This used to be me a hundred times over. And what’s sad is it seems to be the norm to feel like we’re not enough. Most of us suffer from poor self-esteem whether we realise it or not, and this can lead to mental health problems. I am here to tell you that it does not have to be this way – you are always enough. Now I know better than this… me simply telling you is not going to cut it! If you want to transform your life and finally feel at peace with yourself then keep reading as I reveal all.
After countless self-esteem courses and rounds of therapy, not only can I finally say I love myself, but I would also say I am somewhat of an expert (though please remember I am not a trained professional). I truly believe everyone should have equal access to these services throughout their lives, however it seems that we can only access these when we are at breaking point, and even then access is not equal. In the current state of the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get help and guidance for our mental wellbeing, so I thought why not create a concise guide to improving self-esteem. I am going to condense all my knowledge from the professionals and countless materials into one handy blog post (I realise this is ambitious, but it is so necessary).
First thing’s first, what even is self-esteem? Self-esteem is how we perceive and value ourselves; if we have low self-esteem then we will have negative beliefs about ourselves and often feel we aren’t enough. This isn’t our fault – it develops based on our negative experiences, particularly those that happen at a young age. Once we view ourselves in a negative light, our brain spends its time gathering evidence to support this belief as we go about living our lives, conveniently ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. If I told you to look around the room and remember everything red then close your eyes and tell me everything that is blue, you would struggle. This is what happens with our self-esteem: our negative beliefs are constantly re-affirmed to us.
The good news is that we have the power to flip our own narrative – we are in control of our own relationship with ourselves. In order to understand our relationship with ourselves, we first need to think about the experiences that taught us we are not good enough and heal our wounds. Only then can we start to unlearn these negative beliefs about ourselves and adopt new, more positive beliefs. After this, it is practice, practice, practice! This will create and strengthen the new pathways in our brains to truly love ourselves without the conscious effort. Even though I have come a long way in three years, I still practice self-love, promoting positive self-esteem.
Why should we love ourselves? Left to our own devices, we can end up seeking love and validation externally. It’s no surprise as we are often assured that one day we will meet the person who will complete us and love us unconditionally forever. The truth is, not only are we complete exactly as we are, but no one else can fulfil all of our needs. The love from others is not enough; only we can give ourselves the love we need. And the only person we can guarantee will be with us forever and love us unconditionally is ourselves. Loving and being loved can be such a beautiful experience, but we need to be okay by ourselves first. As Ru Paul says, ‘if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’
You may be wondering, isn’t it a bit big-headed to love myself? In a word, no. We are taught not to be too full of ourselves or overly confident, especially as women. We compare and can feel quite uncomfortable when a woman is very self-assured. This is one of the ways the patriarchy attempts to keep us small… If we don’t value ourselves then we are going to take a lot more shit than if we love ourselves, helping maintain systemic sexism. If we never feel good enough, we are going to keep buying the latest diet crazes and beauty creams. Improving our self-esteem isn’t about thinking we are better than others; we should all be equal. It is simply about our self and learning to love our self.
Where it starts
In order to improve our self-esteem and finally feel good enough, we must look back to where it started. Only then can we begin to heal and unlearn our negative beliefs. We need to revisit our negative experiences that, whether it was directly or indirectly, taught us we are not enough. This message may have come through family, guardians, peers, teachers, media, or a combination of all these sources. This is not a chance for us to point the finger and find someone to blame, because whoever these messages have come from, they too will have had negative experiences with previous generations. The core issues here don’t exist with individuals, they are deep-rooted and systemic.
On that note, we cannot work through this stuff without recognising the role of systemic, societal issues. There is a very real threat of being marginalised and discriminated against in this world, particularly on the basis of factors out of our control. We are all impacted by the same systems, but some of us are marginalised more than others. Let’s be honest, we all want to be liked and accepted don’t we? It’s human nature. So it makes sense that many of us comply with any societal standards within our control, like striving for a thin body due to the fatphobic nature of our society.
TW: diet culture and eating disorder mentioned. Now to give you an idea of the experiences I am talking about, I’m going to share a few of mine here… When I was about six years old, I was dressed up as a pink fairy princess for fancy dress day at school. I was running in P.E, enjoying my day, until a group of older girls started teasing me about my weight, saying I was dressed as a flying pig. This was a very young age to learn that I was considered fat, and that fat was not good, but sadly it is not uncommon. I concluded that ‘I’m not thin enough’ and that was a firm belief of mine until recently. I knew to fit in and be accepted I would need to be thin, so I went about my life, trying to behave in ways that would keep me thin. Every time a situation came up where I was rejected and ridiculed for being ‘fat’, I was triggered and my belief re-affirmed. No matter what, I was never thin enough and eventually developed an eating disorder. I would like to confirm that fat is not bad, and despite being larger than some children, I cannot claim that label for myself because I was not fat.
I’ve simplified another of my examples in a cheeky flowchart below.
When I didn’t get into my first choice of university, I berated myself and my belief that I wasn’t smart or productive enough was proved to me yet again. I then went onto university pushing myself even harder in order to feel ‘successful’. I was so stuck in my beliefs that I couldn’t appreciate my success of actually getting into university. Even now I still have moments where I feel I must work harder in order to be ‘enough’: my Spoonie blog post got a lot of love, but my brain decided to skip gratitude and jump straight to the next thing. I wanted to smash out another post ASAP, and a good one at that. Funny thing is, I wouldn’t ever think like this about anyone else, but we can be so much harder on ourselves than others, can’t we?
