“As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself. No one can give you that. You have to know who you are – what others say is irrelevant.” – Nic Sheff
Perhaps one of the reasons we enjoy watching movies like Brigitte Jones’ Diary – even years after it was a box office hit – is that we resonate with her lack of self-esteem and struggles and we secretly hope that if our heroine’s problems can be sorted out in a few short hours, possibly so can ours. If one could bottle an antidote to poor self-esteem, I think Pick ‘n Pay would be hard pressed to keep up with the demand!
One of the things I believe about this issue of self-esteem is that our self-confidence goes hand in hand with our ability to increase our self-esteem because, as someone once said: “We teach people how to treat us.”
If we don’t have the confidence to draw a line in the sand when someone disrespects us, we run the risk of losing the respect of the person who has disrespected us (because we have tolerated it) and we also run the risk of losing our self-respect (for not standing up for ourselves) and also our self-esteem and confidence in the process.
So how do we build our self-esteem?
Be well groomed
This may sound trite but we all know the confident feeling that comes with looking good in some neat and clean clothes. This is not to say that we need to spend a fortune on fancy clothes. Rather we could have a few classic pieces of clothing that we love and which make us feel good when we wear them. A flattering hairstyle and clean nails and a beautiful smile will go a long way to helping us to feel good about ourselves.
Know your likes and dislikes, your interests, skills, strengths and weaknesses, goals, wishes and hopes as well as your values and beliefs. When we know ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin, we usually feel confident to be exactly who we are and to live authentically, knowing that we don’t need or desire to seek anyone else’s approval. If you have difficulty knowing your strengths and weaknesses, ask a trusted person to give you feedback with regard to this. One can also try different activities to gauge what your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes are.
Stop the inner critic
That nagging little voice inside your head that we all have that talks to you about yourself – often in an unflattering and critical manner, needs to be stilled. Sometimes it can spur us on to do things to gain others’ acceptance and other times it can whisper destructive thoughts in your mind. By learning to handle this little voice and to replace it is essential to building a positive self-esteem. It is okay to be aware of the voice and what it is saying and show some curiosity in what it is saying.
However you don’t have to accept what it is saying or allow its negative messages to be reinforced by entertaining them over and over again. Instead, decide that it must stop. You can stop it by saying: “Enough! This is not helpful.” After you have done this, refocus your thoughts on something more helpful and upbuilding like how you are going to spend your evening or weekend.
Stop comparing yourself to others
By comparing ourselves to others – often unfavourably – we compare one of their strengths to one of our weaknesses and do ourselves a huge disservice. When we do this we certainly do not come away from such a comparison feeling good about ourselves! Besides there will always be someone on this planet who is brighter, bolder, more attractive, more wealthy, more popular that we are so it is a vicious cycle.
How do we replace this habit with something more useful to us?
Compare yourself with yourself: Draw a timeline across a page and look at how far you have come as a person, how you have developed yourself, grabbed opportunities available to you or improved in certain areas of your life. This will certainly make you feel proud of yourself and motivate you!
Remind yourself of your strengths, positive qualities, and successes
You could even write these down and reflect on them from time to time to bolster your feelings of self-worth. I know some people who have a “brag book”. Inside this file or book they have certificates of things they have accomplished, letters and cards which people have sent to them expressing their appreciation towards them, photos of fun times and wonderful memories. Think about your successes at the end of the day and especially when you are feeling low. Reflect on what you have achieved at the end of the day and the contribution you were able to make.
Write affirmative statements
It takes some time to build a new habit so if you have been putting yourself down and comparing yourself unfavourably with others, it might be a good idea to write down affirmative statements starting with the words: I can… or I am…
Think of characteristics and qualities which you can be proud of that you know to be true of you e.g. I am a good cook, I am a loyal friend, I can make a mean pasta dish etc. In our efforts to forge new neural pathways, we need to repeat these affirmative statements to ourselves three times a day for a month. This will only work if you actually believe the statements which you have written down.
