Psychology websites and self-help gurus often suggest an exercise for tackling low self-esteem issues. They say to write daily in a journal and list accomplishments for the day: one way you helped someone and one experience you enjoyed.
This is a decent idea, as studies have shown that gratitude is a powerful anti-depressant. In addition, practicing gratitude has been shown to build a positive self-esteem “habit” of sorts. However, this practice seems to lack the “umph” low self-esteemers need – it fails to get to the root of the issue. A gratitude practice is a bit more relevant to someone suffering from depression (e.g. listing experiences you enjoyed could evoke happiness), but not necessarily higher self-esteem. These are two separate feelings.
Low self-esteem can be a nasty, all-encompassing problem that plagues individuals throughout their entire lives. Many desperately hide it, while others wallow in it, hoping to gain the approval and sympathy of others. Low self-esteem can overshadow who you are, ruin entire days of your life, give people the wrong impression of you, and discourage you from pursuing great opportunities.
Worst of all, we often feel like we have little to no control over how we feel about ourselves. “I’m overweight, so how am I supposed to feel confident?” Or, “I got fired recently, so how on earth would I feel competent?” External circumstances are given all the power.
Recounting past accomplishments is certainly a good start, but for someone who has just suffered a huge blow to their self-esteem, or someone who has dealt with chronic low self-esteem their while life, it’s going to take a lot more than this sort of exercise.
So what else must you do to tackle your low self esteem?
Remind yourself of your rights
People with low self-esteem have a tendency to mercilessly berate themselves and even let others walk all over them. If it gets severe enough, they may even lose touch with their desires and goals, or stop pursuing things they enjoy. They start to forget themselves.
So instead of writing down past accomplishments, why not write down what you deserve every day?
I have the right to…
- take a full day off from work
- not care about what people think
- wear whatever I want without explanation
- make my environment safe and comfortable
- go after what seems fun
- tell people what I actually think
etc, etc, etc.
At the end of this list, you won’t merely feel happier, you’ll feel powerful–and power is exactly what low self-esteemers lack and need more of (at least that’s how they feel).
Develop a daily habit of listing everything you deserve in a notebook, or grab a huge poster board and display your list unabashedly on your wall. Add to it every day, or make a new one every day. Even if your list is always the same, you are training your brain to view yourself as powerful and deserving. Tackling low self-esteem isn’t a one-time task, but a nurturing lifestyle you must adopt.
So, what if you’re so out of touch with your rights, you’re not even sure what they are (or aren’t)?
Start with this basic rule: Your rights include anything that: a) improves your life, and b) doesn’t cause damage to others’ lives. So, venting anger at people who annoy you? Maybe not so much. But directly telling someone that they are making you uncomfortable when they are? Definitely your right.
Even if you have a healthy level of self-esteem, this is an uplifting exercise that can bring clarity and even help with decision-making. If you’re on the low side, this exercise can serve as a vital reminder to stop ignoring your rights and let the negative feelings fall to the wayside. Go on and have yourself a (healthy) power trip.
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