I came across an online forum where someone had asked, “How can I raise my self-esteem?”
This person had many questions in mind while asking this question.
He is probably wondering why on earth he ended up having a low self-esteem. He is wondering how he can have a high self-esteem. And maybe, just maybe, he has a little voice in his head wondering if he actually can have a high self-esteem after all the bad things he knows about himself.
I’ve been in this place before and I do have an idea about how it feels.
What astonished me was the replies. Not because they were bad –they actually were very good.
They were correct answers. They were good and they were accurate.
I can even start applying them now and have some positive changes in my life.
But if I were the person I was 5 years ago, I wouldn’t feel the same.
You see, it’s important to respect yourself and to appreciate your good qualities. It’s important. It’s good. It’s wonderful actually; outstanding even!
But damn it’s difficult for someone who already has a low self-esteem.
It’s like telling a person with social anxiety to ‘just relax!’. It’s like telling a depressed person to take it easy and feel happy. It’s like telling a chronically worried person to not worry!
If it only was that simple! Heck, that’s like pushing a person who can’t swim into a pool and telling him, “just swim!!”
From where do self-love and self-respect come?
That’s a hard question.
Anything from your thoughts, environment, beliefs, background, and even your experiences and stories will affect your self-respect.
It’s about the beliefs that you have about yourself and life. It’s about the way you interpret the events and how you respond to them. And it’s about the meanings that you give to whatever is going on around you.
That all counts.
But still, that doesn’t answer the question clearly.
In fact, to answer this question, we need to ask it in a reversed way; the other way around –where do self-hatred and feelings of inferiority and unworthiness come from?
We need to answer this question in order to stop this thing from ruining our self-esteem.
Some would say it’s also about the way you think, your beliefs, and your actions. And that’s true to some extent, actually.
So, we can say that it’s all about the beliefs.
But here I want to talk about something different.
While we all have some individual beliefs that affect our self-esteem, there is a global belief that we all somehow share, and it affects our self-esteem greatly.
The shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown, and the author of many books on these subjects, defines shame as the fear of disconnection.
We, she claims, are weird for connection. We need it in order to be mentally healthy; we can’t live alone.
Let’s put it in simpler words.
We have a deep need for connection. We want to love and to be loved and we want to belong. Don’t listen to all the ‘lone wolf’ crap! This is a basic need that we all, as humans, share.
And then we have this “shame” thing. It allures us into believing that we’ll never get this important need satisfied. Heck, it convinces us that we’re not even worthy of connecting with other humans and/or belonging to other humans as well.
That feeling is extremely painful. A cold, harsh feeling that we’re not enough and that we are not worthy.
And here are some interesting facts about shame:
- Because we all have the need for connection, we all have the fear of disconnection, which is shame. In other words, we all feel shame. None of us is an exception. It’s just that some of us are better at handling it.
- Shame has many triggers. Most of them are related to culture and gender. However, they share the same motives as we’re going to see.
The first fact tells us why all of us struggle with self-esteem. Yes, some of us struggle more but we all suffer somehow and from time to time. No one is confident and secure all the time.
The second fact tells us about the beliefs and the way we interpret the events. Some actions trigger feelings of shame, and thus unworthiness and insecurity, because they are believed to be shameful. Sometimes we have to challenge those beliefs, other times we need to be aware of them.
In order to keep this as practical as possible, let’s see how all these concepts of shame and connection and vulnerability can help us answer the question that we started the article with, “How can I raise my self-esteem?”
How can all this help you raise your self-esteem?
Back to the person who asked that question above. If he’s struggling with self-esteem, it means he’s struggling with shame as well.
He believes something is wrong with him (his looks, his skills, his personality, his salary, his status…, etc.). And let’s not forget, shame is about feeling unworthy of connection; believing that you’re too bad for anyone or anything.
So, those things that he believes are wrong with him are making him feel like he’s not worthy of connection and attention and love (triggering shame). For instance, he believes that he doesn’t look good and thus unworthy of love. He believes he can’t earn big and thus his self-image is shattered.
Yet, it’s not about the things (looks, social status, salary …etc.) It’s about how those things trigger the feelings of shame.
This person has a bunch of reasons for why he is bad and unworthy. He has flaws (or perceived flaws) that make him feel bad about his existence.
And in attempt to feel good, he will try to fix those flaws or hide them. But that will never work.
It’ll never work simply because deep inside he’s feeling unworthy (ashamed) and he’s trying to hide this from the people around him and even from himself.
And when he tries to hide those feelings of inferiority and tries to compensate for what he lacks, he will actually end up with even lower self-esteem.
Hiding and fixing are not good for a healthy self-esteem because they indicate that you’re afraid of facing something. And as long as you’re afraid, you’ll suffer.
