I have been speaking with a young girl for awhile who wrote to me about some of the struggles she’s faced with. It first started with makeup talk but moved on to feelings of being not as “beautiful” as the other girls in her class still plaque her.
This is a case of low self esteem, and trust me when I say this – we’ve all been there.
Anyone who says they have never had any issues with self-esteem is lying to make themselves feel better, which; ironically enough, is a sign of low self esteem!
So I thought this would be a good idea for a post.
How to Start Building Self Esteem
While I am no therapist, I have always had an interest in psychology, and actually, was seriously considering studying psychology in college at one point. (I decided on communications in the end, but I digress.)
For this post, I have done my research and also will add in my personal experience because I struggled with low self esteem a lot when I was younger, and it’s miles better today. Also, I named this post “How to start building self esteem” as opposed to “how to get self esteem” because it is not so easy!
It takes years and years for low self esteem to develop, so it would take years to actually start building it. There is no quick fix, and you’ll need much more than this article! It’s a start, though, and I really hope I can help out.
What exactly is self-esteem?
So, what exactly is self esteem? Doing a quick “define: self-esteem” Google search, you will get definitions such as, “a feeling of pride in yourself”, “a feeling of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-respect”, or simply, “how one feels about themselves.”
Here’s my definition: A sense of personal worth. This involves two elements: security and significance. Security; in being loved and accepted for who you are, and significance; having meaning and purpose in your life.
Your inner critic
From all my readings on self-esteem, all the sources of low self esteem is your inner critic. The voice that tells you he doesn’t like you because you’re “fat and ugly, and not as beautiful as the other girls,” it tells you will never succeed in life because “you are lazy, unmotivated and have no qualifications.”
Your inner critic could have been formed from being bullied at school, abuse growing up, negative remarks from family members – you name it. You store in the words that are used to taunt you, and they literally haunt you into adulthood.
One of the reasons why you can’t simply “stop thinking such things” and killing your inner critic is because sometimes, it actually helps you. It tells you you are so fat and lazy, which makes you get up and exercise. To an extent, you inner critic it does help you – yet you are reinforcing the inner critic for future attacks by listening to it.
Instead, you should be exercising because you genuinely want to get fit, and you know it’s healthy and good for you. So while you should be proactive, the activity shouldn’t come because of what the inner critic said. Plus, there are way more negative things your inner critic could later on tell you – it is never ending.
A fundamental exercise
Here’s something that is really simple, but would really help. Seriously, take a pen and paper right now and do it! And be as honest as possible. Here’s what you do:
- Write a list of words that would describe you as a person – both good and bad. Just write it all down. Examples would be, “Honest”, “Trustworthy”, “Irresponsible”, “Lazy”, “Self-sufficient”.
- Next to each point, put a + if it’s a positive attribute, and a – if it’s negative.
- Look at your negatives and write next to it the reason you feel this way. A lot of times you could write the reason down, and you feel silly because it’s such an exaggeration.
Example: You write “physically unattractive”. What is your reason? Do people on the street yell at you, “Ugly!” as you cross the road? Are you really an “irresponsible” human being because you forget your car keys every now and again? If reasons end up being “because my mother told me that all my life”, then you really need to dig deep and seek help with those issues. Read on, I’ll expand on this later.
That is a simple exercise to really see how you feel about yourself. Once you’ve figured out what you want to improve on, it’ll be much easier to know what you want to work on. It’s no use saying, “I have low esteem, and I want to fix it” – you have to know what exactly to fix. Here are some general suggestions that could help overall self esteem:
Find purpose and meaning
Self-esteem, like I explained above, includes significance – your personal purpose and meaning of your life. What is the purpose of your life? What is the meaning of it? Why are you put on this Earth? Some very deep questions.
Some people search all their lives to find out what their purpose of their life is – only to never find it out. Think deep. What are you living for? Spirituality and religion comes into this as well.
So, you gotta dig deep here – what is your purpose?
For me, as a Christian, I know who I am. And as I grow stronger and deeper in my faith, I get an even deeper sense, peace and knowledge of who I am, whose I am, and what God has made me for. This has given me personal self worth, purpose and meaning to my life. (If you ever want to talk about this, please contact me. I’m serious.)
Surround yourself with a great support system
When someone has low self-esteem, a simple comment on the street, such as “Oi! Watch where you’re going, fatass!” can ruin your whole week. It can immediately conjure up feelings of all the bullies at school who used to call you fat, or the father that used to criticize your appearance.
