In my work I sometimes feel that there is an epidemic of low self-esteem. Even people who seem to be very sure of themselves will admit to having low self-esteem that often makes them unhappy, or keeps them from doing some of the things they want to do, being the kind of person they want to be. Self-esteem has been a big factor in my life. I feel that I have always been working on raising my self-esteem and that I will always need to do that. There is no one way to raise self-esteem. There are many different things you can do to work on this. I find that I am always looking for good ways to raise self-esteem. This article will describe several ways to help you raise your self-esteem.
If you are like me, you are concerned about personal, local, regional, national and world issues. There may be some that you are passionate about. For instance, I am deeply concerned about human rights violations in the mental health system and environmental issues. It helps to raise my self-esteem to be actively involved in efforts to create positive change around these issues. I chair the local Conservation Commission, am an active member of the local environmental organization, belong to national Audubon, and I am helping to develop a WRAP training that will focus on ending human rights violations in mental health. These activities help me to feel good about myself.
Think about those issues you care deeply about, then see if there is some way you can be involved–at whatever level works for you. You can start by being a volunteer, then perhaps you will choose to take get involved in other ways. There is so much that needs to be done. By helping others, you are helping yourself. Activism will give your self-esteem another boost.
Take Good Care of Yourself
Another way you can build your self-esteem is to take very good care of yourself. You may take very good care of others and put your own personal care last. Or your life may be so busy that you don’t take the time to do the things you need to do to stay healthy. You may feel so badly about yourself that you don’t bother to take good care of yourself.
Some of the things you can do to take good care of yourself include:
- eating three meals a day that are focused on healthy foods — fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grain foods and rich sources of protein like chicken and fish
- avoiding foods that contain large amounts of sugar, caffeine and food additives — if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you may want to avoid it
- spending time outside and exercising every day
- spending some time each day doing something you really enjoy
- spending time each day with people who make you feel good about yourself and avoiding people who treat you badly.
- having regular check-ups with the health care providers of your choice
Change Negative Thoughts about Yourself to Positive Ones
Work on changing negative thoughts about yourself to positive ones. If you are like me, you may have gotten into the habit of giving yourself lots of negative self-talk. Many people do. This negative self-talk worsens your low self-esteem and can make you feel badly about yourself. You can decide now not to do this to yourself. That’s great if you can do it. However, negative self-talk is often a habit that is hard to break. You may need to work on it more directly by changing negative statements about yourself to positive ones. Begin this process by making a list of the negative statements you often say to yourself.
Some of the most common ones are:
- Nobody likes me.
- I am ugly.
- I never do anything right.
- I am a failure.
- I am dumb.
- Everyone is better than I am.
- I’m not worth anything.
- I’ve never accomplished anything worthwhile.
Then develop a positive statement that refutes the negative one. For instance, instead of saying to yourself, “Nobody likes me” you could say, “Many people like me”. You could even make a list of the people who like you. Instead of saying, “I am ugly”, you could say “I look fine”. You could look through your collection of pictures of yourself, find your favorites, and look at them often. Instead of saying, “I never do anything right” you could say “I have done many things right.” You could make a list of things you have done right. It helps to do this work in a special notebook or journal.
When you have developed positive statements that refute your negative statements, read them over and over to yourself. Read them before you go to bed at night and when you first get up in the morning. Read them aloud to your partner, a close friend or your counselor. Make signs that say a positive statement about you and post them where you will see them — like on the mirror in your bathroom. Then read them aloud every time you see them. You can think of some other ways to reinforce these positive statements about yourself.
Get Something Done
Low self-esteem is often accompanied by lack of motivation. It may feel very hard to do anything. It will help you feel better about yourself if you do something, even if it is a very small thing. You may want to keep a list of possibilities on hand for those times when you can’t think of anything to do. Things like cleaning out one drawer, washing the outside of your refrigerator, putting a few pictures in a photo album, reading an article you have been wanting to read, taking a picture of a beautiful flower or a person you love, making the bed, doing a load of laundry, cooking yourself something healthy, sending someone a card, hanging a picture or taking a short walk.
Make a list of your accomplishments. You may not give yourself credit for all that you achieve each day, or in your life. Making a list of your accomplishments will help you become more aware of these accomplishments. It will also help change the focus of your self-thoughts to positive ones. You can do this exercise again and again, whenever you notice your self-esteem is low. Get a big sheet of paper and a pen you feel comfortable with. Set the timer for twenty minutes (or as long as you’d like). Spend the time writing your accomplishments. You could never have a paper long enough or enough time to write them all. Nothing is too big or too small to go on this list.
This list can include things like:
- learning to talk, walk, read, skip, etc.
- raising a child
- making and keeping good friend
- dealing with a major illness or disability
- buying your groceries
- driving your car or catching the subway
- smiling at a person who looks sad.
- taking a difficult course
- getting a job
- doing the dishes
- making the bed
- planting some seeds or caring for houseplants
Do Something Special for Someone Else
Have you ever noticed the good feeling that washes over you when you do something nice for someone else? If so, take advantage of that good feeling that comes from helping someone else by often doing things that are “nice” or helpful to others to build your self-esteem. Watch for opportunities that come up every day. Buy your partner some flowers or even one rose. Send a friend a greeting card. If someone you know is having a hard time, send them a note or give them a call. Go out of your way to congratulate people you know on their achievements. Visit a patient at a nursing home, in a hospital or a “shut-in”. Play with a child — read them a book, take them for a walk, push them on the swing. Do a chore for someone that might be hard for them like raking the leaves or mowing the grass. You may even want to volunteer for an organization that is helping others.
Other Quick Things You Can Do to Raise Your Self Esteem
Following is a list of other things you can do to raise your self-esteem. Some of them will be the right thing at one time, while another thing will work at another time. There may be some you choose not to do — ever. You may want to post this list on your refrigerator or in some other convenient place as a reminder.
- Surround yourself with people who are positive, affirming and loving
- Wear something that makes you feel good
- Look through old pictures, scrapbooks and photo albums
- Make a collage of your life
- Spend ten minutes writing down everything good you can think of about yourself
- Do something that makes you laugh
- Pretend you are your own best friend
- Repeat positive statements over and over again
You can add more ideas to this list as you discover them for yourself.
Working on raising your self-esteem may go on for the rest of your life. However, this is not a burden. The kinds of things you do to raise your self-esteem will not only help you to feel better about yourself, but will improve the quality of your life while energizing and enriching it.
Read more about what works for others to help them out of their most difficult times.
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.