I just feel like I don’t belong, that I’m not good enough, that I should have done more by now.
My girlfriend left me. I don’t deserve to be happy.
I’ll never measure up. I should just stop trying.
I’ve always struggled with my self-esteem.
Almost everyone has a period of time where they struggle with self-esteem. For many, that time is most pronounced during the teen years, the time when we are formulating our identity. But it comes up at other times of life too, when we are unsatisfied with our life, when there is a major change or conflict. Some of us struggle with this more than others due to our history, for example, if we were bullied, or regularly compared to others by parents or authority figures. Some of us just tend to have very introspective personalities and can over analyze ourselves, getting hyper focused on areas we perceive as negative.
Here are 7 ways boost your self-esteem:
1. Address Body Image
For individuals who struggle with body image, (almost everyone) there are a number of things to consider.
- Evaluate Messages from society. Our society does not communicate body positive messages. It focuses primarily on the body as an object of sexuality, which is based on commercial interests not on health, or wellbeing. Even in terms of sexuality, the body image portrays as being sexy is narrowly defined and has no authority to define true beauty or attractiveness. Note where these messages have become part of your belief system and decide if they are benefitting you in any way based on your experience, so far.
- Check your goals for your body. Do your goals include looking like the person on the cover of the magazine you saw at the grocery store. Find out what is healthy for your body, based on how you feel, physically and what you would like to be able to do, and not on what you think will be attractive to others. How is your energy level? What level of strength do you need to accomplish tasks required for daily life, to participate in activities you enjoy? Has your doctor identified specific health concerns that need to be addressed (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.)?
- Search out body positive social media accounts: bloggers, Instagram, etc. Stop following the ones who promote a very specific type of body as the only desirable type.
If you struggle to see beauty in yourself, look around for people who look like you and take note of what is beautiful about them.
- Address your relationship with food – If food is an issue, consider checking out Eating Disorders Manitoba to get support from others who are working on developing a more healthy relationship with food.
- Address your relationship with exercise (See Avoiding Exercise – An Expert’s Guide).
2. Take Stock of Accomplishments
Self-esteem is often built on accomplishment, not on compliments.This is a tricky one because we tend to minimize or discount our own accomplishments and compare them to others.
Remember, you cannot know the context of another person’s accomplishment, how hard they worked or did not, their capacity and the amount of support they received. There is no way to measure yourself against others in an accurate way because we do not live in laboratories. You can only take note of what you’ve accomplished by checking in on things that you have worked for, in any area of life:
- Overcoming challenges – What challenges have you overcome? Learning disabilities, lack of support from parents, friends, family; poverty; physical challenges, tragedy, etc.
- Relationships – friends, family, romantic relationships- where have you taken risks, where have you set boundaries, where have you learned from mistakes, where have you made things right? These are all accomplishments.
- Skills – career, creativity, sports, mechanics, hobbies, what skills have you earned?
- Parenting – becoming a parent is an accomplishment. Caring for a child and meeting their basic needs is an accomplishment, even though it is also a responsibility. Learning parenting skills, being a better parent than your own parent, learning to co-parent, are all accomplishments worth noting.
- Risk taking – Risk taking will obviously look different for everyone. Going to an event with a lot of people may involve as much risk for one person, as skydiving does for another. Only you know what effort you’ve made and what it’s taken to accomplish what you have. If you are struggling, ask someone who knows you and cares about you what they’ve seen you accomplish in your life.
If you feel you are lacking in accomplishments, set some goals for areas that you’d like to work on.
3. Know your values
Knowing who you are involves knowing what is valuable to you and what you want out of life, or even out of this season of your life. Take some time to evaluate how your daily activities and commitments match your values. If they do not, don’t panic. Now is the perfect time to consider how you might begin to make decisions that would allow you to live in a way that better fits your values. (See What’s Worth Digging For? Finding your Values). This provides meaning to your life and will increase your positive feelings about yourself and your life. (See Religion, Spirituality & Mental Health).
4. Know yourself
What makes you cry? What calms you down? What gives you energy? What excites you? All of these things are important to know so that you can be aware of what might be influencing your mood and what you can do to impact your mood in positive ways. Pay attention to the good stuff and add it in wherever you can. (See How to Make a First Aid Kit for Your Emotions).
Explore personality. (Check out Myers’ Briggs Personality Types and The Enneagram) to learn more about the way you work and how you interact with others. Also check out “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.*
5. Know your history/place
Knowing where you come from, and where you, are is one way to ground yourself, connect you to things larger than yourself, help you to understand yourself and give you a foundation for your identity.
