What is Self-Esteem?
We’ve all heard that it’s important to have a healthy self-esteem, but what does that actually mean? Many people think that having a healthy self-esteem means loving everything about yourself, and often conflate it with being conceited or arrogant. Having a healthy self-esteem means loving yourself, which is shown through how you treat yourself. The way we treat our mind and what we feed it impacts how we love ourselves and how we view ourselves and our self-worth. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, improving your self-esteem is not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to love myself today” and actually feel that way. It takes a concerted effort to improve your self-esteem and self-view.
How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?
1. Take Baby Steps
Everyone has flaws and limitations, but that doesn’t mean you have low self-esteem. A lot of people fall into the trap of all or nothing thinking – “I’m all bad,” or “I’m all good.” It’s about taking baby steps and moving in a positive direction. If you do think badly about yourself, a good place to start is to ask yourself, “What is one thing I tolerate about myself?” Then build on that to the point where you like that thing about yourself. Accepting your limitations or things that you find less preferable also allows you to acknowledge areas for improvement and growth. Having a healthy self-esteem allows you to accept and tolerate the things you can’t change, and focus on the things you do love or like about yourself.
2. Back Up Words with Action
Start with positive affirmations. This includes saying positive things about yourself in your head and to yourself out loud. It can be as general as, “I am OK,” or “I love myself,” or specific, such as, “I like the way I handled that situation,” or “I am good at this particular thing.” However, positive affirmations and self-talk are not enough. Your actions have to match. If you engage in destructive or negative behaviors, you’re not going to believe the positive things you say to yourself. It makes it a lot harder to start to believe in yourself if the words and actions don’t match. So when you start treating yourself (your body and mind) with self-respect it feels good and gives room for ongoing self-care and promotes a healthier self-view over time.
3. Define Your Values and Stick to Them
Take time to figure out what your values and priorities are in life. Know your values and truths and stick to them. Allow yourself to be true to yourself. Then you can use those as a compass to determine if your actions serve those values and truths. If they don’t, they probably aren’t good for your self-esteem either.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive People
This doesn’t mean you have to be around phony people who are happy all the time – no one is happy all of the time. This means that the people in your life should positively affect you and your life. Who we surround ourselves with and what we expose ourselves to impact our self esteem, either positively or negatively. If the people you spend time with are negative and don’t show you respect, that negativity and self-doubt will become your norm. You won’t get validation if you’re in a negative environment and it will be destructive to your self-esteem. When you have healthy relationships where you’re heard, you’ll be able to communicate effectively and stand up for yourself, improving your self-esteem.
5. Set and Stick to Boundaries
Boundaries – or lack of – impact self-esteem a lot. If we don’t have strong emotional boundaries, we take on other people’s thoughts as our opinions or we take on others’ emotional burdens as our own and don’t have our own sense of self or self-identity. That’s why we need healthy emotional boundaries – we can filter out the negative coming in, and choose what we expose ourselves to, who we expose ourselves to, and create our own values and identity. This in turn gives us the freedom to enjoy leisure and self-care, leading to a healthier self-esteem.
6. Engage in Healthy Activities
When you’ve set your boundaries and have more time to dedicate to your self-care and leisure time, it’s important to engage in hobbies and activities that are healthy. When you partake in unhealthy or destructive behaviors, it can lower your self-esteem. When people are struggling with addiction, this is especially true. You may find yourself wanting to resort to drinking or drugs to feel better about yourself, but it actually reflects how you might really feel about yourself – how you treat yourself shows how you feel about yourself, so if you are abusing drugs or alcohol, it may indicate that your self-esteem needs improvement. When you’re about to do something for fun or to escape, ask yourself if it is good for you and if it feeds into your healthy self-esteem.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Being fully in the present and practicing mindfulness allows us to be aware of who we are now. If we dwell in the past or worry about the future, it impacts our ability to love ourselves as we are now. The practice of mindfulness is about accepting what is. When we can learn to accept our environment and who we are, we can learn to love ourselves. Get some tips on how to practice mindfulness here.
8. It Takes Consistency
Improving your self-esteem doesn’t happen overnight – it takes work over time. It’s a build up of all the things you do over time. You have to consistently treat yourself better, spend time with people who bring positivity into your life, and engage in healthy behaviors and experiences. Having a healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean treating yourself once in a while or having a couple of nice friends. It’s constant, ongoing work that you have to reinforce. It takes commitment – turn your positive self-talk and positive actions into regular habits.
9. Prevent Yourself from Slipping Back
You may have been working on improving your self-esteem for a while now, but have you noticed negative self-talk creeping in? Are you not feeling good about yourself because you were triggered by something? Or are you falling back into old patterns of destructive behaviors and negative environments? It’s important to be mindful of how you are feeling, how others are treating you, and your environment so you can see why you are starting to feel bad about yourself and get back on track to having a positive attitude about yourself.
10. See a Therapist
A lot of people have this idea that therapy is only for those with depression, phobias, or severe/chronic mental health issues, but the truth is therapy can benefit everyone. Therapy has a lot of benefits, regardless of how severe your problems are or whether you’ve been diagnosed or not, and can help you improve your self-esteem. A therapist can help you create new norms of self-respect, honoring your mind and body. You’ll learn to trust yourself and your instincts, so you can have healthier relationships with others and yourself.
Are you ready to get on the path to loving yourself? Serenity Lane Psychological Services offers therapy for a variety of issues, no matter how commonplace or trivial you might think they are. If you would like to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Heather Violante to learn how she can help you feel better and empower you to change your life.