We can develop low self-esteem so easily in a world where we are consistently told we are not good enough, and it often becomes a multi-faceted problem. We are not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not productive enough, not strong enough – the list goes on. It’s no wonder we end up questioning our worthiness and striving for an unattainable standard. This can become much more sinister, and lead to serious situations, such as domestic abuse, which then compounds the problem further. Sadly, yet not surprisingly, these situations are much more likely to happen those belonging to marginalised groups.
I would encourage you to take some time to think about your experiences and triggers, what they have led you to conclude about yourself, and how they have caused you to behave. This can be useful to explore with a professional because it’s heavy stuff, though I appreciate this isn’t always possible (find urgent contact information here). Once we start unpacking all the shit we’ve been carrying around, we can then decide what we want to let go of, making room for more positive beliefs. Unlearning beliefs we’ve held our whole lives is not easy, it takes time and effort, and can be especially difficult when we still believe we are not enough. But fear not, it is very much possible!
*This is a great place to pause, grab a cuppa, and digest. There’s no rush with this stuff, it’s heavy going and I’m not going anywhere!*
Social media’s role
It is important to recognise the role of social media in this. Social media and the advancements in technology have catapulted us into an era where we are fed enormous amounts of information about each other in very short spaces of time. We can find out a lot about a person in a few clicks, whether that be our friends or our favourite celebrities. Whilst this can be amazing, enabling increased levels of connection, it is far too easy to compare our lives to snippets and highlights of other’s. Suddenly the frequency of triggering situations has increased tenfold, but it is so subconscious; our brains can take a while to catch up, especially when we are mindlessly scrolling. Social media can also bring out the worst in some people (understatement of the year) as they hide behind anonymous profiles. It is always worth limiting our time on social media and curating our feeds so we see the kind of content that serves us and affirms that we are enough.
Healing & unlearning
So how do we heal and unlearn these negative beliefs if we still whole-heartedly believe we are not enough? To start with, it is kind of a ‘fake it until you make it’ situation. As a notorious people-pleaser, I found it easier to show myself the levels of compassion and understanding I would show others. I would regularly journal out how I was feeling then write a reply to myself as if I were replying to a friend. Another technique I found very soothing was to imagine I was writing to myself as a child, when I went through these negative experiences. It was a lot harder to dislike myself this way.
Another crucial element to healing is allowing ourselves to feel our feelings – after unpacking so much from our past we are going to have a lot of emotions to process. In order to process emotions and release them, we first must feel them (if we don’t, they will come back more intense). This can be hard and scary at first, especially when there is so much emphasis on being happy all the time, but it gets easier. We are human beings with an array of emotions so we will never feel great all of the time, and if we try to this can become toxic. To help ease our fear and remove the power of difficult emotions, we can practice mindfulness and meditations with the help of apps like Insight Timer. This helps calm us down and sit with these feelings. One analogy I learnt from Headspace which I think about frequently is: you are the blue sky, your thoughts and feelings are just the weather.
Getting support from others can be another tough, but essential step. Despite what we may believe, we don’t have to deal with everything all by ourselves. It takes great strength asking for support and is always better than struggling alone. I have found a lot of support in books, content creators and virtual friends, journals, and listening services.
Top tips for practicing self-love:
As I said, we need to keep practicing self-love to re-affirm that we are enough, exactly as we are. If you are unsure where to start then look no further, here are my top tips…
1 – Write regular affirmations for yourself
Emotionally support yourself with uplifting messages to re-affirm that you are enough and you are worthy. You don’t have to say cheesy lines or confess your undying love for yourself in the mirror… You can write them on your phone, write them in lipstick on a mirror, write them on a whiteboard, spell them out in fridge magnets, whatever you like! When this feels tough, pretend you’re reassuring a friend or someone you love.
I find prompted journaling a handy way to do daily affirmations and practice gratitude. I have the Inner Queen journal as well as a chronic illness specific one.
2 – Always look inwards for validation
It doesn’t matter how many fantastic compliments you receive from others, you won’t believe them whole-heartedly unless they come from within. You also can’t control what other people say so you may not receive the validation you’re after. Try to remember, the negative things that others say, often says a lot more about them than it does about you.
3 – Focus on what you can control
Because you can’t control other people’s decisions, actions, thoughts, feelings, words etc. Focussing on what you can control promotes better self-esteem and can actually be very calming (especially when despairing at the state of the world).
4 – If you are struggling, aim for neutrality first
This can be a nice stepping stone on the way to positivity. I still strive for neutrality when it comes to body image as it is an area I really struggle with so neutrality feels more attainable. A truly life-changing book that helps me with body image is ‘You are not a Before Picture’ by Alex Light.
5 – Practice gratitude daily
For yourself, for others, for the small things, for the big things. Again, this is something I use prompted journaling for.
6 – Celebrate yourself regularly
This doesn’t have to be anything time-consuming, check out my post on self-care quickies to get you started.
7 -Surround yourself with people who want the best for you and help you grow
This includes on your social media accounts – there are some amazing content creators out there!
8 – Start accepting compliments
If you’re struggling, just a simple thank you is great. You don’t need to be modest and downplay your brilliance.
Voila! You now have the foundations to start to transform your self-esteem and live your best life. Remember this is a lifelong journey we are on and progress won’t be linear. I can’t promise you won’t have ups and downs, but eventually your bad days will be better than your good days are now. Give yourself the love you deserve because life is too short for anything less, and remember you are always enough.
Thank you for reading!! Please do comment or message me on socials (links at bottom) with any suggestions, comments, or questions. Remember, sharing is caring – if you liked what you read please do share it on social media and with friends.
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