It’s probably no secret around here that I have fairly low self-esteem. Self-confidence, feeling good about myself, believing in my talents and abilities are all rare forms of currency in these parts.
But I’m working on it.
When I was in therapy, my counselor and I talked about ways to undo the “maps” in my brain that automatically took me to the places where I feel worthless. We went over the whole “would you say that stuff to a friend or family member so why do you say it to yourself?” business. We discussed methods for acknowledging achievements, accepting praise and compliments, and all the other things that people with healthy doses of self-confidence do regularly and without having to think to hard about it.
She didn’t do a very good job of helping me because our sessions usually made me feel worse. It’s only now, about a year after I fired her and stopped attending therapy completely, that I’m able to truly work on building myself up after tearing myself down for so many years. I don’t know if it’s because now I’m actually at a point where I can fully commit to working on it or if the changes I’ve put in place since I’ve let her go are finally bearing fruit or something else that I can’t explain or maybe some combination of all of the above.
I do know that I took the first step to changing a few months ago when I decided I would just stop hating myself. It’s hard–and maybe too painful–to discuss why exactly I have such hard feelings towards myself but it might have something to do with impossible standards that I expect myself to achieve. In fact, I typically set standards too high, knowing that I’ll never achieve them in the limited and ridiculously short time frame I give myself so that when I inevitably fail because I’ve created a situation where it’s almost impossible to succeed, I can admonish myself failing.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t recommend doing that. It doesn’t work. Actually, it makes things worse.
Because I recognize that what I’d been doing wasn’t working, I realized a few months ago that I really need to change my strategy and my thinking, if for no other reason than I needed to think about the example I was setting for my daughter. How could I encourage her to have high self-esteem and think she can conquer anything when I couldn’t do that for myself? I need to live the example I was setting as words are meaningless without action.
So I started implementing 10 strategies. I’m still working on them, and I encourage you, if you’re in a similar situation, to start doing the same. We can be a team, even.
- Forgiveness. Forgive the people who’ve hurt you, forgive yourself for making mistakes, forgive yourself for not living up to the standards you or someone else has set for you, forgive past behaviors and mistakes. Something I’ve had to learn is that forgiving does not equal forgetting but when you forgive, it makes it so those behaviors and choices aren’t eating away at your heart and soul, and it makes it easier to move on.
- Eliminate negative influences. We all have people in our lives who drag us down. They constantly make mean spirited comments, put us and our choices down, and go out of their way to make us feel worthless and unimportant. They’re unsupportive, condescending, and rude. And they need to go. Admittedly, this is harder to do with family than with friends but if you have friends like this in your life, they’re not really friends. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk but friends also don’t make friends feel like shit. It’s hard to feel better about yourself when someone else is making you feel bad.
- Have a mantra. Remember the old Stuart Smalley skit on SNL? The one where he would look into a mirror and say “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”? It’s that concept. While it’s funny to think about, having a mantra is essential. Having those inspirational words to repeat to yourself in moments of self-doubt does wonders to combat the creeping negative feelings. A mantra doesn’t have to be a self-affirming statement, either. It can be a quote, a movie line, a song (these work best for me). Anything that you can say to yourself that makes you feel better. (If you’re stuck, you can follow my quotes and sayings board on Pinterest as a starting point)
- Accept flaws, quirks, and imperfections. It’s okay to be weird and have quirks. I have plenty of them. Instead of feeling bad or embarrassed by them, embrace them. Instead of apologizing for them, wear them proudly like a badge or medal. The flaws, quirks, and imperfections are what make you uniquely you. They help give you perspective and also maybe make you fun at parties. Trying to be whatever “normal” is doesn’t work for everyone and feeling bad about the fact that you’re different is pointless. Don’t be like everyone else. You are great the way you are. Even Billy Joel thinks so.
5. Do something every day that makes you happy. I had to work on this–and still have to work on this–every day to help combat my depression. Taking a few minutes out of every single day, even if it’s only 5 minutes, to do something that’s just for me, that put the emphasis on me, reminds me that I, too, am important. We live in a culture that praises selfless acts and condemns perceived selfishness, and thinking about others is really important. It’s crucial, in fact. But taking a few minutes every day to do something just for you makes it so that you are more able to care for others. When you’re happy, it’s easier for you to project that onto the world. And using 5 or 10 minutes a day to do that is okay.
That’s the beginning of my 10 point strategy to feel better about myself. It’s working so far and while I’m far from the most confident person in the world, I’m no longer the LEAST confident person in the world.
Which is a huge, monumental step.