Experiencing low self-esteem can be the result of holding onto negative beliefs about ourselves, or about the world. These beliefs are often developed as a result of our experiences with undesirable life events, poor relationships, or past traumas.
These beliefs not only negatively impact the way we see the world and ourselves but also how we are able to connect with others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves, chances are, we are feeling less receptive towards the positive things going on in the world around us. This, in turn, can feed into our low self-esteem, creating an unhealthy cycle that doesn’t leave a lot of room for self-compassion, confidence, and connection.
On the flip side, healthy self-esteem has been identified as an important ingredient for mental wellness and has been shown to positively impact an individual’s thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviours. In fact, a 2017 study reflects that there is a significant relationship between happiness, optimism and self-esteem.
So if we know that positive self-esteem is good for our mental health, how does one go about building it? How do we boost our confidence after its been knocked down again and again?
The short answer is: there is no short answer. Developing self-esteem is not an overnight process; it’s like developing a new relationship with yourself- and like any relationship, this can take time. However, there are many different ways that you can start to attend to yourself and begin to build self-esteem by increasing self-awareness, making behavioural changes, and creating new narratives for yourself that incorporate self-compassion, confidence, and connection.
Increase Your Awesomeness Awareness
In order to develop a relationship with ourselves, we first have to get to know the parts of ourselves that we may have previously been avoiding. Begin to celebrate your successes– even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Reflect on the things that you are proud of, make a list of your strengths or positive qualities, and take inventory of the parts of yourself that low self-esteem has tried to make you ignore. By shining a light on these parts of yourself, you’ll begin to discover potential areas of growth for self-esteem.
Communication is Key
Often when struggling with self-esteem, it can feel difficult to assert our own needs and honour our own emotions. However, it is important to start to develop communication skills in order to be able to verbalize emotions, set boundaries or make requests of others. Take time to reflect on your own experiences and emotions, or work with a therapist to encourage new ways to communicate and connect with others. Think about setting boundaries that will positively impact you, and how you may be able to communicate these boundaries to others.
Learning to Let Go
Just as it’s important to redevelop a relationship with yourself, it can be important to take stock of your interpersonal relationships as well. Reflect on what relationships feed your energy in a positive way, and what relationships drain your energy. Ask yourself, “Is this relationship serving me?” If the answer is no, it may be time to renegotiate the relationship.
Self-care, Self-care, Self-care
Self-care is a vital aspect of building self-esteem. Often times, individuals can struggle with the concept of self-care – whether it’s regarding self-care as “selfish”, or prioritizing others’ time and needs before their own. Here’s the truth: self-care is not selfish – it’s necessary. Before we can support others, we first have to support ourselves. Take time to reflect on what self-care is for you, as it can look different for everyone. Perhaps it’s giving yourself permission to say “no” to a social event when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to recharge by yourself, or perhaps it’s taking a long walk in the rain. Whatever self-care means for you, practice, practice, practice. Your self-esteem will take notice that you’re paying attention to needs.
In conclusion, building self-esteem is a personal journey that takes the three P’s: practice, patience, and personal reflection. Practice new skills, be patient while you’re practicing, and allow yourself time and space for personal reflection and self-care.
Campbell, J.D. & Lavalee, L.F. (1993). Who am I? The role of self-concept confusion in understanding the behaviour of people with low self-esteem. Self-esteem: The puzzle of low self-regard. (pp.3-20). New York: Plenum Press.
Dar, A.A & Wani, M.A (2017). Optimism, happiness, and self-esteem among university students. 8(3). http://www.iahrw.com/index.php/home/journal_detail/19#list