How to Improve your Self-Esteem

Photo by Chela B. / Unsplash

Self-esteem is the pair of glasses through which we see our world, the doorway in decision making, and the generator of our goals and aspirations. It’s not just the way we view ourselves, it’s the very foundation from which identity and action spring. It’s a vital piece of how we plan to live our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, we won’t have through the roof self-esteem at all times. There will be mistakes made, and times of waning confidence. It’s totally normal to experience a level of self-doubt and moments of humility - that’s what makes you human!

It’s when regular self-reflection turns the corner into low self-esteem that we start to see rippling impacts on our mental health. With low self-esteem, our view of ourselves takes a turn toward the pervasively negative. We may be more critical of certain actions we take, or hold ourselves back from trying new things.

Where does low self-esteem come from? A variety of places! Typically these thoughts about ourselves are absorbed in childhood through the messaging we observe or hear in our younger years. For example, if we had a mother who consistently criticized her own body, we are likely to grow up with skewed images of how our body looks and feels. This can be compounded from media messages, life experiences, and times of stress. It always seems to boil down to the same core message: “I’m not good enough”.

So how do we turn the corner on these negative thoughts, and put on a new pair of glasses that reflects the person we truly are? It takes work, but it’s worth the effort to open yourself up to new experiences.

  1. Awareness: Before we can work on our self-esteem and the thoughts produced by it, we have to be aware of what is happening in our heads. Many of my clients can speak to the part of themselves that feels lost, not good enough, or like a failure, but they struggle to see the ways these phrases play out on a loop in their head throughout the day, informing each of the actions they take. An awesome way to take stock of the negative thought loop is journaling - in a phone or a notebook - each time these negative thoughts occur. By increasing your internal awareness to your own normalization of these thoughts, you give yourself the power to disrupt the narrative.
  2. Assertive Communication: Use your voice! Learning how to assertively communicate your needs can help you claim your worth and better understand what you can offer the world. Lend yourself the same respect and worth that you would for another. Try using “I” statements to help get your point across, “When my ideas aren't heard, I feel like my voice doesn’t matter.” Allow yourself the space to ask for what you need.
  3. Boundaries: Say “no” more often. Decide what feels good or bad in relationships, then set limits around what you’re willing to tolerate. Understand that you have a choice in environments you lend your energy to. Your self-esteem will tell you you don’t have a right to do this, do it anyway. Remember, boundaries aren’t about the relationship, they are about us and what we will accept into our world.
  4. Accountability: Do what you say you’re going to do. It’s as simple as that. This can be as small as attending that dinner you said you would go to, or as big as taking action steps towards a life long goal. Accountability is the secret ingredient that pushes us forward when times are tough. Motivation is optional, accountability is necessary.
  5. Gentleness: Be easy on yourself. The thoughts in your head will tell you this is a cop out, or an excuse to “let yourself go”. Challenge these thoughts! Being hard on yourself actually makes it harder for you to change; it may provide an extra jolt of motivation in the moment, but overall lacks the staying power to provide grounded growth. Allow yourself to be gentle with the pieces of you that are trying to protect you.
  6. Community: Spend time with your people, and I mean your people. The ones who make you feel like the most authentic version of yourself. Isolating may feel good in the moment, but it will only amplify thoughts based on low self-esteem. Don’t have these people in your life? Refer to number three, set some boundaries, and keep an eye out for the people who light your soul up.

Like I said, these things take practice. Time and practice. Low self-esteem is a function of ourselves who’s seeds were planted long ago. This doesn’t mean we can’t undo it, but it does mean we will have to work at it. But hey, you’re worth the work, aren’t you?

Alexa Cordry, LSW, LCADC

You can follow more of Alexa's insight on Instagram @yoursadtherapist

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Alexa Cordry, LSW, LCADC

Alexa Cordry, LSW, LCADC