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 how the happiness from applying makeup is only temporary, and 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, J – 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!
I thought this would be a good idea for a post. While I am no therapist, I do have an interest in psychology and have read up a lot on the various topics. 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:
1. 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”.
2. Next to each point, put a + if it’s a positive attribute, and a – if it’s negative.
3. 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 to reply e-mails 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?
I highly recommend The Purpose Driven® Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Purpose Driven® Life, The). This faith-based book has been on the New York Bestseller list and have sold over 30 million copies. I have read it and re-read it from time to time – this book has really put a lot of things into perspective, and if there is one book that has influenced and helped me, it would be this. Many of my friends have read it and said it has changed their lives.
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!
Learn how to handle criticism
Easier said than done, I know. But if you have built all the self-esteem in the world, and someone’s criticism ruins your day, you’re back to square one.
Also, think of it this way – the criticism has nothing to do with who you are, but everything to do with who they are.
How do you handle criticism? The best is to simply ignore it.
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 negative about it, you can think they are crazy because you know who you are. You have to have enough self-love so when you do hear criticism, you simply ignore it and move on.
As far as high school goes: the gossip, backstabbing, and bullying from other girls; I have one word: envy. Nothing more, nothing less. Their envy stems from their insecurity; which is not your problem. Forget them and live your life.
(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.)
Focus on your health
Yes, “stay healthy”, etc, is pretty much said to death in every self-improvement article. But it’s there because it works. Simply taking a walk everyday will make you feel much better. And please, stop the smoking, drinking and fast-food diet – you are only harming your body, which makes you feel depressed. It seems like most people go through that horrible diet at certain stages, and for those who have, think back – were you happy? Did you feel good, physically and emotionally? The answer is probably no. Make small, little efforts to start getting some healthy food in your diet, as well as exercise.
Affirmations, Beliefs and Mantras
A tip would be to get a phrase that you can live by, or something to remember when times get tough of you start feeling inadequate or “low” on yourself. If you feel your self esteem being effected by certain people and events, things like “this does not define me”, “nothing will ever break me”, can help greatly.
Waking up and looking in the mirror everyday telling yourself, “I am beautiful and worthy!” can also help. It can be anything – try it all and see what works for you. Paste quotes on your bathroom mirror, your fridge door, wherever. Find what kind of belief and affirmations that works for you, and stick to it.
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?