From Amée LaTour @ Good Choices Good Life: “Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.” – Stacey Charter
You are much more than the situations in your life and the judgments of those around you. A big part of what defines you is how you react, adapt and respond to such circumstances. There are things you can do, here and now, to change how you feel about yourself. The first step is to realize, as Stacey Charter says in the quote above, that this can only come from within you. Raising your self-esteem will require a combination of changing the way you think and changing what you do. Consider the following ways to deal with low self-esteem.
1. Come To Terms With Uninvolved/Negligent Authority Figures.
The first thing here is to acknowledge that adults often have issues of their own. If your parents or guardians aren’t able to properly care for you or give you support and attention – be it from mental health or substance abuse issues or some other cause – it is absolutely, positively, 100% not your fault. It’s also not an accurate reflection of your worth. If you’re in the unfortunate circumstance of not being cared for properly by a parent or guardian, it’s important for you to consider that the way you’re being treated is not of your doing and is, in fact, undeserved.
Coming to terms with uninvolved authority figures doesn’t mean not caring and not hurting because of them. You’ll probably always care, and it may always hurt. But it doesn’t have to define you. Self-esteem comes from you – not others, not even those who are supposed to care for us most.
That doesn’t mean that supportive and caring authority figures aren’t important. You can seek out such people from youth organizations like a local YMCA, a Boys & Girls Club or an after school program. People who work and volunteer for these services do so because they care about young people. So, if you are not getting support at home, make use of these external resources.
2. Pick Positive Peers.
You’re in control of who you give your time and energy to. It’s easy to pick friends based on who’s most popular; while this crowd may boost your social status, it can also clobber your self-esteem when your “friends” put you down or encourage you to do things you’re not comfortable with or proud of. You need friends you can be yourself with, who value the person you really are. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends who care about you can help you maintain a healthy level of self-esteem. If you have to make a friendship change – or several of them – to put yourself in a better place as far as such influence is concerned, do it – the sooner the better.
3. Get Help For Trauma.
Counseling for trauma is very important. If you’re not comfortable talking with parents or guardians about trauma, consider asking them if you can see a therapist or counselor for reasons you’d rather reserve for private sessions. If someone in your home is hurting you or has hurt you, consider talking with a school guidance counselor or other trusted adult about it.
Another resource young adults can make use of discretely is the Boys Town National Hotline (for boys, girls and parents). You can call 1-800-448-3000 anytime, any day to speak with a trained counselor about anything. Boys Town also offers online chat and texting services that teens can make use of. This is a great option for teens who aren’t sure where to go or how to begin dealing with experiences of abuse and other traumatic events.
4. Forgive Yourself.
When we’ve made several bad choices in the past, as described in the last section, we can begin to feel that we’re just “that kind” of person. We lock ourselves into that “role” or “character” and continue to play it unless we interrupt ourselves by remembering that we write our own scripts. What you’ve done in the past does not have to determine your course of action and decision-making from here on out. It’s important to forgive yourself – not to let yourself “off the hook,” but to accept that some of the choices you’ve made were not the best and resolve to do better in the future. Life is generally pretty long, and when you think of how much time you have in front of you to be a better person compared to the time behind you, it’s certainly worth giving yourself that chance.
personal qualities word cloud
5. Challenge Negative Thought Patterns.
Breaking the cycle of negative thought patterns requires some persistence, but the process is fairly simple. Start by identifying negative thoughts – “I can’t do that,” “That person probably hates me,” are some examples. When you have a negative thought, question it. Why do you think that way? You may find that you have no reason to.
Next, work on different ways to interpret situations. “That will be hard, but I can try it out,” or, “I’m not sure how that person feels about me, but I care about him/her and want to work on being friends.” By replacing baseless negative thoughts with more realistic and constructive ones, you give yourself a chance whereas before you would have given up or not tried – you make it possible to prove your old negative thoughts wrong.
Another way to counteract negative thoughts about yourself is to make a list of your strengths. It’s easy to focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves and to ignore the things we may actually love; this prevents us from cultivating our strengths. The first step toward doing so is acknowledging them. Make a list of your strengths (and interests) – this may seem hard, but push yourself to identify as many as you can – at least five. Add your primary or more important interests to this list, things that you might want to do with your life long-term.
The exercise above will help you become more aware of your strengths and interests when you’re exercising them in daily life. Perhaps you’ll find that some of your strengths aren’t getting exercised or you’re not developing your interests; in that case, think about how you can do a better job of focusing on and applying these, and keep your list up-to-date.
The steps above are easier said than done, but you can definitely make some progress if you work at it. Don’t expect to completely reverse your sense of self-worth overnight; working on self-esteem is a process.
Note: This piece has been edited for length. To read the entire original publication, click here.