Self-Esteem Change doesn't necessarily happen quickly or easily, but it can happen. You are not powerless! Once you have accepted, or are at least willing to entertain the possibility that you can change, there are three steps you can take to begin to improve the way you feel about yourself.
Step 1: Rebut the Inner Critic The first important step in improving self-esteem is to begin to challenge the negative messages of the critical inner voice. Here are some typical examples of the inner critic and some strategies to rebut that critical voice.
- Unfairly harsh inner critic: "People said they liked my presentation, but it was nowhere near as good as it should have been. I can't believe no-one noticed all the places I messed up. I'm such an imposter." Acknowledge strengths: "Wow, they really liked it! Maybe it wasn't perfect, but I worked hard on that presentation and did a good job. I'm proud of myself."
- An inner voice that generalizes unrealistically: "I got an F on the test. I don't understand anything in this class. I'm such an idiot. Who am I fooling? I shouldn't be taking this class. I'm stupid, and I don't belong in college." Be specific: "I did poorly on this test, but I've done O.K. on all the homework. There are some things here that I don't understand as well as I thought I did, but now I have a better idea of how to prepare and what I need to work on. I've done fine in other tough classes; I'm confident I can do this."
- An inner critic that makes illogic leaps: "He's frowning. He didn't say anything, but I know it means that he doesn't like me!"
Challenge illogic: "O.K., he's frowning, but I don't know why. It could have nothing to do with me. Maybe I should ask."
- An inner voice that catastrophizes: "She turned me down for a date! I'm so embarrassed and humiliated. No one likes or cares about me. I'll never find a girlfriend. I'll always be alone." Be objective: "Ouch! That hurt. Ok, she doesn't want to go out with me. That doesn't mean no one does. I know I'm a nice person. I'm confident that in time I'll find someone who's as interested in me as I am in her."
Step 2: Practice Self-Compassion
Rebutting your critical inner voice is an important first step, but it is not enough. Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself with the same empathy you would show others. If a friend were having a hard time, you'd be likely to be extra caring and supportive. You deserve the same treatment! Rather than focusing on evaluating yourself, instead you can acknowledge when things are difficult and try to nurture and care for yourself in these times especially. For example:
- Forgive yourself when you don't do all you'd hoped. Try to be gentle with yourself rather than critical of yourself when things don't go as you had hoped. This can be surprisingly hard if you are not used to doing it, but recognizing that such experiences are inevitable can help.
- Recognize your humanness. As humans we all make mistakes, and we are all impacted by external factors that we can't control. Accepting our "humanness" helps us to feel more connected to others rather than feeling we are enduring these types of experiences all alone. Recognizing that mistakes are an inevitable part of being human helps us to be more compassionate with ourselves and others.
- Be mindful of your emotions. If you do feel upset about a situation, try to allow yourself to experience that emotion in a balanced way, without suppressing it or getting completely swept up in the feeling. When practicing mindfulness, try not to judge yourself for having negative emotions. If you can remember that emotions come and go and eventually pass, it will help you to not become overwhelmed by your feelings.
Step 3: Get Help from Others
Getting help from others is often the most important step a person can take to improve his or her self-esteem, but it can also be the most difficult. People with low self-esteem often don't ask for help because they feel they don't deserve it, but other people can help to challenge the critical messages that come from negative past experiences. Here are some ways to reach out to others:
- Ask for support from friends. Ask friends to tell you what they like about you or think you do well. Ask someone who cares about you to just listen to you vent for a little while without trying to fix things. Ask for a hug. Ask someone who loves you to remind you that they do.
- Get help from teachers & other helpers. Go to professors, advisors, or tutors to ask for help in classes if you need it. Remember: they are there to help you learn! If you lack self-confidence in certain areas, take classes or try out new activities to increase your sense of competence. For example, take a math class, join a dance club, take swimming lessons, etc.
- Talk to a therapist or counselor. Sometimes low self-esteem can feel so painful or difficult to overcome that the professional help of a therapist or counselor is needed. Talking to a counselor is a good way to explore these feelings and begin to improve your self-esteem. http://cmhc.utexas.edu/selfesteem.html