Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. You may be smart, funny, a great partner, parent or friend but you don't always live up to that potential. Negative core beliefs about yourself, others or the world may keep you from living your authentic life. For example, something may keep you from asking for what you need in your relationships or from speaking out and sharing your ideas with others. Deep down, you may have a nagging feeling that you are not good enough or worthy of greatness, joy, or happiness.
Many individuals seek therapy with the common goal of wanting to feel better about themselves and improve their self-esteem. I often hear my clients say things like “if only I was thinner, more attractive, wealthier, in a meaningful relationship, or more successful, I would have more self-esteem and feel better about myself.” The truth is people are often confused about what it means to have high self-esteem. Self-esteem is not based on something outside of ourselves such as our jobs, relationships or achievements. Having high self-esteem is about accepting and appreciating your authentic self, including your faults and imperfections.
Self Esteem May Not Be All It's Cracked Up to Be
The problem with self-esteem is that it focuses on measuring your worth against others, rather than on valuing your own inherent worth. Searching for self-worth by comparing yourself to others is a losing battle because there is always going to be someone smarter, more attractive, and more successful. When you base your self-worth on something outside of yourself, your self-esteem rises and falls based on your latest success or failure. Although accomplishments are important to acknowledge, your self-worth is based on the qualities that make you unique and is not something that needs to be rated or earned.
Striving for high self-esteem can also manifest into narcissism, which encourages people to regard themselves as highly superior to others.
There is nothing more important in life than how you think and feel about yourself. But, having and maintaining a high opinion of yourself can be challenging in our highly competitive society. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix solution or magic pill that can improve self-esteem overnight, but if you consciously commit to these six principles, no matter what your circumstances, you can significantly increase your sense of self-worth….
6 Healthy Ways to Improve Your Self-Esteem and Live More Authentically
1. Stop Playing the Comparison Game
Comparing ourselves to others is something we all do instinctively because it is hardwired into our DNA. In our prehistoric past, higher-ranking ancestors got to reproduce more than lower ranking ones. Primates that didn't care how they compared with others or didn’t strive to be at the top of the pyramid didn’t get to pass their genes on to the next generation. But today, comparing your life, yourself, and what you have to others is a destructive habit and will likely leave you feeling as though you are falling short. So, replace that habit with something better--start comparing yourself to yourself. Focusing on yourself and how far you have come in your own journey will both motivate you and increase your self-esteem.
2. Challenge your inner critic
We all have an inner voice that either whispers or shouts destructive thoughts in our mind such as “you are lazy--now get to work” or “you are sloppy--now clean yourself up.” This inner critic can spur us to get things done, but at the same time, it can drag our self-esteem down. Here are two effective ways to minimize that critical voice and replace it with more realistic and helpful thoughts:
- Practice the STOP Technique. Next time you hear the critic say something, visualize a big red STOP sign in your mind and shout: STOP! Refocus your thought on something more constructive.
- Be Your Own Best Friend. Rather than beating yourself up, ask yourself: What would I say to a friend in this same situation? Then talk to yourself as he or she would.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is about treating yourself with kindness and forgiveness. It incorporates acceptance that imperfections are part of the human experience and no one is infallible. Take a page from John Legend’s song, All of Me and “love your perfect imperfections.” When we practice self-compassion we are better able to put mistakes into perspective and see our weaknesses as an opportunity for growth.
4. Make Self Appreciation a Daily Habit
Writing down things that you appreciate about yourself can have a profoundly positive impact on your self-esteem. This does not have to take a lot of time. I recommend to my clients to set aside two minutes every evening before bed and journal three things they appreciate about themselves. These things don’t have to be big things. Maybe you listened to a friend in need, prepared a healthy meal for yourself, or let someone stand in front of you at the grocery checkout. The nice thing about writing down what you appreciate about yourself is that after a few weeks you can re-read your answers and get a good self-esteem boost.
5. Replace Perfectionism with Good Enough
Striving for perfectionism in daily life is a destructive habit. It can paralyze you from taking action because you become afraid of not living up to an unrealistic standard. One way to overcome perfectionism is to go for “good enough” instead. Going for good enough does not mean it's okay to slack off, but it can be helpful in overcoming your tendency to procrastinate knowing that at least you tried instead of doing nothing. In other words, no stress, do your best!
6. Learn to Say NO
Living authentically involves identifying your values and making value-based decisions. We often have a difficult time saying NO because we worry we will hurt someone’s feelings or let someone down. But every time you say a yes that you don’t mean, you end up doing a half-hearted job. People-pleasers often suffer from low self-esteem because they deny their own authentic truth to please others leaving them feeling disrespected or unimportant. A better practice is to “say what you mean and mean what you say.”
How Therapy Can Help Your Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem can rob you of your right to have a happy, fulfilling life. But working to improve your opinion of yourself is a worthwhile process—and therapy can help. A therapist can help you become aware of the negative things you regularly say to and about yourself that contribute to low self-esteem. The effort is well worth it because freedom and a more authentic life are waiting for you on the other side.
For more information on how to develop a higher degree of self-esteem and live more authentically, visit my website at naomiberrycounseling.com or call me at 480-427-3553 for a 15-30 minute free phone consultation.