What if you held all of the power – the power over who you want to be and how you want to get there?
For a long time, I was told by society how to be, how to talk, how to act, that I needed to look a certain way, dress like this, present myself like that.
One day, as I thought about these messages, I wondered, who told me all that? Why did I allow anyone other than myself to define who I was and who I should be?
Self-esteem – how you value yourself as a person – can sometimes be a tricky thing when we’ve allowed ourselves to listen to the opinions of others all our lives. When our self-esteem is low, it can show in how we take care of our whole person; it impacts how we view and take care of our body, how we have relationships, and how we think we are viewed in the world and people around us. The link between self-esteem and body image is evident: if we dislike our body, it’s hard to have good self-esteem because we assume that people do not like what they see, and vice versa.
But, we have the ability to shift the narrative and to decide how we want to see ourselves, despite the shame and ridicule that may flood our minds from time to time.
So I shifted my thoughts about who I wanted to be. Who would I be proud of if I could be that person? How would this person carry themselves? How would they spend their time? What values would they have?
The more I reflected, the more I realized how much power I had within me to be who I wanted to be. All I had to do was shift my narrative.
These strategies worked for me. If you’re struggling with self-esteem, I encourage you to try these, too:
Be assertive with the people in your life. Assertiveness builds self-esteem because it communicates back to yourself that your needs, values, and beliefs are important. This means expressing your feelings in a way that is open and honest but still respects the other person. Each time you are assertive, your self-esteem grows a little bit.
Offer yourself unconditional positive regard. Giving yourself complete support and acceptance is about being kind to yourself and having genuine, deep caring for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you don’t recognize your mistakes or that you’ve become blind to your own imperfections, or that you have stopped working on improving yourself. It means that your actions, including those related to your appearance, don’t need to elicit approval from yourself or others.
Develop consistent self-care activities. Just as how treatment from others may have significantly impacted your self-esteem, how you treat yourself every day influences how you value yourself. Self-care includes such things as eating a healthy diet, getting optimal amounts of sleep, doing regular exercise, practicing good hygiene, taking time to do things you enjoy, wearing clothes that you like, treating yourself well each day, and making your living space a place you enjoy. Feeling out of shape, exhausted, unattractive, and unhappy leaves can leave you vulnerable to feelings of insecurity.
Keep a record of all of your accomplishments. Collect all of your accomplishments and put them in a scrapbook, file, drawer, chest, or room. This may include trophies, awards, certificates, transcripts, diplomas, degrees, cards of appreciation, or other documents which in some way recognize you. Remember, you don’t need to focus on just your monumental accomplishments, you can keep a list of more minor victories. Then spend some time, at least once a week, looking at these accomplishments and congratulating yourself for this success.
Develop a list of your strengths or positive qualities. Write out a list of all the strengths you possess and then add to it as you recognize new ones. Then post this list on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or other visible location to remind yourself of these strengths and qualities.
Embrace Your Body and Your Story
For me, working on my self-esteem was one piece of the puzzle. Learning how to appreciate the way I looked – my body – was another.
In my reflections, I challenged the way I viewed my body. Do I define myself by how this body looks? If so, will I ever REALLY be happy? Can I get there, or will something else arise that will yet again prove I am not perfect?
I realized that my body is part of my story. It has the scars from falling off my bike, the wounds from childbirth, the wrinkles from being a parent, signs of life I have lived It tells the story of all of the successes and mistakes that got me to where I am today.
Here are some tips for embracing your story:
Practice body awareness. Body awareness is important in understanding your current physical and emotional states as well as your stress levels. Oftentimes we get so caught up in our own thoughts that we ignore what is going on with the rest of our body. In order to deal with stress more effectively, paying attention to your bodily cues is key for unity between the body and self.
Take a few moments, a few times each day, to check in with the physical sensations of your body. Think of them as guideposts. Allow for awareness without judgment and simply notice what is going on in your physical body.
Practice mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness gives you the power to respond to your environment differently. To be mindful means to pay attention to what is happening in the mind, body, and immediate environment and to remain present, while both curious and compassionate.
Recognize that you do not need to attach to every thought. If an unwanted thought arises, imagine letting it go.
Develop distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is a psychological concept in which you learn to withstand and adapt to tough situations or challenges without giving in to thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that may be harmful. Even if a situation causes distress, you can learn to deal with it without losing your emotional stability.
Learn that you are strong enough to tolerate feeling your feelings. You can cultivate the ability to sit with the uncomfortable feelings without having to rely on a negative coping mechanism to get you through.
Create off-ramps. When learning to tolerate distress, sometimes you need to employ healthy coping mechanisms to get you through. Begin experimenting with what will help you manage difficult situations or emotions, so you do not need to engage unhealthy behaviors, such as disordered eating behaviors.
Connect with your body in a joyful, purposeful way. Practice yoga, apply a nice smelling lotion, dance, get a massage, etc. Practice self-care by sprinkling in opportunities to connect your body and mind. It can be five minutes of deep breathing, journaling, drinking a cup of cocoa, calling a friend, or anything that makes you happy.
My self-esteem is a constant work in progress. There are good days and bad; moments where I feel confident in the body I have, and others when I struggle to accept what I see in the mirror. But practicing these tips has helped move me towards self-acceptance and love, and I have immense appreciation for the body that has served me all my life. I hope that no matter who you are, you will reach come to love and cherish your body, too.