The building blocks of self-esteem

Stop comparing yourself to others and learn to appreciate the genuine you
This age of social media – and pandemic isolation – can make it easy to feel as if we don’t measure up to the glamour we see in posts shared by our friends and celebrities we may follow. It might seem as if everyone else has a good job, takes amazing vacations, lives in a lovely home, and is raising great kids.

In the face of such an onslaught, it’s easy to feel that we come up short. These non-stop comparisons can chip away at us and lead to low self-esteem.

In an article in Psychology Today, Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, describes healthy self-esteem as a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. Schiraldi adds that we are all born with the capacity to live fruitfully. That core worth isn’t about our wealth, education, health status—or the way we’ve been treated.

Schiraldi is the author of The Self-Esteem Workbook. It is designed to help people see themselves lovingly. We are each worthy at our core. Comparing ourselves to others is not a true measure of our value.

When we judge ourselves as less than, we may see false evidence that confirms our belief. “Much like judge and jury, [those with low self-esteem] constantly put themselves on trial and sometimes sentence themselves to a lifetime of self-criticism,” author and clinical social worker Allison Abrams notes in the Psychology Today article.

However, this cycle can be broken.

Building block 1 – Speak kindly to and about yourself. It’s all about developing new – and more positive – habits. While it might seem obvious, the first step is realizing that something needs to change. Being aware of how you speak to yourself (negatively, in this case) can help you stop believing the message.

Stop comparing yourself to others, notes psychotherapist Kimberly Hershenson. This can lead to anxiety, stress, and feelings of low self-worth. Among other things, keep in mind that what you see on Instagram isn’t the whole story.

Building block 2 – Explore your strengths. Take stock of your virtues. Recognize your strengths, talents and what makes you feel confident. In the Psychology Today article, psychotherapist and certified sex therapist Kristie Overstreet suggests asking yourself, “Was there a time in your life when you had better self-esteem? What were you doing at that stage of your life?”

Having trouble seeing your strengths? Try asking a friend to tell you what you’re good at, what’s unique about you, etc. Sometimes it’s easier for others to see the good things we’re not noticing about ourselves. Everybody has things they are good at, ways to contribute, things that others value about them — try to do more of those things.

Building block 3 – Appreciate that all people are valuable, and we’re all works in progress. No matter what kind of challenges you face, it’s important to remember that you are not your circumstance. As Schiraldi says, “Recognizing inner worth, and loving one’s imperfect self, provide the secure foundation for growth.” Once you have that, you can enjoy the journey, without the constant fear of failing.

Building block 4 – Failing doesn’t make anyone less valuable. Failing is not only okay, it’s part of the process. It can help you realize that you – and your core worth – don’t change when you fail (or succeed, for that matter). With practice, you can develop a strong and secure you who can’t be shaken. You can begin to recognize your own self-worth. Says Schiraldi: “It already exists in each person.” We all have the opportunity to bring the best of ourselves and create communities that value the best in one another.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Tips for improving self-esteem

There are ways to improve your self-esteem. Taking care of yourself can reduce stress, and volunteering to help others can help you shift your perspective and boost your confidence.

  • Do a small favor for someone or find a meaningful way to volunteer.
  • Do something creative.
  • Read something inspirational.
  • Master a new skill.
  • Spend time with people who help you feel more confident and valued.
  • Practice writing down as many good things about yourself as you can think of — it can be anything.


Thought patterns that build self-esteem

Low self-esteem makes it difficult to see our own value. Learn to identify thoughts that erode self-esteem, sabotaging our sense of self, and replace them with more constructive thought patterns.

Be aware of and work to eliminate these self-esteem-busting habits:

  • All or nothing thinking: Every action is all good or all bad. “I did badly on that test, so I’m a failure.”
  • Mental filtering: Only seeing and identifying the negatives. “My report at the office wasn’t great so now everyone knows I’m a fraud”.
  • Turning positives into negatives: A self-sabotaging way to see failure in success. “I only did well on my finals because they were too easy.”
  • Jumping to negative conclusions: Seeing the worst in a neutral situation. “I haven’t heard back from my sister about the email I sent her. I must have done something to upset her.”

Here are some ways to replace negative thinking with something more constructive and positive:

  • Use hopeful, positive statements: Be kind and encouraging to yourself. “This is a rough time, but I have the skills to get through it.”
  • “Should” and “must” are negative words: Don’t place unreasonable demands on yourself. Not using these value judgements and absolutes will lead to more realistic expectations.
  • Consider what you’ve learned: Even bad experiences and failures can provide positive lessons. “What did I learn from this so I can help things go better next time?”
  • Be your own cheerleader: Look for evidence of the positive rather than the negative. “My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged – which means that I accomplished my goal.”

Source: Mayo Clinic

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