Most people I know struggle with self-esteem issues – so many that I consider it a pandemic. Even so, it’s not always easy to recognize when someone has low self-esteem. In fact, the people who act the most secure, and even egotistical, often are hiding their insecurities behind big smiles and boastful ways. Unfortunately, your self-esteem can affect every area of your life from personal relationships, to professional success, internal stress levels, and your general attitude about life. So, how can we improve our self-esteem, and create a more enjoyable life for the people and ourselves in our life?
WHAT IT IS AND IS NOT
Self-esteem is not that temporary happy feeling you get after someone compliments you, or the “I’m awesome” feeling that accompanies a business success. It is how we experience our “self” from an emotional and cognitive perspective. Everything in life is affected by our deepest sense of who and what we think we are. How we react to other people, problems, jealousy, and compassion all originate from how we see ourselves. Nathaniel Braden, author of many books on the subject, says: “The essence of self-esteem is the experience that we are competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and that we are worthy of happiness. Thus, self-esteem is made of two intimately related components: (1) trust in our mind, in our ability to think, to respond effectively to challenges; and (2) confidence that success, achievement, friendship, love, respect, personal fulfillment – in sum, happiness – are appropriate to us.”
Many scholars point to our childhood as the determining factor in our self-esteem. Experiences, and how a child interprets them, create the esteem foundation that develops into adulthood. Children who are regularly praised, listened to, treated respectfully, and experience personal success through academics, sports, or the arts, are more likely to have healthy self-esteem. Whereas those who are harshly criticized, ridiculed, or expected to be perfect all the time are likely to see themselves as “less than” other people. As adults, it may be easy to pinpoint the experiences that led to our issues, but overcoming them is another story.
There are countless books on how to build self-esteem, and many suggest thinking positively, meditating, smiling even when you don’t feel like it, and other short-term exercises. I am not saying that these practices are not helpful, they can certainly aid in your growth, but to expect these things alone to change something that developed in you from childhood is unlikely. Many people may need help to overcome childhood wounds and reduce the destructive behavior or anxiety that result. But, true self-esteem must be developed over time. It requires a continuing practice of self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, integrity, and creating a purposeful life instead of an apathetic one.
There are many different ways to go about building these self-esteem strengths, and everyone must find the way that works best for them. However, one action that can help is to tune in to your spiritual side. By that, I am not referring strictly to your religion, although, for some people that may also serve as an aid. To connect with your spirituality is to connect with your consciousness, rather than your material world. When you live consciously, you respect reality and truth. “For many people, one of the most common associations with the idea of spirituality is the longing to feel at home in the universe – to feel benevolently connected to all that exists and to the ultimate source, whatever that might be, of all that exists. Whatever else may be required for the fulfillment of this desire, peace and harmony with oneself is a precondition of peace and harmony with anything else,” says Nathaniel Braden.
For me, it is helpful to remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has done dumb things and made bad decisions. Everyone has fears, psychological wounds, and flaws. I am not the only one. Most importantly, everything I’ve experienced had a purpose in my life, even if I didn’t want to think so at the time. My life, and all it’s imperfections, is fine. I am fine! We are ALL fine.
When I feel my esteem dropping, I look into the mirror and sincerely say, “I love you.” The more uncomfortable I feel saying it, the lower my self-esteem. That is a cue for me to take stock of what I’m feeling and be aware of what I say, do, or assume about other people, and especially about myself.
I believe by embracing my occasionally low self-esteem, I am learning to accept myself as I am, and by doing that I gradually increase my self-esteem. It’s a wonderful irony, isn’t it?