A Starter Guide to Building Self-Esteem

This summer, I abandoned three novels as soon as I realized low self-esteem was the main personality trait of the young female protagonists. I was twenty once, so I’ve been there, but I didn’t want to subject myself to that mentality in very long literary journeys. (If you want to know which books I abandoned and why, wait for my end of the year reading roundup).

On the upside, the novels inspired me to put together this gentle guide for those currently struggling with low self-confidence. I don’t think it’s realistic to read a few self-help books and motivational quotes and expect to flip the switch to a new and better you. For me, confidence builds from life experiences and a lot of self-healing and self-care.

I also think there is too much pressure for people to better themselves. Which brings me to my first point:

What if there’s no better you? If you’re exhausted from constant self-improvement, you can detach the idea of you from a better version of you. What if the current you is the always the best version, and whatever knowledge and accomplishments you accrue are just different things that are linked to you? For example, when you get a new dress, change job titles, or adopt a healthier eating habit, you’re still you but with these new things. Instead of trying to “level up” all the time, you’re always you, but perhaps linked to different things, knowledge, or people due changing personal preferences as you evolve.

Avoid bad-mouthing others. Insecure people subconsciously, or even consciously, think that putting others down will make them look better. Ruining someone’s reputation behind their back only makes the gossiper look insecure, spiteful, and untrustworthy. Even though you can get instant gratification from bad-mouthing, in the long run, it’s not great for you energetically, it stalls self-growth, and ruins your own reputation. So do your best to avoid speaking negatively about anyone.

Accept compliments graciously.  Why spend the extra energy to argue against positive feedback? You don’t need to bask in compliments because you don’t want your ego to depend on other people’s validation. Think of compliments as signs that you’re on the right track. Whenever you receive a compliment, say thank you and move on.

Embrace body neutrality. Tired of forcing yourself to love your body and failing? You don’t have to if you don’t want to. Showing off your body is the easiest way to receive validation but it’s also the easiest way to hate yourself, especially when your body type falls outside of society’s ideals. I’ve never been into the body positivity movement because I still thought it put too much emphasis on looks. When your appearance is a minor contribution to your confidence, you’re better equipped to increase self-love as you age. For more on this topic, read my post on the Beauty Myth.

Sometimes, good enough is good enough. Learning new skills is a great way to gain confidence. However, perfectionism, fear of failure or looking stupid can really hold people back. You can have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment by putting in the time and effort to do something that interests you, such as playing the piano, but you don’t need to play at a concert pianist’s level to do so. Here’s one concept I use to be productive and reach my goals without pressure.

Stop idolizing other people. I really like this quote and caption about idolatry. Everyone, even those perceived by others to have high financial, social, or spiritual status, should be allowed to be human. If you’re currently idolizing and comparing yourself to someone else, would you really want this person’s life if you also had to go through their pain, challenges, and struggles?

Practice deep openness. In Blue Truth by David Deida, he talks about the practice of openness: “Right now, and in every now-moment, you are either closing or opening. You are either stressfully waiting for something—more money, security, affection—or you are living from your deep heart, opening as the entire moment, and giving what you most deeply desire to give, without waiting.” 

Even if you detest yourself, you can still open. The alternative is clenching up to avoid pain, which can work to a degree but will “only cost you your life”. If you feel like you’re nothing, Deida says to relax into the pit of nothingness. If you feel anger, lust, or shame, then be willing to feel those emotions completely. Feel those things because they are a part of life, as are the good things, and let them flow through you. It sounds like a simple concept but something that would take a lot of practice in order for us to feel fully alive.

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