-esteem.
So how can we best work with our thoughts in ways that can help nurture and cultivate self-esteem, without feeling fake and disingenuous or leaving us feeling falsely inflated?
A lot of attention is given to the diet of foods that we feed ourselves, but perhaps less attention is given to the diet of thoughts that we feed ourselves all day long.
In my book Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life, I share a tool that I call “the diet.” The diet can help us work with negative thinking, and I will share an example here of how we can use the diet to help us when we come up against inevitable mistakes or things that don’t go well.
When we are challenged by our own inevitable short-comings, we can use the diet of specific, accurate and self-compassionate thoughts.
Begin to watch the language you use when things go wrong. Often it can be generalized, inaccurate and self-critical, as in the thought “I’m so stupid,” “I’m such an idiot,” or “what’s wrong with me?”
These all imply something globally wrong with you as a person, and while these phrases may seem like no big deal, over time they can add up and begin to affect you in ways you may not even realize.
Take a moment and say the above phrases out loud to yourself.
What happens in your body? What happens to your energy and mood? There isn’t a lot of room to move forward when we make these global statements about our own defectiveness as a person.
Here is how a healthier diet might sound:
“I’m really disappointed that I made this mistake today. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could have, and I overlooked something I wish I hadn’t. I often pay attention to detail, but today I didn’t. I’m quite upset, but at least I’ll know what to do next time.”
Do you hear how those words are much more specific to the situation (it’s about today and the actual situation that happened), accurate (taking into account that this was one mistake in a context of many successes), and self-compassionate (acknowledging the situation and issue, but not in an attacking way).
Note that this person didn’t say “this was no big deal” or “I’m great at what I do so it doesn’t matter.”
Our diet needs to be honest and genuine in order to be most helpful.
If you are upset about something, it is important to acknowledge that. But note how those words make you feel when you say them out loud, compared to the more negative diet.
We can also cultivate self-esteem when we work with our successes using a tool I refer to in my book Dancing on the Tightrope as “the magnifying glass” (a tool inspired by the work of Rick Hanson).
Because of the negativity bias of our brains, we need to work harder to notice the small, positive moments in our day. That also extends to our own successes, which we often overlook.
When a situation goes well, when you do something you feel good about, act in a way that makes you feel proud, or experience a small “success” in your day (for example, not procrastinating on something you normally might, or performing a task well) take some time to consider the following:
Don’t gloss over the moment, disregard it, or let it pass unnoticed. We may be in the habit of saying “that was no big deal” or “well that’s how I expect I should be all the time so why should I pat myself on the back?” Notice this tendency, but take a few moments to magnify the positive action nonetheless.
Some things you might ask yourself include:
How did I handle this situation in a positive way that I can recognize?
- What did I think, do or say that was helpful here?
- Is there any way in which I stepped out of my comfort zone just a bit, and if so, what helped me do that?
- What inner resources did I use in this situation that I can acknowledge and appreciate (perhaps patience, kindness, creativity, inner strength, grit, perseverance, or something else).
Whatever positive emotions arise from answering these questions, spend at least a minute or two magnifying those positive emotions in your body, with your full attention. Feel these positive emotions as sensations in your body.
Try to appreciate the small, positive things that you do throughout the day that you might otherwise overlook, instead of just waiting for the big things (for example, you might appreciate that you were patient with a family member even though you were frustrated, or that you stopped and helped someone even though you were in a hurry).
Be specific and accurate regarding your successes.
Don’t just say “I did a good job with that presentation today.” Recognize and name why it went well (for example, I took a lot of time to prepare for this ahead of time instead of waiting until the night before, I used some creative strategies to captivate the audience, or I raised some provocative questions that led to engaging dialogue.
These changes, while seemingly small, can add up over time and contribute in significant ways to appreciating our strengths and being more compassionate about our short-comings. Day after day, these small steps can become the building blocks upon which our self-esteem grows.
Beth Kurland, Ph.D. - www.bethkurland.com
The importance of self-acceptance and having the right mindset to improve upon and overcome self-esteem issues.
Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, but most importantly, it is how we behaviorally relate to ourselves that keeps the cycle of negative feedback going.
This is particularly observed in individuals with a history of trauma. Trauma results in a lack of self-acceptance and a victimized mindset, where the individual will relate to themselves in a behaviorally negative way via self-sabotaging behaviors; most often there’s no awareness in the individual of this pattern.
We like to believe that the answer is to change ourselves; “if only I wasn’t like this,” “if only I didn’t feel this way,” “if only I didn’t have these thoughts,” “if only this didn’t happen to me.”
Reality is that we cannot erase ourselves, we cannot erase what happened to us, and we cannot become something we are not.
We can only work with what we have, and improve on who we are, and as a result we can improve upon and overcome our self-esteem issues. However, we cannot begin to identify “who we are” and utilize “what we have to work with” i.e. our strengths and skills, if there’s no self-acceptance and a victimized mindset.
Self-acceptance and mindset
Poor self-esteem will criticize, sabotage, try to convince you of all those “only if” thoughts, and make you fell fear, anxious and frustration. We must accept and embrace unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations rather than trying to avoid or erase them.
A great deal of suffering and continuing to feel stuck in the cycle of poor self-esteem is the result of not engaging in life with meaningful intent, due to trying to erase or avoid negative thoughts, feelings of fear, anxiety, and frustration.
However, these emotions are necessary parts of working toward those aspects of life which bring you meaning, these emotions are in all of us and cannot be erased or avoided; they are necessary just as much as positive emotions are.
