Over your life span, you have likely heard the term “self-esteem”. As such, you have probably come to understand self-esteem as it relates to those that you admire, those that you detest, and yourself. But what exactly is self-esteem? While it is certainly subjective, it can be applied broadly to each and every person. It is how we talk to ourselves, what we do to ourselves, how we allow ourselves to be in the world. It is the ability to know and have a relationship with yourself that allows you to function in many different settings. Most importantly, it is something that is ever-changing. Due to this, self-esteem is something that everyone can stand to work on and reevaluate at different times in their lives. If you take a minute to think about your self-esteem journey, what has it looked like as time has progressed? Would you consider it to be in a different place than it was 5, 10, or 15 years ago?
Although we all have different relationships with our selves, it is hard to ignore the influence of outside forces on these relationships. We live in a society that promotes a certain view of self-esteem and, on some level, we are all byproducts of this. Our world is filled with dichotomies: black or white, good or bad. To be flexible is to see the middle ground: the grays, the just okays. Unfortunately, self-esteem gets dichotomized in the same way as either high or low. Our society values high self-esteem and discourages low self-esteem. In this sense, the way that you view yourself is used as a form of punishment: if you have low self-esteem, then you need to fix it or risk becoming unproductive. However, when we take a step back, we can see that this type of view actually maintains a lower view of the self rather than motivates one to “fix it”. Think of this as a feedback loop: if we label our self-esteem as low, we feel a sense of guilt about that, which only serves to maintain that low self-esteem. How do we ever get to the coveted high self-esteem club if we, in addition to outside forces, continue to keep our view of ourselves low?
The answer to this question may not be one of “how do we fix it?” as much as it is one of “how do we change our mentality about it?”. What if instead you thought of your view of yourself as helpful versus unhelpful? To think of self-esteem in this way takes pressure off of you to somehow magically fix your low view of self and provides more room to make decisions that are going to fulfill your life. By asking yourself the simple question of “Is this getting me what I want?”, you can then make an informed decision that wields power over your experience.
While there is not an exhaustive list of how to implement this way of thinking into one’s life, there are several changes that one can make to get closer to it. Over the next few posts, I will be focusing on six different ways that you can alter your relationship with yourself to focus more on its helpfulness and less on its need to be fixed. These six changes are:
1. Cultivating awareness
2. Increasing compassions and understanding
3. Decreasing comparison to others
4. Focusing on nonjudgment
5. Being willing to deal with consequences
6. Evaluating and re-evaluating
Be warned: this process is not one that can be done just by making changes. It requires time, effort, and patience with yourself. Due to this, it is encouraged that you seek the help of a mental health professional to help guide you on this journey. They will be able to provide you with important feedback and extra resources so that you can get the most out of your self-esteem journey. I look forward to being able to provide a different approach to self-esteem than what most are used to over the course of these posts, and I hope that you find them to be helpful.