I have low self esteem from past comments made to me. I try not to let them bug me but I can’t help it. Do you have any advice?
Let me start by saying that you are not alone! As a counselor and youth minister, I have worked with hundreds of young people who feel awful about themselves. I am often shocked because on the outside they seem so happy and so confident. I recently talked with the Homecoming Queen of a local high school. She revealed to me that she has very low self esteem and that her apparent happiness is “just a mask.” I was shocked! I mean this was the Homecoming Queen at a large high school…how could she not like herself?!?! I bring this up because I don’t want you feel badly about struggling with self esteem. I think that many generally happy people are walking around wishing they could tell someone how they really feel. You should be proud of yourself for being open enough to share that with someone! That takes courage, which is an incredible gift!
Even though, as Christians, we are taught that God has created us good, I think it is normal for everyone to struggle with self esteem at some point in their lives for several reasons. We become trapped in negativity and the pressure from the world around us causes us to be overly self-critical. We focus on what we are doing wrong instead of what we are doing right and we quickly give in to the temptation to ignore or forget the promises of God. Whether it starts with arguments between friends, bad grades in school, a failed relationships or family drama, there comes a time when a people simply quit believing in themselves and in the incredible person that God created them to be. Regardless of its origin, low self esteem can be a life-long struggle. In order to better understand how to recover from periods of low self esteem, I think it would be useful to look at its roots and try to assess how it applies to each of us individually.
Let me first address the pit of negativity where so many young people seem to be drowning. We live in a cynical world where we are told that we have to be perfect in order to be accepted, admired, respected and even loved. Girls have to be small enough to fit into teeny tiny clothes made for dolls – or we aren’t considered beautiful. Guys have to be strong enough to lift cars or they aren’t considered masculine enough. We have to have perfect grades, perfect relationships, perfect families, perfect performance in our sports, dances, concerts, etc. Anything less than perfection is not allowed, agreed? After all, every time I fail at something, I immediately think of what I should have done differently, how I could have improved, or I consider someone who could have done it better than worthless old me. Sound familiar? We begin to compare ourselves with others and focus on our weaknesses and we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we just aren’t good enough. The negativity takes over and our self esteem dwindles until it is unrecognizable. Well if this is the state of the world that we live in, and if these are the messages we send ourselves, how are we supposed to avoid low self esteem?!?!
It becomes especially difficult to maintain healthy self esteem when people have said things or made comments that cause further self doubt. Maybe it is other people that cause us to forget about how good God created us. Maybe people have been awful to you and hurt you physically, emotionally or spiritually (kinda like the $20 bill stuff from the retreat, remember?). We think to ourselves, “if he/she is treating me like I’m worthless, than I guess I really am worthless.” Ever said that to yourself? It sounds like you may have experience with this and that is never easy to deal with.
So…to answer your question…how do we get over low self esteem? Once we have discovered the root of our self esteem struggles, there are a few things that have helped me and some of the students I have worked with to maintain healthy self confidence. Maybe they will work for you? I hope so!
1. Focus on the POSITIVE!
As we have already mentioned, negativity can be overwhelming and habit forming! When we continuously focus on the bad things in life and in ourselves, it can be really difficult to see the good. Force yourself to focus on your good qualities and on your positive characteristics! If it helps, make a list of things that you love about yourself and keep it handy. That way, when you start thinking negatively, you have something to turn to! Put post-it notes in your planner with positive comments about yourself just in case. You could pleasantly surprise yourself on a really bad day! You might even write a reminder on your mirror to see the good in yourself! That might help to get your day off to a positive start!
2. Set REALISTIC goals for yourself!
One of the things that seems to trip people up is that we often set goals for ourselves that are unrealistic. Then, when we fail to meet these overly lofty goals, we beat ourselves up. The best example I can think of here is the girl who tells herself she will lose ten pounds in one week and then freaks out when she only loses two pounds. Seriously? Yeah…happens all the time. So, if we set goals that make sense and we know are attainable, we are setting ourselves up to WIN rather than LOSE. This can even be relevant when it comes to setting a goal of improving self esteem. Try setting a goal for yourself that you will find one positive thing to say about yourself at the end of every day. Start with one! If you tell yourself you will say ten positive things about yourself, you are likely feel badly when you don’t…and that defeats the purpose now, doesn’t it?
3. LEARN from your failures!
There is a difference between having low self esteem and having a healthy desire for growth and self improvement. I think the difference lies in how we react to our failures. We are bound to fail. Period. It is part of life. HOWEVER, when we focus on failure and beat ourselves up for the things we have done wrong…we miss opportunities to learn and grow. For example, I can remember absolutely bombing a math test during my senior year of high school. I could have easily tortured myself for being such an idiot. BUT, I decided to be honest about the fact that I didn’t study as much as I should have and I hadn’t gotten a good night sleep the night before. That reminded me that I need to study when it comes to math, because it isn’t my best subject – and I need to be well-rested for school.
