A dynamic, brilliant musician or actor exudes self-confidence on stage. A supremely gifted athlete seems innately imbued with confidence. And then we see one of these icons of self-assurance in the tabloids – in an abusive relationship or struggling with addiction. Does this seem paradoxical? Isn’t self-confidence the same thing as self-esteem… so how could these people show signs of… low self-esteem?
Well, self-esteem and self-confidence are not the same things, though they do co-exist in one person. What’s the difference?
- Self-esteem is your analysis of your own worth— how you rate yourself internally. It is you, being happy and content with who you are inside. Self-esteem also helps you be happy and content with your life, and your ability to make choices and follow through.
- Self-confidence is your belief in your abilities— how much trust and faith you have in yourself and the way you project yourself into the world. Self-confidence is often situational (self-esteem never is).
A person can have self-confidence in one or many areas of life, but not in others (as with the celebrities who are confident in their professions but maybe not in other ways). Self-esteem does not care what you do, what has happened, or what might happen – it is an inner sense of worth.
Today we are going to look at self-esteem. Next week we’ll explore confidence, how it relates to self-esteem, and how it manifests in the world and in relationships.
Characteristics of healthy self-esteem:
- You feel worthy. You know you deserve happiness. You are not dependent on someone else to feel good about yourself. You do not need others to acknowledge your wealth, appearance, or status to feel whole.
- You build healthy relationships. Your inner sense of worth attracts good people who can recognize and love you as you are able to recognize and love yourself. You also can love freely because you have nothing to prove.
- You take care of yourself. People take care of what they value. Since you value yourself, self-care comes naturally to you. You get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise. Your kindness towards yourself reaches out to others – and people in your life experience your respectfulness of who they are as well.
- You know your boundaries. And you honor them. You know how and when to say yes… and no. Abusive boss? No way. Controlling partner? Not happening. You are aware of your worth and live life accordingly.
- You accept your shortcomings. Being aware of your worth does not mean you think you are perfect and superior to everyone else. As someone with healthy self-esteem, you are not in denial. You can accept your faults without self-hatred. You have a realistic perspective that allows you to grow and evolve while being gentle and open with yourself.
- You take responsibility for your feelings. You have no need to impose them on others, justify them, or deny them. You trust your feelings and yet you honor others’ boundaries. Thus, if you are angry, you express it in healthy, reasonable ways, not through violence or rage.
- You take responsibility for your actions. You don’t blame others for your choices or behavior and typically express yourself in “I” statements. “I forgot to pick up the milk” rather than “You didn’t remind me to get the milk.” Or, “I should have proofread my report before submitting it” instead of “My boss is out to get me.”
I’m not going to lie to you: good self-esteem is not like skinny jeans or a new car. You can’t upgrade simply by going out and shopping for what you want. Self-esteem is deeply rooted inside us, and has been shaped by our response to our life experiences. Notice I did not say it has been shaped by our life experiences? In a family of abuse victims, why are some functional and healthy and others a total mess? Same experiences, different results. How we are hardwired from birth has something to do with it, and that hard-wiring affects how we RESPOND to life’s ups and downs, which has a direct impact on how we evolve and how well we value ourselves.
But we can work on our hard-wiring by consciously choosing to respond differently to the things that happen to us. So yes, there are things you can do to improve your self-esteem, but you will need to really mean it.
Here are some things to work on if you want to nourish your self-esteem:
- Practice healthy self-talk. Is your self-talk positive or negative? Is it based on the truth or on false beliefs? Instead of telling yourself “I’m an idiot” when you leave your coffee pot on all day, say, “I left the pot on all day. Boy was I preoccupied this morning. I’ll be more careful next time.” “I’m an idiot” is based on a false belief (because you are NOT an idiot), and reinforces low self-esteem. There are whole books written on this subject, but for now, suffice it to say that words create feelings which create beliefs. And we all act on our beliefs. So if you talk down to yourself, stop. Would you say that to a friend? Then why say it to the most important person in your life: you?
- Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Flooding yourself with negative thoughts (or words as in the above bullet) creates a kind of ecosystem inside your head that is unhealthy and infertile. If the plants that grow in your inner ecosystem are unhappy or unhealthy, change the environment. Do you experience the world as unfriendly or scary? Are you pretty sure you don’t have what it takes in this, or that, situation? It takes time, but you can readjust your thinking on specific situations or in general. Notice your thoughts and feelings and accept them, but then fertilize and water them into something less harmful to you. So that, “My boss is going to hate this layout” becomes, “I have worked hard on this layout. It is my best work. I can’t wait to show it to my boss.” (Of course you can’t control your boss or her reactions, but you sure can control how you see yourself.)
- Love and take care of yourself. Develop and execute a good self-care routine. Treat yourself as well as you’d treat your dog. Sounds weird, I know, but you wouldn’t feed your dog crappy food or never let him get exercise, right? So what about you? If loving yourself sounds too hard right now, at least go through the motions of loving yourself. Your intention is to love yourself every time you leave the office on time, make an appointment for a massage, throw away all your junk food, take a brisk walk with a friend. Intention is powerful. In time, your intention to love yourself may become… love.
- Out with the bad; in with the good. In other words, say no, so yes can happen. If you work on saying no to what you don’t want, there will be more room in your life for what you do want – a positive and healing relationship, time to yourself, travel opportunities, a rewarding career – whatever it is. From the little (more lattes) to the big (nurturing romance), bring in the good and say no, no, NO to what does not serve you.
- Accept yourself, warts and all. This means BE AUTHENTIC and be OKAY with YOU. Who are you, anyway? Figure that out. What makes you so uniquely and gloriously you? Write down a list of the things you cherish about yourself, the things about you for which you are so grateful! Generosity, a great way with kids, astonishing mathematical ability? Don’t forget things like: “I can pick up small objects with my toes” and “My tofu meatloaf is the best in three states.” And own your peccadilloes. Loving people – others or yourself – is about accepting the whole package. So you get a bit overwrought about dirty dishes in the sink. That’s you! Or you refuse to shower on Sundays. Quirky and adorable. If you want to improve or change, that’s fine too – but do it without judgment. If you don’t want to be so possessive or controlling – great, but move through your growth with love and faith.
- Forgive yourself. Whatever mistakes you’ve made in the past, they are not permanent reflections on you as a person. Know that. Move on.
- Be your own best friend. Or to look at it a different way, treat yourself as you would your dearest friends or family members. If it’s not good enough for them, it’s not good enough for you.
Self-esteem is complex and multi-faceted. As you work on yours, stay tuned for next week’s blog about self-confidence and how it relates to self-esteem. Meanwhile, treat yourself to something you deserve because you are wonderful, am I right?