Some people have found that writing loving letters to themselves is very useful to feel validated and to remind themselves of their strengths. This goes beautifully with the next point.
Treat yourself as you would your best friend
So often we are hypercritical of and very hard on ourselves. At these times it may be useful to ask ourselves the following question: “Would I be as harsh towards my best friend as I am towards myself?” The answer is probably a resounding “no”. Let’s try to be kinder, more compassionate and more forgiving towards ourselves, after all, we are human and prone to make mistakes – and that is okay.
Get rid of perfectionism
Perfectionism can create a great deal of anxiety in our lives because we have such high expectations of ourselves. Not only do we procrastinate and end up doing a task at the last minute (because we want to do it perfectly and probably end up doing a slapdash task instead), but we can also be paralyzed by inaction because the standard is so high that we have set for ourselves. Alternatively, we can act but never be entirely satisfied with what we have produced.
Perfectionism is a difficult one to ameliorate but perhaps a start would be: I am going to do this project well and it will have to be good enough. I am only spending X number of hours on this project and no more.
Build on your strengths
When you find out what your strengths are, do more of what you are good at as this will give you a sense of mastery. For example, if you like to write, write a blog, poetry or do journaling. Each time you set small goals and achieve them, you will feel good about yourself.
Work on your communication skills
Express yourself clearly so that others don’t misunderstand you or get the wrong idea. Make sure your message is heard and understood by checking with the listener. Speak slowly and clearly as opposed to speaking fast. Have you noticed that people who speak slowly, clearly and firmly often hold more authority in a room and have presence, whereas the person who speaks too fast and softly is conveying the message that what they have to say is not worth the time listening to it? They convey a lack of confidence oftentimes.
Say what you want to say clearly. Be polite and respectful and know what you want. Here the right posture (upright and shoulders back) with good eye contact, conveys confidence on a non-verbal level. Remember that our non-verbal communication makes up 73 percent of our communication!
Now state your viewpoint or what you need. Make sure people are in no doubt as to what you mean.
Manage your time and make your deadlines by persevering
Finish what you start because by doing this, you will feel really good about yourself. Try not to waste time. It would help to get a diary or put up a daily and weekly schedule on a year planner so that you feel more in control of your time instead of the other way around where you are lurching from one activity to the other.
Participate in community organizations or life. The saying goes; “it is better to give than to receive.” By giving of your time and talent to others who need you, you will fill yourself up. In the process you may also end up learning new skills, meeting new people and get to know yourself better.
Make good decisions
Take responsibility for yourself. You are in charge and in control of your life.
To affirm and support others by encouraging and praising them, helps them to feel confident. Appreciate your family and friends and tell them that you value them. Acknowledge, affirm and respect others’ uniqueness and differences.
Little acts of kindness towards others will also make you feel good about the person that you are
Surround yourself with positive and supportive people
Spend more time with people who want the best for you, who love you and are kind to you. These people hold a mirror up to confirm who we are as human beings and by having our best interests at heart, they automatically affirm what we know, deep down, to be true about ourselves: that we are good and kind people who others want to spend time around. This enhances our sense of self and naturally our self-esteem.
Every morning or every evening before you go to bed, spend some time thinking of at least three things that day which you can be grateful for. Some people even like to keep a gratitude journal for this purpose. This practice increases one’s awareness throughout the day of how fortunate we are and after a while, one begins to consciously seek things to be grateful for.
Research into the body/mind connection has shown a positive correlation between exercise and higher self-esteem. Not only are endorphins, which make us feel happier, released during exercise but as one’s body becomes stronger through exercise and one’s posture improves, one feels empowered and vital.
Exercise also means that you are taking time out of your busy schedule to put yourself first – to nurture and to care for yourself. The message you convey to yourself is that you are worth the time and effort.
I hope that one or more of these tips will be useful to you. If some don’t work for you then feel free to try some other ones. I trust that you will arrive at a soft and comfortable place where you are able to celebrate your uniqueness and revel in your beauty as a human being who has a very special purpose on this planet and which only you, and you alone, are able to fulfill.