10 Futile Tips to Increase Self-Esteem & ONE That Actually Works (for me)

Anyone struggling with mental health issues is quite likely to be struggling with a low self-esteem, too. Unless, maybe, you’re a narcissist, but trust me, then your true self-esteem is probably not so grand either. 😉 If you are struggling with self-esteem issues, you probably are not short on good advice on how to increase it that people have given you over the years. I sure am not short on this kind of advice.

The problem is, those tips never really worked for me. Not a single one of them. I wrote them down below along with the objections that I have. Then I’ll tell you the ONE thing that actually works to improve my self-esteem. But before that, here’s all the “good” advice:

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1. Don’t compare yourself to other people. I don’t really see this working, because isn’t it an inbuilt thing that humans compare themselves to other humans in order to relate and to survive? Isn’t it a way to develop positively, too? Imagine we didn’t have the ability to look at other people and see what they are doing and then compare it to what we are doing. . . we’d be unable to learn from others, if we weren’t able to compare people and behavior. So why should I stop comparing? For example I see that my mom manages emotions so much better than I do. I want to be able to do that, too. Shouldn’t I be looking and comparing what she does to what I do, in order to figure out what she does differently and why she manages and I don’t? I don’t see how my self-esteem would grow from stopping comparing. I mean I do want to know where I stand in relation to others, because I am a social being. Maybe the conclusions I draw are not the best, but really, that’s not the same as the thing itself being bad.

2. Don’t put yourself down. Okay. Good in theory. No putting myself down. But what shall I do instead? Pretend my lacking abilities aren’t there? Yay, I have awesome emotional coping skills. I rock. I’m awesome. – Unrealistic much? Hey, but at least I’m not putting myself down. So okay, maybe I’m gonna feel better about myself initially, but sooner or later I still don’t have any better emotional coping skills and run into a big mess because of them. I’ll still feel bad about myself in the long run. Also, there is a reason for which I put myself down. I can’t just resolve that by making a decision not to do it any longer. The reason needs figuring out and addressing, else I’m only gonna feel worse about myself because I don’t really manage to not put myself down.

3. Strengthen yourself with positive affirmations. Hmm… I have nothing against positive affirmations. I can write them on pieces of paper and stick them to the bathroom mirror and when I run out of toilet paper, I’ll even be grateful they’re there. But repeating something positive over and over again isn’t going to make it feel more true to me when I have an aversive reaction to what the affirmation says in the first place.

4. Accept compliments. I would. And I can pretend that I do. But in order to accept something, it needs to fit in with my belief system. Imagine someone told you the world is a flat disk that people fall off of once they come too close to the edge and expected you accept it. Everything you know tells you they are wrong, and you feel like there is plenty of proof that they are. But chuck that, accept it anyway. Would you?

5. Change your beliefs about yourself. Oh, I would. In a second. If this was a rational kind of belief system, I’d be changing it so much and so awesomely you’d stand in awe. Problem is, those beliefs aren’t rational. Rationally I do already know that I have no reason for my self-esteem to be so bad. But guess what, this isn’t a rational belief. It is tied deeply into my emotions and my experiences and my history and they just shrug logical reasoning off like a pesky insect and will rather go and get the fly swatter than accept it keeps on bothering them.

6. Find out what you’re good at. Good idea. If in order to believe I’m ‘good at’ something my bad self-esteem wouldn’t always interfere. My bad self-esteem tells me that even when I’m good at something, I’m not good enough by far, and the thing that I’m good at isn’t a very valuable thing anyway. So if I were just able to find out what I’m good at, I wouldn’t be struggling with such a lousy self-esteem in the first place.

7. Don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect. Define ‘lack of respect’ please. It is a highly subjective thing, what one considers as a ‘lack of respect’. If someone pushes me around I don’t recognize that as a lack of respect, because I feel they are right in doing that, and not lacking anything. I’d need to feel deserving of a certain level of respect first, in order to properly realize when someone is treating me with less than that.

8. Dress nicely, maintain good hygiene, work out, eat well, etc. I have nothing against those things, other than that if they don’t match how I feel, instead of making me feel better, I just feel an inner dissonance and like a fraud because the way I look and eat and stuff is not appropriate to the way I feel inside. Eating is a big one for me. I just CAN not eat when I feel like I’m not deserving of the food. I want to, my rational mind knows there is no reason why I would not, but I just CAN’T. Not until I feel better about myself. So dressing nicely, maintaining good hygiene etc. feels backwards to me. Like saddling a horse that isn’t yet even there.

9. Be helpful and kind to others. So good in theory, so hard when all those emotions get in the way. I try to, really. I try really, really hard, because it’s important to me. But the expectation makes me feel like a failure when I don’t manage, because I know it should be the least thing to be kind to others and to be helpful. And having such a bad self-esteem, I often don’t even feel like anyone would WANT the help I could offer, because it’s not good enough, and like nobody would even CARE for my being kind, because I am annoying them. So I end up feeling afraid of being kind, because I feel like they would misunderstand my attempt at kindness as an attempt to bother them and would turn away from me over it.

