A quick story about toxic people and self-esteem: Imagine you decide to plant a tiny sprout in your garden. When it flourishes, it will bring you deep joy. But first, it needs your focus and care to grow. Those who come into your garden and see your sprout give you support and space, encouraging your progress. But occasionally, a different kind of person comes into your garden. Knowingly or unknowingly, they march across the soil, step on your plants, and in the worst-case scenario, grind your tiny sprout into nothing.
How's your body image? Are you attractive? Do you like the way you look? Do other people think you're beautiful? It's hard to talk about body image without sinking deep into our most vulnerable places. As standards of beauty become progressively less realistic (hello Instagram filters, goodbye pores), being able to have an honest conversation with ourselves about our looks becomes increasingly difficult. Yet we each live within our own, unique bodies every day–being able to look at them in a realistic (and non-damaging) way is a valuable tool towards understanding who we are, developing a healthy body image, and ultimately towards building self-esteem.
Do we have to conquer fear? I've gone through some changes in my life recently that have me thinking about fear. In particular, how we react to feeling afraid. Why are some fears considered perfectly acceptable, while others fill us with shame and demand action? Being afraid of an aggressive animal, an impending surgery, or a loved one experiencing harm are all considered rational and acceptable. Yet we tend to hide our fears of social interaction, object/behaviors that feel uncomfortable, or people who affect us. So, what makes certain fears unpalatable? What makes us decide a fear is unfounded or embarrassing? Why are some fears allowed, while other fears must be conquered?
Accountability matters when we're building self-esteem. We do not like to do things wrong. As children, many of us are taught that wrongdoing results in punishment. We learn to deny mistakes, to avoid the "bad" experiences that result from being blamed. Yet though we may learn to avoid culpability, we never stop making mistakes–they are a natural part of life. So, what happens when we shift away from denying mistakes and focus on using accountability as a tool to build self-esteem?
"Be yourself." "You do you." "Listen to your heart." The messages behind authenticity are beautiful ones: you are the center of your world and you are the only voice that matters. But while such phrases are inspiring, we live in a world that bombards us with beliefs, opinions and general emotional noise. This creates a dilemma that many of us struggle with–how do I think like myself when everyone and everything is trying to tell me how to think?
If I could talk to the teenage version of myself about authenticity, I know what I would say. I would tell her the very things she is afraid make her "weird" are actually the things that make her awesome. I would tell her to stop wasting energy being afraid of judgment, and to put that energy towards enjoying the things that make her happy.
Failure. It's not a nice word, is it? For many of us, we see failure as a glaring red stop sign. "Go no further," failure tells us, "You are not good enough to succeed." But did you know Walt Disney's first animation company was dissolved within six months? That J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers? For both, failure was not a stopping point–they continued to try until they found success. How did they keep believing in themselves, instead of seeing failure as a message they couldn't succeed? They separated their work from their self-worth.
What is self-worth? How does self-worth show in our actions? I recently met two students who had both received a B+ on a test. While the first was practically jumping with joy, the second was more subdued. When I asked the latter if she felt the same excitement as her peer, she responded, "I can't stop thinking about how many questions I missed. I'm an idiot." Though both earned the same grade, one saw it as a sign of her worth, while the other saw it as a sign of worthlessness. This led me to think about, how do we define self-worth? What is it that makes one person believe they are worthy, while another that they are worthless?
Explore your low self-esteem? How do you do that? Picture a road map. On one side is a bright red dot, labeled "High Self-Esteem." This is our destination, the place we dream of arriving. Our map is covered in routes that twist and turn, approaching the red dot from all different directions. On our journey we will be able to explore these, finding the ones that lead us closer to our goal. But in order to begin, we need to find the dot labeled "You Are Here." We have to know our starting point. We have to explore the starting point of our low self-esteem to know how to raise it.
You might be prone to feel jealous of other people's success and to feel worse about yourself if you suffer from low self-esteem. This is why it’s important to perceive other people’s achievements in a different light. Not only is it unhealthy to let your self-esteem be swayed by what other people are doing, it is also wasteful and unproductive to be jealous of other people's success.