Many of us recognize the value of improving our feelings of self-worth. When our self-esteem is higher, we not only feel better about ourselves, we are more resilient as well, we are less vulnerable to anxiety; we release less cortisol into our bloodstream when under stress, and it is less likely to linger in our system.
Part of the problem is that our self-esteem is rather unstable, to begin with, as it can fluctuate daily, if not hourly. Further complicating matters, our self-esteem comprises both our global feelings about ourselves as well as how we feel about ourselves in the specific domains of our lives (e.g., as a father, a nurse, an athlete, an admin, a leader, etc.). The more meaningful a specific domain of self-esteem, the greater the impact it has on our global self-esteem.
Lastly, having high self-esteem is indeed a good thing, but only in moderation. Very high self-esteem — like that of narcissists — is often quite brittle. Such people might feel great about themselves much of the time but they also tend to be extremely vulnerable to criticism and negative feedback and respond to it in ways that stunts their psychological self-growth.
That said, it is certainly possible to improve our self-esteem if we go about it the right way.
Here are five ways to nourish your self-esteem when it is low:
1. USE POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS CORRECTLY
- Positive affirmations such as “I am going to be a great success!” are extremely popular, but they have one critical problem — they tend to make people with low self-worth feel worse about themselves because such declarations are simply too contrary to our existing beliefs.
- When your self-esteem is lagging, tweak them to make them more believable. For example, change “I’m going to be a great success!” to “I’m going to persevere until I succeed!”
2. IDENTIFY YOUR COMPETENCIES AND DEVELOP THEM
- Self-esteem is built by demonstrating real ability and achievement in areas of our lives that matter to us. If you pride yourself on being a good cook, throw more dinner parties. If you’re a good runner, sign up for races and train for them.
- Figure out your core competencies and find opportunities and careers that accentuate them.
3. LEARN TO ACCEPT COMPLIMENTS
- One of the trickiest aspects of improving self-esteem is that when we feel bad about ourselves we tend to be more resistant to compliments — even though that is when we most need them. So, set yourself the goal to tolerate compliments when you receive them, even if they make you uncomfortable (and they will).
- The best way to avoid the reflexive reactions of batting away compliments is to prepare simple set responses and train yourself to use them automatically whenever you get good feedback (Thank you for your kind words is my go-to phrase – Priti). In time, the impulse to deny or rebuff compliments will fade — which will also be a nice indication your self-esteem is getting stronger.
4. ELIMINATE SELF-CRITICISM AND INTRODUCE SELF-COMPASSION
- Unfortunately, when our self-esteem is low, we are likely to damage it even further by being self-critical. Substitute self-criticism with self-compassion.
- Specifically, whenever your self-critical inner monologue kicks in, ask yourself what you would say to a dear friend (or a loved one, I use my daughter- Priti) if they were in your situation and direct those comments to yourself.
5. AFFIRM YOUR REAL WORTH
- The following exercise has been demonstrated to help revive your self-esteem after it sustained a blow: Make a list of qualities you have that are meaningful in the specific context. For example, if you failed to get a work promotion, list qualities that make you a valuable employee (you have a strong work ethic or are responsible).
- Then choose one of the items on your list and write a brief essay (one to two paragraphs) about why the quality is valuable and likely to be appreciated by other people in the future. Do the exercise every day for a week or whenever you need a self-esteem boost.
The bottom line is improving self-esteem requires a bit of work, as it involves developing and maintaining healthier emotional habits but doing so, and especially doing so correctly, will provide a great emotional and psychological return on your investment.