The more you try to avoid or erase something, the more attention you draw to it and the more they hang around and negatively influence your life.
A lack of self-acceptance leads directly to a defeated, victimized mindset. This type of mindset tells you things like, “I can’t,” “things always happened to me,” “they won’t like me,” “they’ll judge me,” “I’m not good enough.”
Through the process of self-acceptance by embracing unwanted feelings and thoughts, often the negative feelings and thoughts are significantly reduced, becoming non-problematic.
There are six core principles to achieving self-acceptance and the right mindset as also described in ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).
The six core principles
Core Principle 1: Defusion
This is all about learning to relate to your thoughts in a different way, so they have less of an impact on you.
Rather than trying to change what you are thinking, focus is on learning methods to reduce the tendency to “buy into” self-limiting beliefs and self-criticizing thoughts.
Defusion teaches you that thoughts are merely sounds, words, and stories we tell ourselves, they are not absolute truths, orders, or threats. Here is where you take a step back and see those thoughts for what they are, nothing but words passing through your head.
For example, if you are having the thought of “I am not good enough” you would defuse that thought by saying “I notice I am having the thought that I am not good enough.”
This accepts the thought instead of trying to change it, in doing so, the thought loses its power and becomes nothing more than what it is, just sounds, words, and stories we tell ourselves; the thought is no longer harmful because we are not buying into it.
Core Principle 2: Expansion (acceptance)
Thoughts lead to feelings and sensations, and we cannot stop ourselves from feeling, therefore expansion is all about expanding yourself to allow room for experiencing unpleasant feelings and sensations.
It is important to make space for them, just like we make space for pleasant feelings and sensations, rather than trying to suppress them or push them away we need to accept them as part of us, just like we accept pleasant feelings.
As you expand and make room for unpleasant feelings you will notice that they become less bothersome and pass more quickly, instead of disturbing you and keeping you from enjoying the moment.
For example, you notice that you are having the feeling of not being good enough, which is making you anxious and physically shaky, you would engage in making room for this feeling and sensation by observing it.
You would tell yourself “I am observing that I feel anxious and that my body is shaky,” you would then breath into the feeling and sensation knowing it will pass, as you breath into it you are allowing yourself to feel it and therefore making room for it, it is no longer a threat and you are able to let it be, in doing so the feeling and sensation loses its power and you are able to more quickly move on from it.
Core Principle 3: Be Here Now
Be here now is about learning mindfulness to form a connection with the present moment.
Rather than buying into self-limiting beliefs and self-criticizing thoughts, mindfulness teaches us to connect to the reality of the present moment. Focus is on engaging in whatever you are doing or experiencing at this very moment.
For example, you are reading this article, the goal is not to dwell on thoughts and feelings of the past or the future. Focus on living in the moment and your current reality.
Core Principle 4: Observing the Self
Observing the self is about achieving a transcendent sense of self.
You observe your thoughts and feelings from the outside, just as if you were observing someone else. This helps you realize that painful thoughts and feelings do not actually harm you or define you, we are just made up of internal experiences we tell ourselves, and we have the mental capacity to pause, observe and react to them in a meaningful mindful way and not buy into believing them.
Core Principle 5: Values
This step is about discovering what is most important to you.
Your values are the things you hold most important i.e. family, success, open-mindedness, consistency, loyalty. Your values provide meaning for your life, they shape and motivate your behaviors, they bring about important changes.
By clarifying values, we become less involved in buying into self-limiting beliefs, unpleasant thoughts, emotions and sensations. We become more focused on the positive which aligns with our values.
Core Principle 6: Perseverance
Perseverance is committed action, action you take again and again no matter how many times you fail.
This action is guided by your values and the mindset to overcome your challenges no matter how hard. This action is a commitment you made to achieve your goals. Who we are and the life we want to live is not an end result, it is consistently being built and it needs for you to actively engage in its creation.
Maribel V. Allaria, MS, CLC, CPI, NLP - www.maribelvallaria.com
Self-esteem can be improved in many different ways.
Curiously, often the ways in which we approach improving how we view ourselves is through an avoidance of our self dis-esteem.
In other words, we may be prone to use avoidance behaviors in order to cope with negative self-talk resulting from shame that resides within us.
For example, Sandra compulsively shops whenever she is not feeling good about herself. Rather than stand back at take a look at how she is feeling, and why she may feel this way, she tends to avoid it.
Her purchases make her feel good momentarily, but they never reduce the shame that leads to such avoidance behaviors in the first place. In the end she may attack herself for excessive spending, in response to further shame she sought to avoid in the first place.
When she had the compulsive urge to shop, what if she instead had asked herself, “What is going on?” or “What am I feeling right now?”
She may recognize that something, or many things, have led her to feel bad about herself—the sense of inadequacy, of being flawed, or being rejected that are experienced with shame.
Nevertheless, avoidance behaviors are not necessarily bad.
In fact, they can be very adaptive and self-serving, such as the pursuit of higher levels of competence, ability, or appearance. But improving our self-esteem—really improving it—may require taking a look at how we dis-esteem ourselves.
In doing so you may ask yourself,
“In what ways do I attack myself, withdraw, or avoid in order to hide from shame? What is the shame I feel about myself, where does it come from, and in what ways do I bring it into my present self-view and relationships?”
If you can stand back from yourself and take a look at your experiences of shame you are likely to learn a lot and raise your self-esteem in the process. Shame can be a great teacher if we are not afraid of it and do not hide when we experience it.
Mary Lamia, Ph.D. - www.marylamia.com