10. Don’t dwell on your past experiences. Uhm-kay?! They just contributed big time to who I am, so why would they be important, right? Cause as humans we tend to ignore past experiences, or what? Trust me, if I could just be a clean slate and start over, I’d totally do it! But… not working. Experiences shaped who I am. My experiences shaped my emotions. In order to understand myself, my emotional reactions, my automatic thoughts and beliefs, I actually NEED to take those experiences into account, so I can make sense of the mess I am. And hey, maybe even eventually move beyond it. Sorry if you consider my wanting to be more aware of how my past influenced to be ‘dwelling’ on my past experiences.

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Okay, so all those didn’t really work for me. Like, at all. But one thing IS working. And this one thing is:

ImproveSelfEsteem

That, and only that, is where the modest amount self-esteem that I have collected in the meantime comes from. That is what helps me with drawing better conclusion from comparisons with other people. That is what helps me with not putting myself down so much. That is what slowly replaces the negative beliefs I have about myself with better ones. That is where I get a healthy idea of how much respect I deserve from. That is what helps me make sense of and come to terms with my past experiences to then let go of them. And that is what makes me more sure that I can actually offer kindness and help that others would appreciate.

Only this one thing. Go figure.  I actually need to get a horse before I saddle it.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. charmsofagypsy
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 11:47:02

    I have enjoyed reading through your blog this morning, especially this post! I too find that the most important thing for me is having loved ones (friends, family, boyfriend, etc.) who GETS me for my craziness, randomness, and everything else. I appreciate your openness and honestly, and look forward to reading more your blog! 🙂 Best wishes to you this week.

    • Lola
      Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:04:39

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed reading. 🙂 And I totally know what you mean, it’s the people who GET me and who apparently enjoy being with me who make me feel more valuable. Thanks for commenting and the best wishes to you, too! 🙂

  2. nobodysreadingme
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:46:45

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. all of the things that you mention seem to crop up in slf help books (a genre I occasionally have a pop at over on my blog) and they’re bloody useless. When I feel bad (eg Friday) there’s no way on this earth that’s the way I WANT to feel. I don’t. But no amount of psychobabble is going to change it.
    What pulled me up was that two people went out of their way to make temselves available to me at very awkward times. They were unstinting with their help and kind words.
    And then I felt a bit better about myself and could do the rest of the work on my own.
    Way to go, Lola.
    And if it’s any help at all, I think you’re pretty neat. Brave, intelligent, often very funny, never (to me at least, and not on this blog) snidey or cutting.

    • Lola
      Jan 28, 2013 @ 17:24:34

      I’ve never been able to make much use of the self-help kinds of advice either. And then that actually worsenes my mood and self-esteem issues, because not only do I feel bad about myself, but also feel bad about not being able to make it better. I think as humans we have a certain disposition towards benefitting from direct and positive interaction with others, from others being kind and making us feel like we’re not so bad after all.

      And thank you. If it means anything to you, I think you’re pretty neat, too. 🙂 And yes, I’m not snidey or cutting usually, and certainly not towards people who I don’t have emotional struggles with. It looks different from mom’s end. Believe me. She often gets all the crap, way, way, way more than she deserves. 😦

  3. weordmyndum
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 15:33:04

    Yup, self-esteem tips have never worked well for me, either. It’s weird–there are parts of me I really like, but overall I hate myself and think I’m a terrible person most of the time. Like the good things about me, and if you strip them all away, I’m a terrible person underneath.

    You’re lucky, though, that you’ve got your one person. There are people who like me well enough, but it’s just little bits of what I need. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to have real, loving parents, so I just have to suck it up and deal with it on my own.

    • Lola
      Jan 28, 2013 @ 17:14:40

      You know, it’s really similar with me. There are certain things I can do reasonably good, like draw, and I know that people tend to think I’m “cute” (whatever that is, exactly, lol) but I feel like underneath, I’m actually quite horrible and once people look beyond what may be good on the surface, they will inevitably see that.

      I really hope that you’ll get a person in your life, too, who will be able to not only like you well enough, but really and truly love you in a way you can accept and that helps you feel better about yourself. Partners can probably be pretty awesome, too, if you find one that’s right for you. Hugs to you.

  4. prideinmadness
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 16:49:41

    Some of the other ones have helped me and I still use them. Different things will work at different points of your life 🙂

  5. Marty
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 14:06:34

    Excellent ideas. Try affirmations repeated daily out loud to involve more of the mind. It changes our self image. I recorded mine and would replay it at night, in the car, on my phone. Feels awkward but works.

    Keep up the good work, improvement comes at a slow speed it feels like somedays.

    • Lola
      Jul 11, 2013 @ 12:25:04

      Thank you, Marty, and the best of luck with the affirmations! They don’t work well for me, but for others they are really good! Glad they are working for you!!

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