The term “self-esteem” is a widely used expression for assessing an individual’s psychological well-being. So what is it and how does one develop it? Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves, our level of confidence, and determines how we allow others to treat us. I have often told my clients that our parents are our first teachers. Our parents teach us who we are in the world by mirroring their perceived value or beliefs about our worth. For example, if your parents told you that you are smart, wonderful, attractive, and the next greatest thing that is what you will believe about yourself and what you will present to the world. The same is true for the opposite. Self-esteem exists on a continuum from high to low. Depending on where you fall on the continuum, you will most likely experience varying degrees of psychological problems. Individuals with low self-esteem experience significant emotional and mental pain with high rates of depression, guilt, self-blaming, anger, social isolation, and physical health concerns. Individuals suffering with low self-esteem rarely remember where and when these feelings started because most the negativity has become integrated into the fabric of how they view themselves. When making the decision to improve your self-esteem, I recommend several actions:
- Think about whose voice you are hearing during your negative self-talk? Negative self-talk is all of the bad things you say to yourself about who you are or what you are capable of doing. Most people tell me that they hear their own voices. If you listen carefully, most likely you are hearing the same things your mother, father, grandparent, siblings, or friends have said to you? Consider writing down a few of the negative things you say or think about yourself. Next, write down who you have heard say similar things in your life. It has been my experience that most people can trace their negative thinking back to its origin. Regardless of who said it, it doesn’t make their assessment of you or your situation true. It is difficult for most people to understand that the adults in their lives were just humans with flaws. Regardless of who said these toxic things to you, you don’t have to accept it as the truth.
- You are not your past. Many people have experienced difficulties in their lives, but the difficulties don’t have to define you. People will use their histories of abuse, abandonment, molestation, abortions, poverty and so many other things to define themselves and justify why they are not living happier lives. Holding on to the pain of your past interferes with you creating a brighter future. Forgive the people who allowed their pain and sicknesses to cause the pain in your life. They were not in a position to give you anything better because they didn’t have anything better inside of themselves to offer you. If are holding on to something you regret, forgive yourself because at the time you were not able to make a better choice. Forgive others, forgive yourself, and let it go.
- Rewrite your story. The way your life looks tomorrow, next week, and for eternity is up to you. What have you dreamed of becoming? What are you good at doing? How do you want to serve the world? What are you gifted at doing? What comes natural for you? What gives you joy? This is how you start to rewrite your story. It can look any way you want it to look. Will it require you to go back to school? To find an internship or volunteer with an organization where people are doing what you want to do? Be willing to ask for and expect to accomplish what you want for your life. The only way to rewrite your story is to do something different than what you are currently doing. Make a change.
- Believe anything is possible. Nothing will change about your life unless you believe it is possible. I believe in daily positive declarations which are called the “I Am” statements. Write down 5 positive things that you are willing to believe about yourself and say them several times everyday. When you first start saying your new statements, it may feel like false prophesy. However, within a short time you will feel, think, and behave in the ways you have declared. Once you have mastered your first 5, work on 5 more and so on. Your words and thoughts have the greatest power to change your life. Own your own life and story.