I believe that an important part of counseling is discussing goals or what you would like to accomplish in counseling. After all, you are not coming to counseling because life is perfect; you are seeking counseling to overcome whatever it is holding you back. One of the most common goals my clients asked to work on was to improve their self-esteem. When asked to clarify what specifically about self-esteem they want to work on, the answer was usually to learn to trust their abilities to accomplish their goals. This for me was comparing apples to oranges. The “apples”, meaning self-esteem, and the “oranges”, meaning self-confidence.
I define self-esteem as your view or assessment of yourself and self-confidence as your faith or trust in your abilities to accomplish whatever it is you have set out to accomplish. Though they can play on each other, they are not the same thing. Another way of looking at this may be “I am” vs. “I can”.
I will focus on self-esteem, or the “I am”, in today’s blog.
Why is self-esteem important? Self-esteem teaches us to love and accept ourselves, with or without flaws. I like to say that it’s learning to fall in love and stay in love with ourselves. We are so quick to love others- the good, the bad, the ugly…yet it is so hard to see those imperfections in ourselves.
Low self-esteem is not an official diagnosis within mental health issues but can be the cause of many mental health struggles. When we think of low self-esteem, what age group or population do you think of first? Adolescents or teens are the first population that comes to my mind, mainly because of the insecurities that drive them to take impulsive actions. Someone with poor self-esteem tends to repeat the vicious cycle of depression and anxiety, and many times cannot identify a reason for living. Finding their worth in an unhealthy company is another way they continue to seek validation in their own existence or losing themselves in addiction.
One of the root cause of self-esteem issues arises from holding negative beliefs about yourself. Think of it as that song that gets stuck in your head and it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t get it out. We didn’t learn that an apple is called an apple or that oranges are called oranges just by fluke. We repeated it multiple times over the years and now we can identify them. Negative belief systems about ourselves become part of that automated system within us – if we something often enough, even if the voice is our own, we learn to accept it as true.
I want to share three of my favorite activities that have helped many of my clients, and more personally it has helped me, with increasing self-esteem.
- “Nice to meet you.”
Pick 5 of your idols. The list can include people you know and/or people you admire. List qualities you feel makes them “perfect”- now recognize those qualities in you. We cannot connect with things we have never experienced before. If you see charisma in someone- that spark has to be within you for you to build on that. This activity has helped many to identify qualities that they overlook in themselves because they “are not special enough.” Amazingly enough, I’m sure someone is seeing those amazing qualities in you.
- Jar full of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Scroll up a little bit- remember how I described negative self-talk as the song that’s stuck in your head and will not get out? It’s time to change the station and listen to a different song. Grab a jar, box, whatever- I personally prefer clear jars – then cut up some colorful papers or add some decorative pieces to it. Every time you say something negative about yourself, write down something positive. The only rule is that if you say something negative about your appearance, find something positive about your appearance. If it is insulting your intelligence, then compliment your intelligence. Soon you will notice how the positive thoughts have become more automatic.
- Fake it till you make it
The truth is that EVERYONE at one point or another struggle with self-esteem issues. Putting on make-up doesn’t make our insecurities go away but it does trick our mind into believing that it does. One year I decided that it was going to be my year of “red lipstick” and I associated red lipstick with bold and powerful women. That’s who I wanted to become. I wore red lipstick more often. Initially, it was extremely uncomfortable and I wanted to scrub it off every second of the day. But, slowly, it became part of who I am. Soon after, I found myself to be happier and was not depending on others to approve/disapprove of me.
Your “red lipstick” could be anything- it’s overall owning the part of you that feels the most vulnerable and celebrating it. Take pride in yourself. Groom and dress “for the part” you want. It will become part of you and it will not feel awkward after some time.
You live with yourself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week- wouldn’t it be amazing to feel at home?
I want to invite you to do something out of the usual this year – learn to fall in love with yourself. Wholly. Completely. Unabashedly.