4 Ways To Build Your Self Esteem

Build your self esteem with these 4 essential steps.

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.

You Are Your Harshest Critic (You Don’t Have To Be)

You can control how you interpret setbacks.

A farmer in a small village was lucky enough to have a horse. His fellow villagers considered him wealthy and prominent because he possessed that luxury. He didn’t need to exert himself as much as they did. The horse carried burdens, transported the farmer, and plowed with him. The villagers used to comment, “you are so lucky that you have a horse.” The farmer always responded in the same way, “maybe.”

One day the horse ran away. The villagers passed by the farmer and tried to console him on his tragedy. “What misfortune!” they said. Curiously, the farmer responded in a similar way, “maybe.”

Several days later, the runaway horse returned. He brought several wild horses with him. The villagers were astonished at their neighbor’s fortune. “Wow!,” they exclaimed. “You are now so wealthy. You must be so happy at your good luck!” The farmer’s response was surprisingly the same. “Maybe,” he replied.

A few days later, the farmer’s son was taming one of the wild horses. He was thrown off and he broke his leg. The villagers were now dumbstruck. They felt so bad for the farmer. They congregated around the boy’s bed and told his father how terrible it was. “Maybe,” he answered.

Soon, soldiers came to the town to gather boys for their war effort. The boys of the town were taken away, except for the farmer’s son. The villagers all told the farmer how lucky he was that his son broke his leg. In consonance, the farmer responded, “maybe.”

Is one approach more meaningful to you than the other? The villagers gave interpretations of misfortune and blessing to the farmer’s vicissitudes. The farmer reserved his judgement. Perhaps both sides have their benefits. On the one hand, the villagers were able to appreciate the thrill of victory, but they also saw the agony of defeat. On the other hand, the farmer’s even keeled approach did not focus on the excitement of the highs, or the disappointments of the lows.

It might be most helpful not to see this tale as championing either specific side, but as highlighting a truism. Life’s events are not monochromatic. Few of your experiences and events are completely positive or negative. The meaning you give to your experiences can be more potent than those situations themselves.

Hamlet was onto something when he declared, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II, 2). Some things are objectively worse than others. But the “thinking” is the most significant part that “makes it so.” The meaning that you give your circumstances can allow you to either surf storm waves or just barely tread water.

You might even take your search for meaning a step further. Did you notice that you interpret many of your unfortunate life experiences with self-criticism? Life throws you challenges, difficulties, and setbacks. The most painful thing about those hurdles is that you take them personally and interpret them as teaching you something negative about yourself. Here are some examples of responses that you might have had to some recent disappointments:

“I am such a pushover.”

“No one else would have made that mistake. They know what to do.”

“I am not so likable.”

“I am incompetent.”

“This is so typical of my life.”

“I am not capable.”

“How could I let that happen to me.”

“Why did I make that choice? I am so silly!”

“Here I go again.”

“This always happens to me.”

“It’s a cruel world.”

“The world is so unfair.”

“I always get stuck in these situations.”

“Sigh. I don’t know how to manage this altogether.”

“I am such a loser!.”

If you use those responses, you are choosing to take a self-critical message from an already disappointing event. The self-defeating lesson that you take about yourself doesn’t follow automatically. It is a response you are selecting to make.

You don’t have to do that. One of life’s greatest growth spurts comes when you allow yourself to see negative events as happening around you, even if you were partially involved in the outcome. Mistakes, bad decisions, and getting stuck in traffic are all components of existence. They are part of your being human. When negative things occur, even if you are partially responsible for them, you can choose how to react. You can allow yourself to see them as part of the great canvas of life, or choose to hear a message that teaches you something negative about yourself. The meaning you give them as demonstrating that you are defeated, incompetent, or silly comes from your interpretation. It is your choice. You can also choose to see it as part of life’s ups and downs, and an element of being human.

Sometimes you can follow the farmer’s example and take a step back when adversity hits. Are you so sure it is a downturn? Even if you think it is, do you need to hear resounding self-criticism from that situation?

You are not be able to control every outcome. When something that seems negative happens, you can opt to listen to the self-criticism it breeds. You can also choose not to. Perhaps even our farmer would agree. Maybe.