Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. It’s the thing that can make you feel confident and ready to take on the world, or it can be the nagging voice in your head that says “I’m pathetic. I’m too old / too fat / not skilled enough… I’ll never be able to do this”.
If you have high self-esteem you have a high opinion of yourself, if you have low self-esteem then you have a low opinion of yourself. To have high self-esteem means you’re more confident, you believe in yourself and generally your life feels more content, fulfilled and enjoyable. If your self-esteem is low you can feel anxious, like you always fail and that the world is out to get you. A “this always happens to me” mentality can appear.
How do we make our self-esteem higher? And what causes our self-esteem to be low in the first place? This article will answer both of these questions.
What makes our self-esteem low?
There are three things that make our self-esteem low: not facing-up to life, avoiding life and being in denial about how your life actually is. Put simply: hiding. This might seem very basic and even a bit harsh, but it’s the truth. If you hide and run away from any of life’s problems your self-esteem will slowly erode away.
I know you might be thinking: but Dan, my boyfriend just broke up with me / I lost my job / some stranger is being mean to me / my friend put me down. That’s why my self-esteem is low! I hear you, but that’s not necessarily why your self-esteem is low. The truth is that all these things are adding to a pre-established feeling of low self-esteem, but they didn’t create it. It’s very likely that the low self-esteem was created before any of those things happened. Now, the great news is that you can do things to change your self-esteem to feel more positive about yourself and your life, regardless of what happened in your past.
you can smash your low self-esteem into the abyss where it belongs!
How to make your self-esteem higher
1. Facing up to the problem
When we face any type of challenge life throws at us, how we respond to that challenge is what can make or break our self-esteem. There are two ways we can respond to any situation: we can face up to it or we can run away from it. To build self-esteem we need to face up.
When we face up we:
Are able to deal with our stuff
Have a willingness to step up
If we run away we generally:
Avoid (through procrastination, laziness, distraction)
Live in fantasy (not seeing the situation for what it really is)
Whatever way we react we take away certain things from the situation, and these things teach us about ourselves. This ‘learning about ourself’ will happen, whether we are conscious of it or not.
2. We need to face up to believe we are good enough
If we face up to life’s problems we get confidence / growth / peace / acceptance etc from having faced up to them. This positive feeling then builds into a core belief that we are good enough. When we face up the core belief that we are enough is extremely powerful. We might need to learn new skills to face up, or it might be emotionally difficult to face up, but taking life head on time after time will build layer upon layer of self-esteem and confidence.
If we run away or hide from a problem we build a core belief that we are not good enough, which leads to low self-esteem. Hiding, pretending, making excuses and blaming other people/things/events will only leave you with low self-esteem.
If you face up to life and not hide from it or make excuses, your self-esteem will sky rocket
A very powerful example
Let’s say there are five kids running in a race, but one of them is a bit worried and nervous because he didn’t practice. However, unknown to the kids each one will receive a medal at the end for encouragement, even if they come in last. The race is over and the kids are awarded a medal. The kid who came first is feeling great, because he won. Is the kid who came in fifth feeling great? Even if he got a medal? I feel the answer is no.
Perhaps his parents would say to him “I thought you ran really fast and it’s okay because you still got a medal, great work!” They will shower the kid with praise and accolades and shelter him from any bad feelings (of guilt and shame for not practicing) the kid might be having.
Subconsciously this praise isn’t helping the kid, because he knows he lost the race whether he got a medal or not. And despite the best and misguided efforts of the parents to shower him with praise and shield him from the truth, he’ll be feeling down on himself because he made excuses to himself for why he didn’t want to practice. Subconsciously he is learning that he’s not enough.
Now imagine if the kid who came in last didn’t get a medal, and instead of the parents shouting “I thought you ran really fast and it’s okay because you still got a medal, great work!”, and sheltering him from the fact he lost, they said “you didn’t win, but that’s okay I’m still proud of you for running. I think if you want to do better next time you’ll need to practice more”. This is still comforting him, but it’s not shielding him from the truth, it’s letting the kid face up to the fact he lost, and left the option open for him to work harder and prove to himself he can do it next time.
When the time comes to race again the kid won’t want the same bad feelings of guilt and shame, so he’ll practice more. He’ll run again and maybe this time he’ll come in third place. Even though he didn’t win, his confidence will sky rocket, he showed and proved to himself that he had what it took to get a better result. He’ll teach himself that he is enough and can deal with this particular issue that life has thrown at him. His self-esteem will sore. It’s the same for anyone in any situation.
If we face up to life and deal with it head on, our self-esteem will be sky high
You can have high self-esteem regardless of your past
I realize that sometimes horrible things happen to us, and this is truly awful especially if it happens as a child. These events can shape our beliefs into some very bad negative self-talk. They can shatter our confidence and leave our self-esteem in the gutter, but with courage we can turn that around.
We don’t need to “live our story”, we can stop using the excuse of ‘this happened to me in the past so that’s why I’m like this’. If we re-tell our negative story over and over there’s no possibility of moving forwards. We don’t need to forget the past, or even forgive it. We also don’t need to live it. We have a choice, regardless of what happened in the past we can face future events head-on and choose how to react. We can show ourselves that we have what it takes and that we are enough, we can build our self-esteem back up.
If you enjoyed reading this article you might be interested in other articles such as giving yourself power and confidence by learning how to say “no!”, how to wake up fresh using sleep cycles, the meaning of ‘back to reality’ and how to conquer it. And many others on my self development page.