I came across an online forum where someone had asked, “How can I raise my self-esteem?”
This person had many questions in mind while asking this question. He is probably wondering why he ended up having low self-esteem. He is wondering how he can fix that.
And maybe, just maybe, he has a little voice in his head wondering if he actually can have healthy self-esteem after all the bad things he knows about himself.
I have been there before; I know how it feels.
What astonished me was the replies. Not because they were bad –they actually were good and empathetic.
They were correct answers, but for other questions. I can even start applying them now and have some positive changes in my life. But if I were the person I was 5 years ago, I wouldn’t feel the same.
It is important to respect yourself and to appreciate your good qualities. But it is difficult for someone already struggling with low self-esteem and self-hatred.
It is like telling someone with social anxiety to “just relax!”. It is like telling a depressed person to take it easy and feel happy. It is like telling a chronically worried person to not worry!
If it only was that simple! That is like pushing someone who cannot swim into a pool while yelling, “just swim!!”
From where do self-love and self-respect come?
That is a difficult question.
Your thoughts, environment, beliefs, background, experiences, and stories will affect your self-respect. You have some control over some of these things, and you are not in control of some of them.
Let us get more specific about some of the things you have control over. Those are the beliefs that you have about yourself and life. The way you interpret the events and how you respond to them. The meaning you give to whatever is going on in your life.
That all counts. But still, it does not answer the question clearly.
In fact, to answer this question, we need to ask it the other way around:
Where do self-hatred and feelings of inferiority and unworthiness come from? Why do I hate myself in the first place?
Some would argue it is also about mentality, beliefs, and choices. Mainly, our beliefs.
But I want to talk about something different. While we all have some individual beliefs that affect our self-esteem, there is a global belief that we all somehow share. And it negatively affects our well-being.
The shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown wrote many books on these touchy subjects. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene defines shame as the fear of disconnection.
We, she claims, are weird for connection. We need it to be mentally healthy; we simply cannot live alone.
And when we feel shame, we begin to believe that we do not deserve that connection because we are too bad. We do not feel that we are enough to get that connection, thus, we start to believe that we are unworthy of anything.
Let us put it in simpler words.
We have a deep need for connection. We want to love and to be loved, and we want to belong. Do not listen to all the Lone Wolf and Sigma crap online! This is a basic need that we all share.
And then we have this “shame” thing. It allures us into believing that we will never meet this basic need. It convinces us that we are not even worthy of connecting with other humans and/or belonging to other humans.
That feeling is extremely painful. A cold, harsh feeling that we are not enough/worthy and that we will never be.
And here are some interesting facts about shame:
- Because we all need connection, we all have the fear of disconnection, which is shame. In other words, we all feel shame. None of us is an exception. It’s just that some of us are better at handling it.
- Shame has many triggers. Some of them are related to culture and gender. However, they share the same motives, as we will see.
The first fact indicates that all of us struggle with self-esteem. Yes, some of us struggle more, but we all suffer somehow. No one feels confident and secure all the time. No one!
The second fact is about our beliefs and how we interpret the world. Some actions/thoughts/words/interactions trigger feelings of shame, and thus unworthiness and insecurity. Sometimes we have to challenge the beliefs behind those triggers. Or, we just need to be aware of them.
To keep this as practical as possible, we will examine how all these concepts can help us answer the question that we started the article with, “How can I raise my self-esteem?”
How can all this help you have a healthier self-esteem (or at least hate yourself less!)
Back to the person who asked that question above. If he is struggling with self-esteem, it means he is struggling with shame as well.
He believes something is wrong with him (his looks, skills, personality, salary, status…, etc.). And remember, shame is about feeling unworthy of connection (believing you are too bad for anyone or anything).
So, he believes what is wrong with him keeps him from being worthy of connection. (they trigger shame). For instance, he believes he does not look good (enough) and is thus unworthy of love. He believes he cannot earn big, and thus his self-image is shattered.
Yet, it is not about things (looks, social status, salary …etc.) It is about how those things trigger our feelings of shame.
This person has many reasons why he is unworthy. His flaws (or perceived flaws) make him feel bad about his existence. And in an attempt to feel good, he will try to fix those flaws or hide them. But that will never work.
It will never work simply because, deep down, he still feels unworthy (ashamed). He is trying to hide this from the people around him (and even from himself). It is about trying to change the perspective of other people rather than changing his own idea about himself.
And when he tries to hide those feelings of inferiority and tries to compensate for what he lacks, he will actually end up with even lower self-esteem.
Hiding and fixing do not build healthy self-esteem because they indicate insecurity.
When someone says, “I’m short and broke,” what he actually means is:
“I believe I will not be able to attract a partner, and I will stay alone forever. Shit, this means something is wrong with me. Shit, it means I am less worthy than those people around me! Fuck, I am a piece of shit. Err, why am I insulting myself? I must be an idiot. Oh, again, stop calling yourself names, fucker! ERR, USELESS PIECE OF SHIT!”
