Self-help books, positive videos, and motivational memes are all over the place. Nevertheless, the pernicious thoughts of low self esteem and self criticism still plague most people.
What can you do build your own self esteem? Here are four meaningful ways that can impact your self esteem and silence your inner critic.
1) Think what you gain from being hard on yourself
Before you build your self esteem and fight self criticism, think about this: Part of your self critical thoughts are helpful to you. Self-defeating perspectives and feelings of worthlessness are painful, damaging, detrimental…and beneficial. That might be why your mind keeps them around. Your brain won’t let those ideas disappear. It thinks that there is too much to lose! Until you contemplate what you gain from self-effacing thoughts, they will linger and grow, despite efforts that you make to dissolve them.
The self critical beliefs that you are unable to achieve your goals or that you are “not good enough” have a silver lining. They can prod you to do more, maximize your time and energy, or be more productive. As you make efforts to escape those negative thoughts, they simultaneously work in your favor! When you barrage yourself with thoughts of worthlessness, you are also motivated to prove your value to yourself and the world. This push might help you rise up the corporate ladder, garner societal prestige, or increase your income. Your mind notices that your adverse thoughts also have a very positive side. Since they have such benefits, it is highly unlikely that your brain will let go of those negative cognitions.
How can you solve that? Think about what you gain by thinking negatively about yourself. Does it help you work more, feel more secure, or maximize your time? When you realize that your mind is drawn to self critical thoughts because of the redemptive value they have, it is the first step to letting them evaporate.
2) Allow yourself to be an adult
We grow up with our behavior being evaluated by our parents. They observe our actions and attitudes and try to teach us what to do. Eventually, parental discipline and guidance is something we incorporate into our own minds. We learn to differentiate right from wrong, obey laws, and maintain order in our lives. Often, when we internalize our parents’ voices, we can still hear our parents as disciplining us and being critical of us.
Since the critical thoughts we have originated from our parents, they can be very hard to get rid of. Ironically, those thoughts help us feel connected to them.
How can we overcome that? We need to allow ourselves to emotionally and psychologically mature. As adults, we usually have an internal compass that does a pretty good job navigating us out of trouble. We can free ourselves to feel linked to the positive parts of our parents without needing to preserve their criticism. We can think of our parents in many ways – hopefully positively. We don’t need to foster their critical voice in order to allow us to associate with them.
3) Practice self care
The ספר החינוך famously remarks that אדם נפעל כפי פעולותיו and אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות – a person’s behavior is molded by his actions. He explains that we can behave our way into feeling the way we want to feel. Emotions follow actions. (Several schools of psychology are based on similar assumptions.)
This can be very helpful to us in improving our self esteem and softening our inner critic. We can take care of ourselves more than we have been. That internalizes the message that we have intrinsic worth and value. The more we do that, the more we can begin to believe it.
What does self care look like? It can include actions like eating healthier, exercising more, and making time for socializing. Even though we might feel that there is no way we can organize our schedule to include self care, the payoff is immeasurable. We will feel better about ourselves and our relationships. Interestingly, that will make us more productive, too.
4) Find someone who believes in you
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski can be credited for making the Jewish community more aware of how prevalent low self esteem is. He penned over eighty books, most of them on mental health. He often comments with a twinkle in his eye that he really only wrote one book, just in eighty different ways. That book is about low self esteem.
In Dr. Twerski’s multitude of publications, he discusses low self esteem at length and suggests that it is the cause of many mental disorders. Yet, he talks little of how to raise self esteem. Several months ago, I asked Dr. Twerski what the cure for low self esteem is. How can a therapist help his clients solve this pervasive issue? He answered with a smile that the best way to do it is for the therapist to believe that his client has value. That sincere belief can raise someone’s self esteem. He emphasized, “you have to really believe it.” He was succinctly, sagaciously summarizing the beauty and elegance of an authentic and deep psychotherapeutic relationship.
A relationship of truth and acceptance with a therapist who is sincere and genuine and senses your intrinsic value can be a gorgeous gift. It is a manifestation of the words of Pirkei Avos, קנה לך חבר, purchase a friend for yourself. Psychotherapy with an earnest, sterling therapist, can do wonders for your sense of self.
Our self esteem can be viewed like a mountain that we are constantly climbing. We can reach new heights, but there is still more to grow. Consequently, these four steps can be worked on and revisited as you ascend the rungs on that ladder. Use them to help yourself grow and increase your self esteem regularly.