I imagine we are all grappling with self-esteem to a greater or lesser degree depending on how we live and how honest we are about our successes and failures. Life is extremely challenging and complex and getting good at it takes time and effort. With that said, it’s understandable if our confidence fluctuates somewhat in the face of it all! What we are aiming for in life is a general feeling that we are doing a good enough job in all the areas that we have identified as meaningful to us.
This means we need to take our feelings about ourselves seriously! Take our time here seriously too. We can each choose to do a good job whilst we are here or not. This is something I say to my clients often. What you think of yourself matters and it should probably matter to you more than what others think. If you fall short of your ideals often enough, you will lose respect for yourself and that hurts. Succeeding is important. Doing a good job is important.
As someone who used to have very poor self-esteem, I can say with some clarity, having good self-esteem is better. I am also in the privileged position of working with others closely as they work on building their feelings of self-worth. It is always a profound source of joy to witness people making progress in this way. As I have said before, we each deserve to feel good about ourselves, we just have to be prepared to work for it.
So here are some tried and tested things you could consider if you want to improve the way you feel about yourself:
Tell the truth.
‘You know, in the deepest part of your heart that if you don’t tell the truth, the world falls apart.’ Dr Jordan B. Peterson
Truth and sanity go hand in hand. Even when the truth is bad, it is real, and we can always work with reality. When we lie, we mess around with the world, our feet fall on uneven ground and that will make you feel bad time after time.
Learn to watch for dishonesty within yourself and commit to bringing it out into the open. It is never too late to come clean, and you will always feel better for doing so. Tell the truth about who you are and what you need to do to make progress as a person in health and work and love. You will then have an honest idea about what to work on next and you will feel better about where you are headed.
Take good care of yourself in as many ways as you can.
I keep this simple for myself. I have a manageable and almost bullet proof list of things that I have to do if I want to feel good about myself. I have come to understand that the things on the list will need to be regular and consistent and that I am responsible for getting them done. No excuses!
For me this list includes:
· Exercise, both cardio and strength. I cycle so this incudes time alone and in nature which I have found to be essential for my physical and mental health. If I do not do this most days my health and my relationships suffer. Every time.
· I take care of my primary relationships. When my relationships are not good, I tend not to function well in other areas as I find conflict highly distressing, tiring and distracting.
· I have to keep an eye on my drinking because I have always loved it a little more than one should. I hold myself accountable and if I do it too much I suffer and so do other areas of my life.
· I watch what I eat and avoid processed foods as they make me sick. I eat mainly fresh, whole foods and try to keep my sugar intake low.
· I get plenty of sleep. I do not have my phone in my room. I try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at roughly the same time each morning.
In my work with clients, I encourage them to create their own lists. Talking about who we are and what we have suffered is clearly healing but if your self-care is bad, it will affect how you feel about yourself.
Learn to suffer well. Be prepared to work and watch for laziness.
‘Laziness is loves opposite.’ M. Scott Peck.
Changing and growing is hard, as is learning new skills or acquiring knowledge. Getting fit is difficult and if you stop doing the things that make you fit you lose fitness. Likewise, healthy relationships are the result of continuous work. I’ve heard it said that love is a willingness to extend yourself for someone or something. Turning towards someone rather than away takes effort. Leaning in to difficult conversations takes courage and commitment, it shows you care.
I have cycled over thirteen thousand miles and I can tell you, a lot of them hurt. I learned to cope with one mile at a time and I feel better about myself as an accomplished cyclist than I did as someone who previously found it hard to exercise.
I am not the fittest or the strongest, but I love it and I know what I am doing. Me and Olivia, my bike are one. We have had many adventures together and I look forward to many more.
Learn to tolerate your feelings. Feelings come and go, a low mood or some anxiety is not a medical condition. You don’t need a pill, you just need to spend some time with it, hold it and be interested in what it is telling you. Perhaps you need a new job, or you need to go on a date with your husband or take your children of their screens for a trip to the beach for an ice cream.
Don’t do things you hate or spend time with people who don’t want the best for you.
I love my job, but it wasn’t always this way. I have worked for some terrible organisations, and I’ve had bosses I had little respect for. It always affected my mental health and I had to take risks in my career to get to a place with my work that is truly creative and fulfilling. Walking away was good for my self-esteem. Many of the people who come to see me are experiencing similar things. When people are able to walk away from toxic environments and behaviours their self-esteem sky rockets.
Spending time with people who do not care about you, people who do not want the best for you or people who are hurtful is terrible for your self-esteem. If the people, you surround yourself with fit these descriptions it might be time to make some changes. Maybe you have never considered it, but a little attention and observation can go a long way here. Pay attention to how you feel when in other people’s company. Ask questions like do I feel relaxed, stimulated, safe and seen? Or do I end up feeling crazy or tense or not good enough. This is not too big a deal for a random acquaintance but if it is your mum, you will have some work to do in terms of figuring out what best to do about it.
Although these processes are challenging, they can leave you with energy you never knew you had. A good psychological clear out can work wonders for the way you feel about yourself.
Look after the people you love.
Serving others is good for you, I’d possibly go as far as saying it is what we are here to do. I have found that there is nothing better for my feeling of personal worth than being useful to and supportive of other people. In order to be available for others in this way we often have to work at selfishness. We have to work at thinking less about ourselves and more about others. If I am in a low mood and I see a client, the experience of caring about their world more than my own jolts me out of myself in a very positive way.
Looking after my family makes me feel good, conversely not doing so makes me feel bad. If I disregard my husband or sons needs my conscience screams at me. I want my family to be happy, healthy, and strong so I try to be honest about the dark parts of myself that rise up and are destructive to that.
Making the people you love feel loved is a sacred act. You do this through service to them.