When we have a healthy level of self-esteem, we experience less fear and anxiety, tend to have increased motivation and resilience, enjoy more success at school or work, and experience improved mental and physical health, better relationships with others and reduced anti-social behavior. Mindfulness can help us get there.
As I’m trying to learn video editing so we can start broadcasting this show on YouTube, my self-esteem has slipped a little bit recently. Self-esteem has also been a recurring topic in my coaching work lately. And it came to mind again as I was watching news coverage of people cooking chicken in blue cough syrup recently, as social media is definitely having an impact on our feelings of self-worth, and going viral, regardless of the value of the content, is tricky when it comes to how we feel about ourselves.
Self-esteem can be defined as confidence in one's own worth or abilities or self-respect, but it’s much more complex and nuanced than just that. Self-esteem includes not just how we value ourselves, but how we perceive ourselves. It includes our opinions and beliefs about ourselves. It’s affected by our level of self-confidence. It’s about how much we like ourselves, how secure we feel, and even how we identify ourselves.
Our level of self-esteem is also important. Having self-esteem that is either too high or too low can be problematic. But regardless of our level, self-esteem influences our motivation, our mental well-being, and our overall quality of life, so it’s worth taking a little time to understand and self-assess.
Our past experiences contribute to our foundation of self-esteem, but not from blue chicken videos. Self-esteem doesn’t come from clever tricks or stunts. It’s much deeper than that. Were you encouraged as a child, or complimented for achievements or beliefs when young? That could have established a healthy level of self-esteem. Were you told no matter what you did that you were spectacular? Although I’m sure good intentions were behind this, you may have too much self-esteem.
Keep in mind that you have no control over what others have told you. It’s our interpretations usually from childhood that set the level of self-esteem we have as we get older. And we can change that, but again, not by going for popularity in person or online. If we’re respected for our integrity and values, our skills or experience, that can boost our self-esteem, but it’s still more important what we think of ourselves since external factors can sway both ways.
I think it’s also important to recognize that today’s society emphasizes being special, above-average, or a super-something. We’re judged by the number of followers we have or how many likes we receive online. We compare ourselves to celebrities or major influencers and our self-esteem suffers. By any of these standards, most of us could be considered not good enough, but that’s not reality. It’s something that people have bought into and agreed to, but it’s not what life is about or what true self-esteem is. We actually don’t need high self-esteem to be happy or healthy. We simply need to feel comfortable with ourselves, to feel content. Heaven forbid but perhaps we just need average self-esteem to be well.
How do we know if we currently have high or low self-esteem? There are several characteristics to consider, but some are harder than others to measure. Self-respect is probably at the top of the list, but it might be helpful to consider what that looks like. Do you stick by your morals and values when making decisions? Do you make yourself a priority when you need something? Do you honor yourself by saying no when you want or need to? These are pretty clear signs of self-respect.
Some other characteristics of self-esteem include being comfortable with looking in the mirror, having the ability to accept or acknowledge compliments, not comparing yourself to others and focusing on your strengths. I don’t think any of us experience a perfect score on all of these characteristics all of the time, but they can provide important insights into how you feel about yourself.
What do you think of yourself? Before you delve too deeply into that big question, let’s consider our mindfulness practices that include non-judgment, compassion, and loving. We’re human and we all have flaws, so as you begin to consider this question, do so gently, without being harsh or critical with yourself. Sometimes we need a different perspective to look inward without judgment. When I ponder what I think of myself, I find it helpful to ask myself if I’d like to hang out with me if I was someone else. Usually the answer is yes, but sometimes, not so much.
Self-esteem is often influenced by what others think of us because of the self-confidence factor. High self-esteem can be related to narcissism, which is on the rise in younger generations, again I believe because of technology-related rankings that boost self-esteem. But that’s a temporary bump. What happens to people on this path is that yes, they have super high self-esteem as their views or followers or number of likes increase. But if the numbers don’t increase or someone posts something negative on their social media, self-esteem can plummet. It’s the same in the physical world, where if we completely blow an important work assignment or we don’t get invited to an event that our friends do, we may judge ourselves as not worthy.
My little dip in self-esteem has been a good reminder of the importance of paying attention to what’s going on inside. I was attracted to both radio and podcasting because I’m not fond of seeing myself on camera. It was perfect for me until we started doing interviews and guests expected to see and use a video of the interviews, so I had to experience the discomfort of seeing my mug on YouTube, but at least the guest was a great distraction. Now most podcasts are morphing into vodcasts and if I want to remain viable, I need to get with the program.
I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar to this, but that little voice in my head keeps going round and round with unhelpful comments. You’re not attractive enough to do this. You’re too old. You have no video editing experience so you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have time to do this well. You’re going to look stupid. And on and on.
Thankfully, my mindfulness practice is helping me get through this latest change and is a great support system for reminding me that I’m okay. Self-reflection is a valuable tool for remembering what’s good about us. What we’ve done well in the past. How we’ve overcome obstacles before. How we are not our thoughts, including those pesky comments that keep popping up. It reminds me that my goal is not to be a YouTube celebrity, it’s simply to help people become more mindful and if video helps, that’s a positive.