(Note: if you think it was inappropriate to use such language to write this article, then pay attention to your self-talk. Even if you do not use the F-word, it can sometimes be as offensive as this if we do not monitor it closely, especially when we’re feeling insecure.)
The “short and broke” is the shame trigger. It triggers the shit-storm of “something is wrong with me, people will never like me, and I will never like myself.”
And then this person comes online and posts questions about why he hates himself and how to raise his self-worth. He may even post questions about how to increase his height!
However, it is not his real question.
That applies to things other than height, such as shyness, social awkwardness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, body image, relationships, money, addictions, bad habits, etc.
And other well-intentioned people will tell him to love and accept himself. They will suggest that he should appreciate himself. Some wiser people may advise him to face his fears and solve his problems.
And they are all correct answers. They are the correct answers to the wrong question!
His real question is something like, How can I love myself and I am “___”? How can people love and accept me when I am “___”? Fill “___” with whatever you feel is suitable for you.
He cannot accept, appreciate, or love himself because shame won’t let him. And at the same time, he cannot improve because he feels worthless, so why bother?
Brene Brown has this thing that she calls, “the gremlins.” The gremlins will remind you of all the bad things that you are whenever someone tells you, “appreciate yourself”.
They are here to remind you of how shameful it is to be you when someone shows you the light within you.
The solution? Get rid of this “___” And if you cannot, hide it! Deny its existence.
Do not get excited; this solution sucks because it only worsens the situation! But it is one of the first solutions we tend to think of.
This person will not accept any piece of advice about self-love. He wants to eliminate the source of the pain (at least what he thinks is the source of the pain). He wants to eliminate the shame trigger.
And while we sometimes need to eliminate the shame triggers, it is never the first step. Actually, in most cases, it is not this “___” that is making you suffer from self-esteem. It is how you feel about “___”. It is about how much shame you harbor. And then how you handle these feelings of shame.
So I hate myself, should I accept myself or improve myself?
The egg and the chicken question. But here is what you should do based on our discussion so far.
You should do both. You should accept yourself, and you should improve yourself. But you have to do that in a specific manner.
Here is how.
Accepting yourself is not really about unconditional acceptance. It is merely about not stigmatizing yourself. In fact, sometimes it is a bad idea to accept yourself just the way you are if “the way you are” is hurting you and others.
There is a huge difference between being depressed and feeling ashamed because of being depressed. In the second case, you are telling yourself that something is wrong with you because you are depressed.
That is more harmful than depression itself.
We all suffer somehow, and we all have problems. Stop feeling bad because you have problems/flaws.
It is not only you who is suffering from this specific issue, even though it feels as though. It is literally all of us. Feeling ashamed of having problems is worse than those actual problems.
For instance, shyness. Let us say that Sam is shy. He should not feel sorry for himself because he is shy. He should not indulge in self-pity or feel like a victim. And he should not feel like he is bad because of his shyness.
Because this stigmatization will destroy him. It will keep him where he is. Shame and stigmatizing one’s self can never drive or induce positive changes.
In short, Sam will never overcome his shyness because he is crippled by feelings of inferiority and worthlessness because of his shyness.
Those feelings of inferiority and worthlessness will keep him where he is. After all, why try to improve and change if I am already a piece of shit? That would be his logic.
Instead, he should stop stigmatizing himself.
What he cannot see right here is that we all struggle with mental and psychological problems. We all feel shame. We all feel small sometimes. No one is an exception. No one!
Just look around you, and you will realize that underneath the “toughness” lay imperfections and problems. We are only fucking humans!
Improving yourself is easier once you stop stigmatizing yourself.
You would lift a huge burden off of your shoulders when you stop being ashamed of your problems and flaws. You would simply start working on a solution.
This is how change is made. Change must come from a place of acceptance and peace (not anger and hatred).
Take the necessary steps to improve. And be patient. It takes time. During this time, practice self-compassion instead of stigmatization. Especially when you screw up.
Overcome the shyness. Build the necessary social skills. Work on your emotional health. Do some therapy if you have to. Workout. Read. Work hard on your dreams. Leave the toxic relationships and the toxic places.
Most importantly, make mistakes and learn from them. Again, do not be harsh on yourself when you make mistakes. Learn from them and realize they are the only way to master something.
Counterintuitively, the more mistakes you make, the better you become, and vice versa.
After a while, you will notice an improvement. When you do, congratulate yourself. You are moving ahead. Keep improving and keep the golden mental habit of not stigmatizing and shaming yourself. Replace it with self-encouragement.
Only then will you be able to apply advice like, “love yourself,” and “appreciate yourself.”
It took me a while, personally. But it pays off.
Last but not least, check Brene Brown’s videos and books. They can be found online easily. Learn more about shame and how to deal with it. You do not eliminate it. As we said above, it is just that some of us can handle it better. And that is something you can learn.
It will help you with the first part of not stigmatizing yourself.
To finish, I want you to ponder on this quote:
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” -Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
This post was previously published on medium.com.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Photo credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash