“Much suffering, much unhappiness arises when you take each thought that comes in your head for the truth”. –Eckhart Tolle
Ah self-confidence. What a great, easy part of life.
If you’re a human you’ve struggled with hits to your self-esteem. Whether you’ve experienced low self-worth consistently for years or if your self-love changes day to day, it is something we are all fighting and no one has it figured out completely.
No I’m serious. No one I know has it figured out. If you know someone who does, please make them share their secret (you have my permission to use excessive force).
I was recently reading Lauren Graham’s (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) autobiography and in it she says: “I think it should be against the law to feel down on yourself regarding any issues that Oprah is still working on”. If Oprah, queen of all the land and knower of all things good, is still struggling with it then dammit, I’m allowed to struggle with it too!
So if we all experience it, where the hell did it come from? We weren’t all born feeling worthless. Typically, when we’re kids we think we are pretty great and unstoppable. So knowing we all have such different life experiences, how did we all end up believing that we are ugly, stupid, fat, can’t do anything right, not good at my job, my friends think I’m weird… oh sorry, I forgot we’re not talking about me here.
As we move through life, we store experiences and create reasoning and interpretations of those experiences. The way we make meaning of the world around us largely determines how we view ourselves. If we make a mistake, how we interpret that mistake gets stored in our brain for future use. When we make that mistake and say to ourselves “I’m an idiot, I can’t do anything right”, our brain goes “Yep! You’re right. And to prove it to you, here are all the other times you’ve sucked. Thanks for giving me more ammo for next time you screw up”. We engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy of agreeing with our inner critic rather than telling it to go f*ck itself.
So while I don’t have it figured out yet, I do have some strategies that have both worked for me and many others to start to making these changes.
What would you say to your best friend?
Any time you have one of those thoughts that is a real jerk, take a pause before you believe it and say “if my best friend were saying this about themselves, how would I respond?”. Now you don’t have to believe it. I can understand that you’ll feel so phony that Holden Caulfield might write a book about you. However, as I mentioned before, your brain stores it! Yep, even if you don’t believe it. Your brain stores that positive interaction with yourself and keeps it for later, making it easier to retrieve (and believe) next time.
Shift your focus.
Low self-esteem can often come into play when interacting with someone else. This typically is the cause of social anxiety. If I am having a conversation with someone and completely worried about what I look like or if I’m saying something stupid, I often only hear parts of what the other person is saying. I get wrapped up in me and forget that I’m even having an interaction with someone.
A way to combat this is to look externally rather than internally. Place less focus on what is going on inside of you, i.e., do they understand me, can they notice i’m nervous, my stomach hurts, i want this to be over, do I have something in my teeth? And put more focus on the person you are interacting with. Notice everything about them as they speak. Focus on their words and their body language and actually listening to them. Put so much focus on the other person that you don’t have the brain space to focus on yourself. Try this with someone you feel comfortable with first and then try it the next time you notice that social anxiety creep in.
Know your rights.
Low self-esteem thrives on judgement and the fear of vulnerability. We are so afraid of being judged by someone else that we beat them to the punch by creating all sorts of judgement for ourselves. We forget that it’s okay to create boundaries and say no without feeling guilty about it. We forget that we deserve kindness and respect from others as well as ourselves. Little encouragements to remind ourselves of those things we often forget can be a great way to allow yourself to be vulnerable without being so afraid of what might happen if you do.
Below is my favorite thing in the entire world. Called the “personal bill of rights”, it lists 25 statements that we as human beings have the right to. We are entitled to all of these things just by being alive. However we also forget these things on a regular basis. Here is a reminder of all the wonderful things you have the right to expect from yourself and others:
Personal Bill of Rights:
1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands I cannot meet.
3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
4. I have the right to change my mind.
5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
6. I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
7. I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values.
8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
9. I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behaviors, actions, feelings, or problems.
10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.
13. I have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m afraid.”
14. I have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.
18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
20. I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.
21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
22. I have the right to change and grow.
23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
25. I have the right to be happy.
I have the right to be happy.
Say it again. I have the right to be happy. We deserve it. We experience immense pain and struggle that there has to be something to counteract it. There has to be something that counteracts the darkness. We can create that lightness for ourselves through letting go of judgement and allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable.
Life transitions take time. You won’t be able to make these type of changes right away. Allow yourself to try it out and see what works best for you. Give yourself time to make these small adjustments and see how you feel. Allow yourself to try it and fail at it and then try it again. The motivation is a higher self-worth, and who doesn’t need that?
One last thing to remember that can be done by using a bit of mindfulness is to use your senses to take in the world around you. Live in the moment and let it consume you. Observe something beautiful and let it fill you up. Observing beauty that others create (art, architecture, music, etc.) or that the universe has created (nature) is like remembering that you are able to breathe, that you exist. Take one of those really deep breaths that is refreshing and satisfying and reminds you of your humanity, your realness. It does exist in you somewhere and you haven’t lost it. Now that you have acknowledged it, keep it present and don’t lose it. Make it really loud and share it with everyone.
It has taken me many years of practicing these things to let go of that inner critic. I still struggle with self-esteem on a regular basis largely in part due to social media. The thing that helps me the most is to allow myself to have that negative thought about myself and then choose to tell it to go f*ck itself and ignore it. I may wake up and hate the way I look, but the less I care about it, the happier I am.
Book recommendations that do a great job of teaching us how we can let go of what doesn’t serve us well:
You are a badass-Jen Sincero
The subtle art of not giving a F*ck- Mark Manson
So whether you go full out on pedicures and bedazzled elbows like Tom and Donna, or you simply give yourself a break every now and then, treat yo self with kindness. You deserve it. Every damn day.