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5 Keys to Improving Self-esteem

Posted September 12, 2016 by Katrina Wilson M.A. RPC

5 Keys to Improving Self-esteem Positive self-esteem is a hard thing to come by these days. Many people live with a constant feeling of low self-worth and dissatisfaction towards themselves and their life. Here are some keys that could help you unlock the door to better self-esteem.

1. Affirmations / Positive self-talk
Our internal dialogue sets the stage for how we feel about ourselves. Having a little voice inside our heads constantly saying "You aren't good enough", "That was really dumb", and "These people don't even like you" sends us the message that we are bad and unworthy, which further decreases our self-esteem. The messages we get from ourselves strongly affects our self-esteem, and impacts our confidence in our ability to make good decisions, our trust in ourselves, and determines whether or not we pursue our goals.

Re-training yourself to engage in positive self-talk is a powerful tool in improving self-esteem. Focusing on your strengths and positive qualities helps to remind you that you are a good and valuable person. You can use affirmations to override those negative messages from yourself. Some examples of positive affirmations are:

  • "I can do anything I set my mind to."
  • "My life is important."
  • "My thoughts and opinions are valuable."
Keep in mind, you are not going to believe the affirmations right away! Do not let this stop you from continuing to practise positive self-talk – it will get easier and more believable with practise and persistence!

2. Practising Assertive Communication
Making other people happy by going with the flow, agreeing with their opinions, and letting them make decisions for you helps you feel good about yourself, right? Yes – however, this backfires more often than not when we allow this to happen all of the time, and fall into the people-pleasing trap. Being passive, saying "yes" to everything, and putting other's needs ahead of your own, even when it doesn't feel good for you, sends the message that your needs, opinions, thoughts, and wants don’t matter. This, in turn, affects our self-talk. So how do we break free from this trap?

Assertiveness has gotten a bad rep, with most people equating assertive communication with aggression. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Aggression involves anger, shouting, name-calling, criticizing, and confrontation. On the other hand, people who communicate assertively do so in a respectful way, considering other's needs as well as their own, while openly expressing themselves. It involves saying no to people, places, and things that they do not want, and owning responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Using "I" statements to express yourself is a key component of assertive communication.

Remember, you have the right to be assertive! You have the right to change your mind, to say "I don't know", to judge whether you are responsible for finding solutions to others' problems, and to make mistakes!

3. Addressing Perfectionism
We all want to do our best in life – get good grades in school, perform well at work, make the most money. Unfortunately we have the tendency to create expectations for ourselves that are unrealistically high, setting standards that we cannot possibly reach. When we inevitably fall short, we become disappointed, frustrated, and critical of ourselves, focusing on the small flaws or mistakes in ourselves and our accomplishment. We emphasize what went wrong, while at the same time discounting what went right. We become convinced that nothing is good enough, which creates low self-esteem.

Instead of pursuing perfection, why not embrace the healthy pursuit of excellence? Learning to re-assess our expectations to make them more realistic and attainable is the first step. Then we can pursue these goals in a healthy way that does not cause detrimental effects to our self-worth. Overcoming perfectionism requires a fundamental shift in your attitude towards yourself and how you approach your life and goals. It involves paying attention to what went well, recognizing the value of your effort, setting realistic goals, and focusing on the process (stop and smell the roses!).

4. Practise Self-compassion
Imagine you are having a difficult time – maybe feeling some anxiety, maybe you made a mistake. Now think about how you talk to yourself. Like most people, you are probably bashing yourself, criticising yourself and being pretty mean. This isn’t surprising, as we are taught that being hard on ourselves and ashamed helps us become better. Rarely do we think about showing ourselves kindness, and if we do we feel guilty for being selfish or arrogant. But does beating ourselves up actually make us feel better? The answer is a resounding NO!

Self-compassion has been shown to create a greater sense of well-being, including less anxiety and depression, better coping skills, and increased compassion for others. It involves being gentle and kind to yourself when you are suffering, and recognizing that you are not alone in your struggles. Suffering is something every single person who has ever been alive (and who ever will be alive) experiences, and it is part of our shared experience as humans. It also involves mindfulness of our experiences, dismissing judgement and suppression, and observing life as it is. Here are some exercises to practise self-compassion:

  • Write yourself a compassionate letter, imagining you are writing to a friend who is suffering.
  • Start a self-compassion journal, practising kindness to yourself when you are struggling.
  • Take care of yourself by practising self-care (more on that next!)
  • Repeat compassionate phrases to yourself.
  • Practise a guided mediation (you can find many on Kristen Neff's website: self-compassion.org).

5. Self-care
As mentioned above, we often put others’ needs and wants ahead of our own. We ignore what would truly feel good for us, either because we are too busy, we have more important things to do, or any other number of seemingly "good" reasons for not taking time for ourselves. But self-care is so important – it's about taking a moment to spend with yourself, to show yourself some kindness, love, and gratitude. For those struggling with low self-esteem, this can be particularly difficult.

Giving ourselves permission to meet our own needs not only enhances the quality of our lives, it brings greater moments of satisfaction, helps with self-compassion, and gives us a little "me-time" in our day. Here are some ideas for bringing self-care into your life:

  • Get a massage, pedicure, or some other form of pampering
  • Watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see
  • Listen to relaxing music while resting with your eyes closed
  • Practise a loving-kindness meditation
  • Spend time with a friend
  • Go dancing
  • Journal
  • Cook yourself your favorite meal
  • Go for a peaceful walk
The list could go on and on. The key is finding what would feel good for you!

Improving your self-esteem takes hard work and persistence, and it is definitely possible and worth it!