Do you like yourself? The degree to which you like yourself is a reflection of your self-esteem. Each person has self-esteem. What varies is how positive or negative it is, or how much or little you like yourself. You know that it would be very difficult for your body to stand upright without your spinal cord. Similarly, it would be very difficult for you to stand upright emotionally without a positive self-esteem. The degree to which your self-esteem is positive determines how well you’re able to cope with different situations in your life.
Why else is positive self-esteem so important? A person who enjoys this important characteristic is more likely to take risks, advance in academic and vocational circles, have more friends, be in better health, and enjoy life. Conversely, a person with negative self-esteem is less likely to take risks, may have more difficulty academically and vocationally, has fewer friends, has trouble with relationships, and does not enjoy life nearly as much.
Where Does Your Self-Esteem Come From?
What determines your self-esteem? There has always been a lot of controversy as to which comes first, life-events, or self-esteem. Does self-esteem determine how successful one is with life-events? Do life-events determine how positive one’s self-esteem is? The answer? Neither scenario is correct 100% of the time. In fact, although there is a relationship between life-events and self-esteem, there is a much more important intervening factor.
The most important commodity determining your self-esteem is your thinking. This doesn’t mean that life-events have no bearing on self-esteem. The critical variable, though, is the way you think about those life-events. So, for the most part, it is your thinking that determines your self-esteem. Why is this so important? It shows that even if you can’t change life-events, if you can improve your thinking, you can improve your self-esteem.
Any self-esteem improvement program takes time. In some cases, you may want to work with a professional, especially if you feel so down about yourself that you lack the motivation or the optimism to even begin. But let’s discuss some of the things you can do if you’d like to try.
Self-Esteem Improvement: A Starter
How do you begin? Become familiar with your negative, inappropriate thoughts. “Easy,” you say. “I’m very familiar with them, since I think them all the time!” But that’s not good enough. You really want to know the specifics of what you’re thinking, especially when you knock yourself. Let’s review one basic method of cognitive restructuring.
Obtain a spiral notebook (at least 5×8 size so you’ll have room to write without having to turn the page after every 3 words!). The left-hand page (to the left of the spiral) will be the “negative” side. This is where you’ll write down your negative, inappropriate thoughts, such as, “I am no good,” “I handled that very poorly,” “I can’t do anything right,” or “I’m a loser” (if that’s what you’re thinking, of course!). These are the types of thoughts you may say to yourself all the time if you have low self-esteem. (They are called negative self-referrent statements, meaning that the statements refer to yourself.) It is essential that you write these thoughts down, as painful as this may be, in order for you to focus on them and begin the active process of turning them around.
Next, ask yourself why you feel the way you do in each of these statements. Why are you giving yourself such messages? Believe it or not, individuals who keep saying these things to themselves may get a certain amount of gratification or pleasure from doing so! For example, you may feel like you’re protecting yourself from the criticism of others by putting yourself down first.
Then, on the right-hand page (to the right of the spiral), work to reword these negative thoughts. Part of this process involves eliminating any reinforcement you derive from thinking negatively about yourself. Encourage yourself to think more positively about yourself. Think of more positive, realistic, appropriate ways of turning your negative thoughts around. For example, opposite where you wrote “I am no good,” you might write, “That’s ridiculous; there may be some things I don’t do well, but there are other things I can do just fine.” Opposite, “I handled that very poorly,” you might write, “I can’t do everything perfectly; let’s see what I can learn so I can handle it better next time.” Opposite, “I can’t do anything right,” list some of the things that you have done right, even if it’s as basic as brushing your teeth. This shoots holes in the “absolute” nature of your negative thought. And opposite where you wrote, “I am a loser,” you might want to write “If I continue to work on the things that I’d like to improve, I can be a winner.”
At the same time that you’re working to turn around your negatives, it is also important for you to identify positive attributes about yourself. Initially, some people with low self-esteem have a difficult time doing this. However, this is the time to force yourself to do this (and no, it’s not bragging!) Try to identify positive characteristics about yourself, including things that you do well, activities that you excel at, mannerisms that are strengths, and so on. Write them down. Keep adding to your list.
Other Self-Esteem Factors
There are four other important things to be aware of if you want to improve your self-esteem. First of all, individuals who have problems with self-esteem often feel that “society is inflexible,” that society has certain expectations of you. This is not necessarily true, so it’s important to look at it differently. Flexibility is an essential coping strategy. A person who is able to “roll with the punches” or “go with the flow” will have an easier time dealing with the ups and downs in life that would otherwise affect self-esteem.
Perfectionism can cause self-esteem problems. If you believe you must be perfect, you have a hard task ahead of you. For, after all, who is perfect? If you are constantly trying to achieve the unachievable, it is inevitable that your self-esteem will suffer. Here is another place where flexibility is important. It is perfectly okay to try and do the best you can, as long as you recognize that perfection is something that neither you nor anybody else will achieve.
Another problem for people who experience low self-esteem is having a hard time dealing with criticism. Negative comments from others seem to hit home more often and more deeply than they should. Here is an area where working on your thinking can be very important. Recognize that people have the right to criticize. Try and read between the lines, don’t just listen to tone of voice, but see if there is any merit in what the person is saying. Trying to figure out how you can learn and gain from the comments of others can be very positive and uplifting for you. Don’t think of criticism as being rejection. If you can draw the positives from criticism and grow, you’re ahead of the game.
Finally, people who have problems with self-esteem often are non-assertive. In other words, they have difficulty sticking up for their own rights. You may feel stepped on, walked over, or taken advantage by others. This certainly can be great for your self-esteem! Learn how to be more assertive. Learn how to recognize what is rightfully yours and assert yourself in trying to get it. This doesn’t mean that you will be successful all the time, but at least trying delivers an important message to your thoughts: you are worth the effort.
Remember, self-esteem is something that you have learned and, as with anything else that has been learned, it can be changed and improved. If you are not satisfied about the way you feel about yourself, do something about it. Be your own best friend. Help improve the way you feel about yourself. Every part of your life will benefit!