4. Know your GIFTS and USE them!
Continuing the math test example, I stink at math. Not so good at science either. However, I ROCK at English and I’m not too shabby when it comes to History either. I learned these things about myself early on and it really helped me to avoid punishing myself for not being the best at everything. Some people are awesome at sports and can’t dance worth a lick. Some can dance circles around those who can swing a bat. Others are awesome listeners but don’t express themselves very well. Some of us express ourselves a little too well and forget to listen. We all have strengths and weaknesses. When we choose to celebrate our strengths and set realistic goals for improvement in areas of weakness, we have a healthy and balance perspective of our own personal gifts. We have to be careful not to dwell in our areas of imperfection and instead we have to find out what we are good at and what gifts God has given us. Then we can use those gifts to maintain healthy self esteem. Check out 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
5. Be HONEST with yourself and others!
Building upon #3 and #4, be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. If I were to have disillusioned myself into thinking that I was an awesome student of mathematics, I may have pushed myself into a career in accounting or statistics or something that would have caused me daily struggles. Rather, I chose a career that would allow me to celebrate my strengths. That way, at the end of the day, I feel good about myself and the work that I do, rather than feeling awful because I’m trying to be something that I’m not. It is also important to be honest if we are struggling with our self esteem. When we admit it, we can start to seek solutions and we can better attend to our personal needs. It also helps to talk to a close friend or a trusted adult. Chances are they will be more than willing to point out some of your positive qualities to get you heading in the same direction!
6. Respect your Body, Mind, Emotions and Soul!
I tend to think that having a holistic approach to life leads to having positive self esteem. That just means that you are aware of the connection between physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. I can be as mentally healthy as anyone but if I quit taking care of my body, my energy runs down and my emotions become weary. In the same way, if I repress my emotions and forget to think logically, my body can feel the stress and can often become tense and strained which naturally leads to lower self esteem. Let yourself feel what you need to feel, think what you need to think and move if you need to move. God created us as WHOLE beings with bodies, minds, and souls! When we attend to all areas equally, each area benefits and our self esteem will flourish!
7. Look for the good in OTHERS and you will find the good in YOURSELF
I am sure you have heard the age old bit of wisdom that “people who treat others badly feel badly about themselves.” As a counselor I can tell you…this is SO true!! On plenty of occasions in my life, I can remember looking at the faults in other people and choosing to focus on their negative qualities. I would look at others and think, “Geez, how did she get that part in the play?” or “Seriously? He got an A?” I was very critical of others. It naturally followed that I was overly critical of myself. What I didn’t like in others, I hated in myself. My self esteem was very low and I have seen this in several of the teenagers I have worked with over the years. When I started thinking about the good in others and the gifts that they have to offer, I started realizing that I had some things to offer as well. I was careful not to compare myself to them, but rather to recognize that God created them good, too. I learned that if I condition myself to see the positive in others, it is easier to see the positives in myself.
8. Have a healthy SUPPORT SYSTEM!
Building upon #7, if we recognize the good in others, we are constantly aware of how much we need them in our lives! God did not create us to be alone! We are meant to live in community with one another and we need each other to stay positive amidst the struggles of life! If you are surrounded by people who build you up as opposed to those who bringing you down, your self esteem has a fighting chance. If you surround yourself with negative people who point out your flaws and rip you apart, you are bound to suffer from that atmosphere of negativity. If you recognize that maybe this means a change in your group of friends, be careful not to isolate yourself. Isolation almost always leads to low self esteem. Rather, find positive people who help you to celebrate your strengths. They are out there, I promise!
9. Get PLUGGED in!
One of the best places to find people like the ones I just mentioned is in your parish youth group. Sure, this may be a shameless plug for youth groups from a youth minister, but I promise you, I have seen amazing things amidst groups of young people who are all dedicated to their faith! I have seen young people, desperately struggling with their self esteem, find strength and support from other teens at church who are committed to seeing the goodness of God in one another. I am 100% certain that I would have had a much healthier self esteem had I been connected to a youth group when I was in high school. Not only would I have been surrounded by people who may have accepted me for me and celebrated my strengths; I would have been surrounded by people who would have lead me closer to God who is the Source of all goodness in me. Plug into a community of faith, plug in to God and you will plug into a healthier sense of self esteem.
As I mentioned before, God alone is the source of goodness in us. He created us and EVERYTHING that He created is good…including you!! If we are connected to God through prayer, He will remind us often of the incredible gifts He has given us. He will reveal to you, through self awareness, other awareness and through a positive outlook that He wants to use YOU to remind people of HIS goodness! In order to do that, you have to recognize your own goodness!! PRAY that God will remind you often that you are deserving of all of His love and ask Him to build up your self esteem. Of course, none of us are perfect (we are all a work in progress) but we are perfectly LOVED!