Self-esteem profoundly impacts all aspects of our lives, friendships, self-perception and acceptance of changes happening over time. Yet, while everyone experiences low self-esteem, some struggle more than others. Why is that? This article attempts to shed some light on what self-esteem is and how to strengthen it.
Low self-esteem leads to a distorted perception of yourself. Therefore, how you see yourself may differ from how others see you.
One of the reasons behind this is that everyone understands reality through their own lived experience. How we experience others is filtered by our perception of ourselves and our environment.
Starting from the beginning:
What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is associated with the perception of yourself.
People with higher self-esteem:
are likely to feel loved and accepted
are proud of what they do
find it easier to believe in themselves
People with lower self-esteem:
are constantly doubting themselves
are harder on themselves
often feel like they are not good enough
Pay attention: the feeling you experience is determined by the perception of your abilities and not by what you are or can do.
“Adolescents who are absorbing negative messages about who they are and what is expected of them may sink to that level instead of realizing their true potential.”
Daniel J. Siegel, Brainstorm
How does self-perception develop?
All people in your life have a fundamental role in building the perception of yourself.
Focus on what’s good about you, they teach you how to show self-appreciation.
Consistently display coherent verbal and non-verbal communication, you develop a sense of security.
Make you feel seen and listened to, you build your confidence.
Are patient when you make mistakes, you learn to accept yourself even when things don’t go as planned.
Care for you; you feel worthy and loved.
But if people:
Keep criticising everything you do; you feel like everything you do is wrong.
Send mixed messages; you don't know where you stand.
Are too busy with their own lives and have no time to listen to you, you feel unworthy and lonely.
Display bullying behaviours and make mean jokes, as a consequence, you may have long-lasting impacts on your self-perception.
No matter who uses the above behaviours with you, developing positive feelings about yourself in a challenging environment is almost impossible. Cruel behaviours and words are difficult to let go of, they are sticky and can quickly grow part of your beliefs, but fortunately, you can change them.
How to improve self-esteem?
1. The importance of self-talk
The things you say silently in your mind significantly impact how you feel about yourself. For example, repeating to yourself, “I’ll never make it”, harms your self-esteem.
You can learn new and more positive ways to address yourself, such as:
I didn’t make it this time, but I am proud I tried.
I didn’t manage it, but I can try again sometime.
I forgive myself for any past mistakes.
I give myself permission to change my mind.
I grew/learned from this situation.
I have a new opportunity to try something different.
It didn’t work out as expected, and that’s OK.
Using positive self-talk helps you improve your perception of situations. While having a different perception does not change the situation, it changes the experience of it.
Your self-communication patterns are formed by what others have said to you over the years and what you decided to take on. Now you have the chance to make some changes. What you don’t need when going through challenging times is more criticism coming from you.
So, how can you manage the voice in your head when it is too critical?
Notice what you think about yourself and reflect if you would use the same language with someone you dearly care about. If not, try to introduce kindness in your wording and repeat these words often to yourself until being kinder becomes a new habit. It takes some time and effort, but you can learn to think better of yourself.
“What this means is reflecting on your relationships in the past in your own family life and asking yourself how those experiences influenced your development.”
Daniel J. Siegel, Brainstorm
2. Get out of your comfort zone.
There is a feeling of accomplishment every time you learn to do something new. There is no need to learn something huge; however, stepping out of your comfort zone is an excellent way to improve how you feel about yourself.
Explore options. Is there anything you would be open to trying?
What is important is that you enjoy what you are trying to do and compliment yourself for having the courage to step out of your comfort zone. When trying something different, consider the possibility that results may not be as good as expected; that’s OK. If this happens, avoid being hard on yourself. Instead, support yourself with self-care. The mere fact that you tried is a good reason to be proud.
3. Spend your time with the right people.
You know already who these people are. These are the people you feel comfortable with, and you don’t end up with mixed feelings after spending time with them. The right people make you feel positive; they inspire and motivate you to be the best version of yourself.
They support and encourage you to achieve your goals.
When you surround yourself with unsupportive people or people you do not have much in common, everything becomes complicated. These people are not adding positivity to your life. It can be hard to decide to let go of someone you have been close to for a long time or that you care about, but keeping spending time with them is way worse. Letting go of unhealthy friendships is vital if you want your life to point in the right direction.
“For a child or an adult, it’s extremely powerful to hear someone say, “I get you. I understand. I see why you feel this way.” This kind of empathy disarms us.”
Daniel J. Siegel
4. Let go of perfectionism.
Nothing will ever be perfect; it is simply not possible. The idea you have in mind of how things should be is often far from reality. The need for perfection arises from attempting to control and avoid challenging feelings. Still, uncomfortable feelings are part of life; there is no way to live fully without learning to deal with them.
Learn to be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. There is no need for perfection to be worthy. The best you can do is enough.
When nothing you do is enough for you, make a reality check, show yourself compassion for trying so hard and allow yourself to be who you are. Perfection is not achievable. So accept that the best you can do is enough; give yourself permission to release the need to be perfect.
“Say yes to the feelings, even as you say no to the behaviour.”
Daniel J. Siegel
5. Set achievable goals
Having something to achieve adds motivation. Even the smallest goal has an impact on how you feel about yourself. Why not start now?
Explore things that you would like to do and create a bucket list.
Choose small attainable goals and then plan to achieve them.
Give yourself a reasonable time and stick to the schedule.
Track your progress.
Be proud of any step that takes you closer to your goal.
Be kind when you have small stepbacks and go back on track.
6. Notice what is going well.
To be solved, problems require your attention. First, it is essential to keep looking at the greater picture. You probably have already noticed that when problems arise, they can quickly become all you can see; they seem to expand and become more intense. When this happens, it’s time to take a break and find some clarity.
When everything is going wrong, look better: some things are going right
When everything seems to go wrong, it’s challenging to identify things going in the right direction. The tendency to focus more on what’s wrong is not necessarily helpful; it doesn’t help solve the issue and keeps you distracted from all the good stuff. Try instead to look for the positive deliberately; you will always find something, even if very little.
7. Give back to your community.
Helping others is a great way to improve your self-esteem. It does not matter what kind of help you decide to give; running for a cause, helping a friend with homework, or volunteering your time to help others. All these don’t just make the world better; you’ll also feel better about yourself.
Being the difference in someone’s life will boost your self-esteem.
Get involved in things that make you proud of the person you are becoming. Your self-esteem will benefit from it.
Finally, reach out when you find yourself struggling, and things seem not to change for a relatively long time. There are many options out there. Talk to someone you trust and allow others to help you.
I offer 15 minutes of free online consultation to new clients to decide if we are a good fit.
Feel free to contact me with any further questions.