- Explore family history – Make a family tree, include accomplishments, quirks, relationships issues, mental health issues, physical health issues, religious beliefs. Look at where you fit in there and who you resemble. Who do you influence in your family? What relationships do you wish were closer and where do you need to set some boundaries?(*See Where Do I Draw the Line? and The Parents You Wish You’d Had)
- Connect with your geography – Your town, your city. Explore it as if you were a tourist. Learn about it’s history and the role your family, cultural or religious group, affiliated organizations played in its development. Walk around in your neighbourhood, get to know neighbours, attend local events, shop locally, connect with your environment. (See 50 Ways to Go for a Walk and Cities and Belonging).
- Learn about your own ethnic culture – Where did your people come from, who are they? If not Indigenous, why did they come? What did other groups think of them, what did your group think about other groups.Who are the keepers of your culture/language, these days? Talk to them. What are the stories that have been passed down in your culture? What are the celebrations? Where did they come from?
NOTE: Looking into history means that you may uncover things that you don’t like or are even ashamed of. Focus on what you can do with that information, how you can work towards carrying forward a new legacy without denying your history.
- What is your social location? – Who are you in society, ie a woman, an elderly person, straight, transgender, white, black, educated, homeless. Where do you stand. What do others say about your group and what do those who belong to your group say about themselves. What shared experiences do you have with others in your group. What can you work together to change about your situation or about the situation of others? These things support a sense of meaning and identity.
6. Confront Shame
If there are parts of you that you fear that others will find out about, you will never know if you can be loved for who you really are. This impacts self-esteem.
“They say they love me, but if they really knew, who I am… what I’ve done….”
Shame is about believing that there is fundamentally something wrong or bad about you. Something that you can’t do anything about. This is different than guilt which is about having done something that you regret and need to learn from and/or address. Shame comes from a variety of sources, society, anxiety, authority figures, etc. It is not useful to anyone. You can feel ashamed of an action but if you carry shame about your own being, this will not drive you towards fulfilling your goals, living your values and improving your relationships. Check out “Listening to Shame” Tedtalk by Brene Brown for more on shame. Also check out Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown* and 5 Steps to Recovering from Failure).
Shame is a big one and is worth tackling.
Part of reducing shame’s hold on your life is by taking risks by being vulnerable with people who have proven their love and respect for you and their trustworthiness. This is very scary if you fear that you will lose their love if you reveal yourself for who you really are. Start with small things that you would normally hide and pay attention to their reaction when you acknowledge your flaws. Then move up to bigger things.
Check your own judgement of others and consider the ways you might be judging yourself for those very same things. See 9 Steps to Making Sense of Other People.
7. Evaluate your current relationships
Learn to communicate your needs
If the person you rely most on for love and affection is giving you primarily negative feedback, you might want to evaluate what is happening:
- Is there something you need to do in order to fix something that you’ve been ignoring, minimizing or avoiding?
- When have you talked to your partner about the ways you feel supported and the ways that you don’t?
In order to do this, you may need to hone your communication skills. Check out How to Start a Good Fight.
Set appropriate boundaries
If arguments become physical, EVER, this needs to be addressed, whether you are participating, perpetrating or the victim of the physical aggression or not. Talk to a counsellor and/ or call Domestic Violence support Manitoba.
Address emotional/psychological abuse. Check out identifying non-physical abuse.
Sometimes when we feel badly about ourselves, we tend to gravitate towards other who treat us the way we feel about ourselves. Sometimes we even reject or react angrily towards those who treat us better than we see ourselves. If you find yourself doing this, ask yourself how you’d like to feel about yourself and connect with people who treat you this way. When questioning their friendship, as yourself if they are trustworthy, honest and respected by others, if so, you might have to put some faith in their evaluation of you and assume that, like every other human on the planet, you don’t have a complete view of yourself and can learn from these people.
If all of your friendships are based primarily on what you can do for others or what they can do for you, it will be difficult to find connection and support on an emotional level. You need to rebalance relationships, either adding people whom you can share thoughts and feelings with or taking risks with current relationship by sharing thoughts and feelings and inviting the same from them.
Redirect your focus away from comparisons
Figuring out what is true about you is difficult when faced with messages from society, family, authority figures and your own mind about not measuring up, about how others are so much better, richer, attractive and more liked that you. When you catch yourself entertaining these kind of thoughts, ask yourself where this thought comes from and who benefits from it. How is it serving to bring you to your goals? What can you do, actively, to challenge it? Pay attention to how much time you spend comparing yourself to other people. Consider experimenting with social media fasts to see how you feel about yourself after a while of not looking at the flashy, curated and well staged snapshots of other peoples lives. Check out Jealous Much? for more on how to do this. Also see Self Improvement – 7 Steps to Find out if You’ve done enough.
When you are struggling with your self-esteem, remind yourself of all that you have learned about yourself in this blog, as often as you need to.
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.