Developing a Healthy Self-Esteem
Dr. David H. Coombs, Ed.D., MFT
For my doctoral dissertation, I studied self-esteem. I wanted to know how we develop self-confidence and how we learn to feel good about ourselves. If people lack confidence, how do they get it? I learned golden nuggets of truth that, when applied, help us feel good about ourselves.
First, all of us have suffered from low self-esteem to one degree or another at one time or another. No one feels completely adequate or approved of all the time. We cannot expect universal approval; we must face the fact that not every one is going to like us, and we are not always going to succeed; but that is OK. We see others fail and we still like them; on the other hand, there are people we don’t particularly care for, so why should we expect everyone to like us?
Second, we can change our self-esteem. We don’t have to feel locked into thinking and feeling a certain way about ourselves. Change occurs when we decide to change. We begin by bringing our behavior in line with our values. Persons who carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame do not feel good about themselves until they live in harmony with what they know to be right.
Third, self-esteem is effected by experiences we had as children. Those who were abused, discounted, frequently criticized, or abandoned often feel of little worth. Because of our experiences growing up, all of us have running conversations with ourselves that could be self-defeating. If our parents or significant others were harsh and critical, then we will likely talk to ourselves that same way.
Fourth, we can change our negative self talk. In fact, if we are to change the way we feel about ourselves, we must change the way we talk to ourselves. Learning the language of self-support is likened to the process of re-parenting ourselves. We must lovingly discipline, kindly correct, constantly support, and quickly forgive ourselves. For example, when we experience a severe disappointment or trauma and are left feeling inadequate and powerless, we must use the power of positive self talk and not label ourselves as failures or losers. For example, we can tell ourselves things such as: “I know I’m not free from making mistakes or having problems or experiencing challenges or facing difficulties, but I am free to choose how I respond to them. I can do hard things. I am a good problem solver. With the Lord’s help, I will overcome all things and move on.”
Fifth, many of us were taught that it was prideful and wrong to say nice things to ourselves. We were warned not to “get a big head.” While we do not want to brag, it is imperative that we educate our feelings by reminding ourselves (not others) of our qualities, virtues, and strengths. If we wait for others to compliment and praise us so we can feel good about ourselves, we are most likely too dependent on others. Additionally, too many times, when people are positive and do say nice things to us, we may discount their compliments out of fear that if people really knew us, they wouldn’t say those nice things. To feel good about ourselves, we need to not only graciously accept positive feedback but also practice believing it. Remember, a simple “thank you” is the best response to praise.
Sixth, when we compare ourselves with others so that we assume ourselves to be woefully lacking, our self-esteem suffers. When we envy others for their wealth, position, good looks, and so forth, we find it difficult to accept ourselves just as we are. While we all make these comparisons, they do not serve us well. So let’s stop it!
Seventh, we can challenge ourselves to move out of our comfort zone and courageously take steps to do those things we have always wanted to do, but didn’t do, because we were afraid of failing. We must acknowledge our fears and then move forward. Life is no fun if we always play it safe. As we learn to boldly face our fears, we find that most fears are mythical and that we can do more than we ever thought we could. Success breeds success and builds self-confidence.
Eighth, curiously, as we have been discussing what we can do to better love ourselves, it may seem a contradiction to mention how important it is that we forget ourselves and think more of what we can do for others. Losing ourselves in the service of others is rewarding, and we may find there is more of ourselves to like when we bless others.
As we learn to accept the truths in the compliments we give to ourselves and those we receive from others, to acknowledge our strengths and talents, to develop positive self talk, to be more forgiving of our own humanity, to humbly think more of others, we may actually enjoy living the lives we are living and doing the things we are doing. We may find ourselves saying, “It’s nice being me; I enjoy life, most of the time, I like who I am.” Being able to do so defines a person who enjoys a healthy self-esteem.
Dr. Coombs is in private practice as a licensed marriage, family, and individual therapist in Washington City. He can be reached by calling 435-705-3579 or email DrDavidCoombs@gmail.com or on the web DrDavidCoombs.com.