When someone says, “I’m short and broke.” What he actually means is, “I believe I’ll not be able to attract a partner and I will stay alone forever. Shit, this means something is wrong with me. Shit, it means I’m less worthy than those people around me! Fuck, I’m a piece of shit. Err, why am I insulting myself? I must be an idiot. Oh, again, stop calling yourself names, fucker! ERR, USELESS PIECE OF SHIT”
(Note: if you think that it was offensive to use a few words above, then pay attention to your self-talk. Even if you don’t use the F-word, it can be as offensive as this if we don’t monitor it closely, especially when we’re feeling insecure.)
The “short and broke” is the shame trigger. It triggers the shit-storm of “something is wrong with me and people will never like me and I will never like myself.”
And then this person comes online and posts questions about why he hates himself and how to raise his self-worth. He may even post questions about how to increase his height!
However, it’s not that real question for which he’s seeking an answer.
That applies to things other than height such as shyness, social-awkwardness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, body-image, money and salary, addictions and bad habits, etc.
And other well-intentioned people will tell him to love himself and accept himself. They will tell him to appreciate himself. Some wiser people may tell him to go out there and go outside of his comfort zone and face his fears.
And they are all correct answers. They are correct answers but not for his real questions.
His real question is something like, “How can I love myself and I’m “——–“? How can people love me and accept me and I’m “—–“? Fill “—–” with whatever you feel is suitable for you.
He can’t accept, or appreciate, or love himself because shame won’t let him. And at the same time he can’t improve because he feels worthless, so why bother?
Brene Brown has this thing that she calls, “the gremlins.” The gremlins will remind you of all the bad things that you are whenever someone tells you, “appreciate yourself”, among other things that are aimed at making you feel bad about yourself.
The solution? Get rid of this “——” And if you can’t, hide it! Deny its existence. Don’t get excited, this solution sucks because it only worsens the situation!
This person will not accept any piece of advice about self-love. He wants to eliminate the source of the pain (at least what he thinks is the source of the pain).
He wants to eliminate the shame trigger. And while we sometimes need to eliminate the shame triggers, it’s never the first step.
Actually, in most cases, it’s not this “—–” that is making you suffer from self-esteem. It’s how you feel about “—–“. It’s about how much shame do you harbor. And then how do you handle these feelings of shame.
So should I accept myself or improve myself?
The egg and the chicken question. But here’s what you should do based on what we discussed above.
You should do both. You should accept yourself and you should improve yourself. But you have to do them in a specific manner.
Accepting yourself is not really about acceptance. It’s merely about not stigmatizing yourself.
There’s a huge difference between being depressed and feeling ashamed because of being depressed. In the second case, you’re telling yourself that something is wrong with you because you are depressed.
That’s more harmful than depression itself.
It’s not only you who is suffering from this specific issue, even though it feels as though. Feeling ashamed of having problems is worse than those actual problems.
For instance, shyness. Let’s say that Sam is shy. He shouldn’t feel sorry for himself because he is shy. He shouldn’t indulge in self-pity. He shouldn’t feel like a victim. And he shouldn’t feel like he is bad because of his shyness.
Because this stigmatization will destroy him. It’ll keep him where he is. Shame and stigmatizing one’s self can never drive or induce positive changes. In short, he’ll never overcome his shyness because he’s crippled by feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.
Those feelings of inferiority and worthlessness will keep him where he is. After all, why try to improve and change if I’m already a piece of shit? That would be his logic.
Instead, he should stop stigmatizing himself.
What he can’t see right here is that we all have our mental and psychological problems. We all feel shame. We all feel small sometimes. No one is an exception. No one!
Just look around you and look deep enough and you’ll realize that underneath the “toughness” lay imperfections and, yep, problems. We’re only fucking humans!
Improving yourself is easy once you stop stigmatizing yourself.
You would lift a huge burden off of your shoulders when you stop being ashamed of your problems and flaws. You would simply start working on a solution.
This is how change is made. Change must come from a place of acceptance and peace, not from a place of anger and hatred.
Take the necessary steps to improve. And be patient. It takes time. During this time, practice self-compassion instead of stigmatization. Especially when you screw up.
Overcome the shyness. Build the necessary social skills. Work on your emotional health. Do some therapy if you have to. Workout. Read. Work hard on your dreams. Leave the toxic relationships and the toxic places.
And most importantly, make mistakes and learn from them. Again, don’t be harsh on yourself because of making mistakes. Learn from them and realize they are the only way to master something. The more mistakes, the better you become, and vice versa.
After a while, you’ll notice an improvement.
When you do, congratulate yourself. You’re moving ahead. Keep on improving and keep the golden mental habit of not stigmatizing and shaming yourself.
Only then will you be able to apply advice like, “love yourself,” and “appreciate yourself.”
It took me a while, personally. But it pays off. Nothing is more powerful than managing your own self in order to feel empowered and worthy and confident.
Last but not least, check Brene Brown’s videos and books. They can be found online easily.
Learn more about shame and how to handle it. As we said above, it’s just that some of us can handle shame better. And that’s learnable.
It’ll help you with the first part of not stigmatizing yourself.
To finish, I want you to ponder on this quote:
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” -Elisabeth Kübler-Ross