The healthiest way to consider self-esteem is through self-compassion. Perhaps you had an abusive or some other terrible condition in childhood where no one told you how great you are or perhaps told you how not-so-great you are. Are you still evaluating yourself based on that? You’d be surprised how many people do. That could be where my idea that I’m quite un-photogenic comes from. I think I was criticized a lot for not making the right face when the camera shutter snapped and as children, we take what adults say to heart. But we don’t have to believe what they said once we’re adults and can process hurtful words from our past. Instead, feel compassion for that child in you and consider how you would soothe or reassure that you.
Self-esteem can be simplified to be a measurement of how much we like ourselves and we can explore that question mindfully and with self-compassion to arrive at an estimate. In reality, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told in the past. Again, we’re all human which means we’ve made many mistakes, blunders, been embarrassed, failed, and possibly hurt others consciously or unconsciously. But that’s how we learn and grow. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and focus on who you want to be now.
When answering the question of whether you like yourself or not, if the answer feels more toward the not, your level of self-esteem could be too low. There are several ways you can increase it, but start with something simple, like doing something that makes you feel good. Remember that our brains release hormonal cocktails based on stimuli including our thoughts and emotions, so if you’re not feeling great about yourself, focus first on feeling better in general to shift those hormones toward feel-good cocktails that include dopamine or serotonin to support you through this process.
Try exercise, which can improve mood. Think about anything you’re good at. Do something kind or special for yourself. Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. Do something kind for someone else or volunteer for a project. Once you feel a little better, then you can start building your self-esteem directly. Start paying attention to your thought patterns. If negative thoughts are automatically running all day, they result in cognitive distortions such as jumping to conclusions or black and white thinking. None of us are ever always terrible or unlovable, for example. Mindfulness meditation is an excellent way to explore our automatic thinking and once we notice it, we can replace negative thoughts with more positive ones.
Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and esteem just as you are right now. We are all miraculous creatures and while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change or improve or achieve goals, we are never going to be perfect. Starting with accepting ourselves just as we are provides an excellent foundation for increasing self-esteem.
Spend some time thinking about what you’ve accomplished in the past or something that you’re proud of. Focusing on our strengths increases our self-confidence which in turn boosts self-esteem. We all have areas of strength and areas where there’s room for improvement. Start with your strengths which are easier to build on. Then you can turn to those areas for improvement if you want to.
Celebrate your successes and start a gratitude journal. Both of these will add to your momentum as you practice liking and then even loving yourself completely.
What if your self-esteem is too high? It’s tempting to think the higher the better, but it’s not true. Excessive self-esteem can lead to relationship problems, challenges with socializing, inability to deal with criticism and failure to improve or mature. As you reflect on your self-esteem, remember to be gentle and nonjudgmental. Some signs that your self-esteem is too high are believing that you’re perfect, being overconfident and overestimating your abilities or skills, feeling entitled, and expecting others to praise you even when it’s not deserved.
Steps you can take to move your self-esteem to a healthier level include increasing self-awareness. I can’t say it enough - use mindfulness practices to remain kind to yourself through this process. Practice being aware of how you feel. Ifyou feel offended by what someone else says, does automatic thought processing take over to tell you that they’re wrong or crazy because you’re always right or perfect? Take a breath and just observe your thoughts. Try not to react to these situations but just allow yourself to observe what’s going on inside.
Consider why you’re thinking whatever you’re thinking. Are you trying to prove something? Are you protecting yourself from an old wound? What are you trying to accomplish? Through cognitive reflection or mindfulness meditation, think back to when you first noticed these types of thoughts. Did they come through parenting? Try not to judge your parents. If they told you repeatedly that you were the most special person on the earth, they did so out of love. But our child’s mind easily misinterprets, so just gently think back to the origin of you feeling perfect or better than others. You might gain insights into how you see yourself now.
Consider shifting your focus from outcomes to processes. This allows you to focus on what you’re accomplishing through effort and to feel good about what you’re actually doing or contributing. This will help you recognize when you deserve praise for your efforts instead of deserving praise just for being you.
Finally, practice empathy and compassion. Actively listen to others and try to be open to other people’s experiences, without judgment. Mindfulness practices can really help you reduce judgment, so practice being aware of what’s going on around you as well as within you. If any fears arise through this process, share them honestly with others. This vulnerability can help break through the exterior shell of perfection and help you become not only more compassionate with others, but with yourself.
Sometimes, too little or an excessive amount of self-esteem is too difficult to manage on our own, so always consider seeing a professional if you feel overwhelmed, lost or fearful of the process. A therapist can help guide you through the process in a psychologically safe fashion and help you reach a healthy level of self-esteem.
We’ve all heard people say that we should just love ourselves. But that’s not always so easy, especially if we have low self esteem. We’re frequently our worst critics, we treat ourselves dramatically harsher than we treat others, we have a hard time letting go of past mistakes and we constantly battle feeling worthy of what we have or what we want or what we deserve. But we all deserve well-being, so start with just a little self-reflection, mindfully exploring how you feel about yourself and the steps you can take to love yourself a little more. You can go and grow from there. Not to push you toward too high of a level of self-esteem, but you are amazing, just as you are right now.