One of the reasons why some people live to a ripe old age is because they have a sense of purpose, and because they are surrounded by a loving, wonderful support system. Be it family members, best friends, mentors, therapists – surround yourself only with people who make you feel good, encourage, motivate, and support you in all that you do.
Sure, there are always those annoying few in your life who just bring you down but have to deal with regularly. I say, cut the time you spend with them drastically (as much as you can help it), and simply ignore anyone who is of no significance to your life. Because seriously, who cares if that random guy on the street thinks you’re a “fatass”. Really. What significance is he in your life? Will you ever see this man again? Try adopting this attitude when insignificant people affect you.
I have been extremely blessed with a set of fantastic parents and friends that I consider the sisters and brothers I never had. If you are not in a very good relationship with your parents, your support system doesn’t always have to be within family. Seek out friends, God, your local community, counsellors, teachers, etc. Build long lasting relationships with genuine, honest and trustworthy people.
There is no greater feeling than helping someone less fortunate. It can be as simple as donating $5 from your allowance every month – every little bit helps, and you honestly do feel better. Volunteering is another great way to help others, as is spreading the message about good causes you support and helping raise money – everyone benefits from this.
Find your passions
Find something you love to do. It can be as simple as collecting goldfish to playing music, writing (that would be mine!), making friends, painting, or simply being a good friend. Find hobbies and interests that make you excited, keeps you entertained, are enjoyable, and make you feel good about yourself.
Your passion doesn’t have to be your career, either. I know a business man who is a ‘top dog’ in his company, but loves photography – completely different to what he does as a job. He would read online all the latest tips, take photographs of anything and everything, and make small photo albums for family and friends. You are not defined by your career or your job – you can have many interests and hobbies outside of them!
Fake it to make it?
I personally don’t believe in “faking it ’til you make it”. It gives the sense of being someone you are not, and at it’s core, could actually be hypocritical. But trying to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone, where you don’t know what you’re doing and make by, I think there’s a slight difference, and that’s when it’s good. That’s why I’m a big advocator of this simple trick to feeling more confident instantly, even when you don’t. Try it out and see if it works for you.
Learn how to handle criticism
Easier said than done, I know. But here’s the way I see it: I encourage and welcome constructive criticism. In fact, I seek it out. I think we should always be open to correction in helping us be better in all areas of our lives.
So how do you handle criticism that is just… nothing but criticism? How do you handle “haters” and “naysayers”? I think that the best is to simply ignore it. As women too, I’d say if there is gossip, backstabbing and bullying in your life, I can tell you wholeheartedly that it is their problem, not yours. People who are feeling great about themselves don’t engage in such behavior. They are either feeling crap about their own lives, feel envious, jealous… in other words, it stems from their own insecurity.
So sure, it’s hard, but really – don’t listen to what anyone has to say about you. That list of positive qualities you wrote earlier? Drill it into your head, so if anyone ever says anything otherwise, you can think they are crazy because you know who you are.
(Here are two great articles on the topic you might be interested in – How to Deal with Negative Feedback from Motivate Thyself and Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation from Zen Habits. They both basically says the same thing – ignore the insult and move on.)
There is absolutely nothing wrong in therapy, in my opinion. If self-esteem issues really plaque you, I suggest just going to a therapist. They will know how to come about and help you. You’re not “crazy” or emotionally unstable if you see a therapist – they know how to really help, since they are specialists.
Talking to your best friend or a close confidant about what’s going on in your life is therapy, too! You always feel better after letting your emotions out, don’t you? I once read that young people should talk to grandparents – their age really shows wisdom. My grandmother always had a smart Chinese proverb to tell my mom and I!
If money is an issue, try looking for a school or church counsellor.
Read self- help books
What I like to do with topics that interests me or affects me is to educate myself and really understand what it’s all about. There is no use diving into working on something, when you don’t even know what makes it ‘it’.
Educate yourself on what self-esteem really is, how it is formed, the different terms, etc. Most self-help books start off with a few chapters explaining self-esteem, while the rest of the book is generally the self-help section.
A great book on this topic is Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem. Apparently, it’s one of the best books on the market on the topic, and has been around a long time and has sold over 600,000 copies. I’ve read a little of it, and I can already tell you it’s fantastic.
I hope some of my points have sparked some ideas on what you can do in your life – I would love to hear your opinions and any other points on this topic – How do you build your self-esteem?