Maybe it happened suddenly. Life hit you hard, a sucker punch you hadn’t seen coming. Maybe it was slow, seeping into your identity while you were distracted. All you know is somewhere along the line you stopped believing in yourself. Now you can’t do anything right, it’s all inner criticism criticism criticism, and finding your way back to a healthy sense of self seems impossible. If this sounds familiar, don’t fret. Here are seven tips for building self-esteem.
1. Focus on Your Strengths.
Make a list of your strengths and achievements. Write down everything you like about yourself. Consider your talents and interests, challenges you’ve overcome, good things you’ve done, and mistakes you’ve fixed. Focus on what you did right. Remember that, even though you’re struggling, you’re a unique and special person, a miracle of existence who is meant to have a future worth living. Put the list in a safe place and review it often. If you’re having difficulty coming up with items to place on the list, talk to a friend or close family member.
2. You Are Who You’d Like to Be.
Create a list of positive affirmations and read them to yourself every evening. Positive affirmations involve writing down what you’d like to believe about yourself: I can be an amazing person despite my past mistakes. I am an amazing mother. I am a talented artist. I am a competent and well-respected teacher. I am a human being worth knowing. Even if you don’t believe the statements, make sure to read them out loud every day. This might sound silly or egotistical, but positive affirmations tend to come true. Unconsciously, we mold ourselves to fit them.
3. Be Kind to Yourself.
Listen to the commentary in your mind. What’s it saying? If you have low self-esteem, chances are the “ticker tape” inside you is criticizing your every move. The trick is to replace the mean stuff with a friendly, supportive voice. How would you talk to a friend? That’s how you should talk to yourself!
Sometimes replacing negative with positive isn’t an automatic. It doesn’t just happen. In this case, when the inner critics start, jot down what you hear. Be specific. Ask yourself: What are they saying? How realistic are these thoughts? What evidence goes against them? How can I rewrite these problem thoughts in a healthier way, an approach that helps my self-esteem?
Usually the inner critic is one-sided and exaggerated. For example, it might say, “I’m stupid.” Rephrase the thoughts in a way that supports you. Instead of thinking “I’m stupid,” consider, “I’m not as good at math as I’d like, but I’m good at other things, like reading and history. My friends believe in me. And my teachers tell me I’m a good student.”
Remember, what you think affects how you feel. Make it a habit to rewrite problem thoughts — and be kind to yourself!
(To learn more about this approach, check out this article on cognitive behavioral therapy.)
4. Be Kind to Others.
Go out of your way to do good things. Be nice to people, and do nice things for them. Consider volunteering. If volunteering sounds too complicated, make a difference in other people’s lives in smaller ways. Bake a cake for a sick neighbor. Anonymously pay a stranger’s toll on the tollway. Even sharing a smile can make someone’s day.
5. Avoid the Bad Stuff.
Avoid people and situations that make you feel bad. If you can’t stay away from the negativity, do your best to surround yourself with people who are supportive and care about you. There’s no way to avoid it: Self-esteem is influenced by your surroundings.
6. Pursue the good stuff.
Create a life you love! Sign up for drawing classes and fill your house with artwork. Play your favorite music on the radio. Run a marathon. Sing in the shower. Wear bright or quirky clothes. Go back to school and study those science classes you’ve been thinking about. Surround yourself with your favorite books. Burn candles and incense when you take a bath. Write poetry. Enroll in dance classes. Mow the lawn, if that helps you feel better!
7. If you’re in over your head, get help.
Low self-esteem can be caused by clinical depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric disorders. If you feel like it’s a losing battle, consider reaching out for help. A psychotherapist can help you navigate the thoughts, past experiences, and stressors that are causing your symptoms. If things are bad enough, talk to a psychiatrist about medications.
Okay, thanks for reading. Until next time!
- Psychology Today: Self-Esteem. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-esteem
- Very Well: What is Self-Esteem? https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-esteem-2795868
- Psych Central: What is Healthy Self-Esteem? https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-self-esteem#1
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