Tips for Bolstering Self-Esteem
Learning to Love Yourself
Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” When I reflect upon this quote, it seems apropos to the topic at hand. I believe that what Wilde is suggesting, is that while we all have negative aspects of our lives and ourselves, some people have a deeper wisdom that allows them to see beyond the obvious negative aspects of day to day life, and focus on the positives.
Let’s face it, we all have little things about ourselves that are not the way we might like them to be. We complain about breast size, thighs, belly fat, love handles, acne, bad hair days, and the list goes on and on. Our culture has become so obsessed with looks and perfection that self-deprecation, even in jest, has become a socially acceptable means of communication. While most individuals might argue that poking fun at oneself is harmless, it can actually have lasting negative effects.
Individuals who engage in self-deprecation are likely to have deep-rooted insecurities and self-esteem issues that even they are not fully aware of. The more they run themselves down, the more they reinforce the negative associations they have about their bodies, personalities or other aspects of themselves. The tendency to behave this way is reinforced by society at large, which teaches us from an early age that modesty and humility are positive traits, and that loving yourself and taking pride in your accomplishments may be viewed as egotistical and arrogant if you are open about such things. No one wants to be ostracized as a result of their pride, so they begin to purposefully push that pride down deep until it becomes completely submerged in and diluted by our insecurities.
For some, the degrading behaviors are merely an attempt at humorous interaction with others. For others, they are attempts to elicit positive responses from people (i.e. “You are not fat! You look terrific!). For most, they are conditioned responses to environmental stimuli (i.e. everyone is doing it, so the behavior becomes normalized).
Another negative consequence of self-deprecation is that it rubs off on others. When we are degrading ourselves, we are talking to someone or in front of others. Often times, these “others” are our children, creating a vicious cycle in which the children are raised to believe that such behaviors are normal and expected.
In order to help spare our children from becoming the next generation of adults with impaired self-esteem, we need to do our part to break that cycle. This starts with finding positive things to say about ourselves and reinforcing those positive thoughts on a regular basis. We do not need to blow our own horns, so to speak. But each time that we feel the impulse to denigrate ourselves, we can choose to supplant those thoughts with positive ones.
That advice may be easier said than done. In order to get started in the right direction, try making a list of the things that you like about yourself. Examples might include:
- I have nice hair
- I am a college graduate
- I have close friends
- I am respected at work
- My new jeans look nice on me
- I volunteer in my community
- I am kind to others
- I am a good soccer player
Each time that you have the impulse to express negative thoughts about yourself, select an item from your list and think it to yourself.
Because most negative self-concepts revolve around body image, try standing in front of your mirror naked and doing a survey of your body. Make a list of the things that you like, and the things that you would change if you could. People for whom self-esteem is an issue, will likely have a longer list of items to change. That’s okay. The next step in your transformation is two-fold. First, be honest with yourself about why your negative attributes are the way they are. For example:
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Next, you need to determine if there is anything you can do to change the things that you do not like. For example, stretch marks are not going to go away and you have no control over your genetics. But if your causes were listed as “poor diet,” or lack of exercise, these are things that you have the power to change. Improving diet and exercise may not eliminate stretch marks or cellulite, but it can help reduce weight and prevent future stretch marks or cellulite formation. Simply adopting a healthier lifestyle is something that you can be proud of and you will like the results you achieve. This advice reminds me of the Serenity Prayer. “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Even if you are not a religious or spiritual person, this ‘prayer’ can be viewed merely as good advice to someone seeking to instill in themselves a healthy mindset.
The next step to improving your self-esteem is to help others break their own negative cycles. This serves two purposes; it reinforces positive thoughts in others, which in turn, makes them more likely to do the same. It is the concept of paying it forward. In order to help others, you must recognize when they’re being negative. Then, you can help them to rechannel their energy into seeing themselves in a more positive light. As you help others to see themselves in a positive light, you can add one more positive personal attribute to your own list. “I always try to see the good in others.”
Another tactic that might work for you is to balance the negative thoughts with positive ones. It is not reasonable to expect that you will never have a negative thought about yourself. You will. The key is to determine whether or not those negative thoughts are valid or not. For example, I have stretch marks and I often joke that my belly looks a bit like a low-relief map! I think it’s funny. It is also true. In order to balance the negative thoughts about my stretch marks with positive ones, I first acknowledge the negative ones. Yes. I have stretch marks. But I have them because I have had two full term pregnancies that resulted in amazing, beautiful children that bring me joy every single day of my life. That helps to keep the negative thoughts in check. Because my children are so precious to me, the stretch marks have become unimportant. I wish they weren’t there, but I’d rather have them than not have my children. The message here is not to have an unrealistic goal of eliminating all negative thoughts from your mind, but rather, learning how to keep negative thoughts in perspective. You eliminate the ones that are not reasonable or within your control to change, and balance the remaining ones with positive thoughts.
It is also valuable to remember all of the people who love you. Make a list of your friends and close family. For me, I choose to remember that love is an earned privilege. We do not love out of obligation. We love people because of an instinctual response to their affection and kindness toward us. We have histories with the people we love. We share positive memories. When struggling with self-esteem, it is important to ask yourself, “If I were not worthwhile, would others love me?” The answer is likely, “no.” This exercise is much like the first one but instead of thinking positive thoughts when you’re feeling negative ones, you remember the people who love you when you’re feeling lonely and underwhelmed.
There are other physical things that you can do in order to improve your self-esteem. They are methods that you hear all the time, but that all have merit. They include:
- Get adequate exercise
- Get adequate sleep
- Limit alcohol intake
- Avoid illicit drug use
- Get occasional massages, manicures, pedicures or other self-indulgent, relaxation treatments
- Carve out “me” time each day or a few times per week
- Keep a journal
- Read inspirational books
- Seek counseling
- Spend time with friends
- Engage in a hobby
- Set goals and work toward achieving them
- Take a hot bath
- Light therapy
- Surround yourself with positive people
Best of luck to you as you move forward with a positive outlook. You deserve happiness. You are worthwhile. You can do it!
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© 2010 Jaynie2000