The Self-Esteem Conundrum: Can We Fake It Til We Feel It?
If we just “go through the motions” of what we think will make us happier… will it? I think we owe it to ourselves to find out.
It is a moment of complete vulnerability when you can bravely and honestly admit that your self-esteem is in the gutter.
Allowing that reality to come into conscious awareness can be so uncomfortable that we do everything in our power to deny it, stuff it, ignore it, and numb it.
I admire my clients who check off the “low self-esteem / low self-worth box” on their intake form. At least they’ve gotten that far. There are others who can’t even bring themselves to put the check in the box. But I get it. That admission is scary as f***.
Think about it. If we look in the mirror and acknowledge we don’t feel good about ourselves, what happens next? What do we have to see and face if this is our truth? The stream of thought usually causes us to analyze why. Because we feel flawed or undesirable in some way. Maybe it’s I think I’m too tall, short, fat, skinny, boring, stupid, ugly, uneducated, etc. I’m not happy. Everyone else has it figured out but I can’t seem to get it right. I’m embarrassed of… Or simply I’m not good enough. And most of the time we know where those things came from. And it’s a lot easier to pour a glass of wine than to think about that.
One thing I definitely did not learn in my Master’s program was how to answer this question: How do I improve my self-esteem?
I usually tell clients that if I knew the answer to that, I’d have “Oprah status.”
It’s a joke.
And they laugh.
Most people appreciate the sense of humor, and magnitude of the question. But then they still look at me and ask, “So really – what do I do?”
Start With Therapy
We want there to be a simple answer, and there isn’t. The culprit for low self-esteem is usually a negative program (or programs) running in our subconscious. For example, “I don’t deserve to be happy.” Depending on your belief system, these programs could have been instilled in us by life experience, childhood, parents, genetic makeup, or even from past lives.
You can go into therapy to address and replace those underlying programs, and that can help. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, ThetaHealing, and Hypnosis are just a few of the options available. But this can take some time. And sometimes those programs are really stubborn and we hold on to them for reasons we can’t quite identify.
You’ve heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
It made me wonder, does it take an army to create self-worth?
If we really want to improve the way we feel about ourselves, can we start by going through the motions of what it would feel like to feel better? In Cognitive Behavioral therapy, we change cognitions to change behaviors. But can changing behaviors change our cognitions? Can we fake it til we feel it?
And what does this army look like?
It looks like anything that you can do empower yourself. Everything and anything that you can possibly think of that brings positivity and good vibes into your world. What are you exposing yourself to all day? Are you doing everything you possibly can for yourself to feel how you want to feel?
Still have no idea what I’m talking about? Take a look at your sensory input. (What you’re watching, listening to, reading, inhaling, who you’re spending time with, etc.)
EVALUATING YOUR SENSORY INPUT
What are you listening to? It has a huge impact on our mood. Does it make you feel happy? Positive? Strong? Joyful? Excited? Motivated? Empowered? Brave, by Sara Bareilles. Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. F**kin’ Perfect by P!nk. Anything by Beyonce. T Swift. Lady Gaga. Katy Perry. Nicki Minaj. Who are your lyrical warriors?
What are you reading? Some of my favorites for self-esteem are Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. You can also reference the big therapeutic library.
Who are you spending time with? My dear friend LouAnn says that you should ask yourself this question about anyone in your inner circle: “Does this person support my highest and best good?” Look at the lives and attitudes of the people around you. Are they in line with what you want to cultivate for yourself?
Are you moving? The mind-body connection is undeniably a thing. Even a short walk boosts endorphins which boosts mood. Yes, it can be that simple. Here’s the part that most people miss: Exercise should be something you enjoy doing. If I tell you that in order to be your healthiest you need to start swimming, but you hate the smell of chlorine and are really turned off by the thought of a swim cap, guess what? You’re not going to do it. I’m sure you can make a long list of what you can’t do or don’t want to do. That’s not helping you. What is it that you like doing that you’ll actually look forward to? Playing tennis, rollerblading, skiing, hiking, kicking around a soccer ball, dancing, throwing around a Frisbee with your dog, riding your bike. The possibilities are literally endless, and they all count.
What are you inhaling? Yes, even that matters. In case you haven’t heard, diffusing (or dabbing on) scents like Lemon, Orange, Peppermint and Bergamot can improve your mood. A little bit of Lavender, Rose, or Vetiver can help calm you down.
What are you watching? What we watch influences how we feel too. Listen to Brené Brown’s TedTalk on Vulnerability. Watch Kathryn Budig talk about body image. Monica Lewinsky (yes) has a pretty powerful talk on shame that offers some good insight into the emotion. Amy Cuddy’s work is actually about how we can manipulate our body language to create confidence.
How are you talking to yourself? Chances are, it’s not nice. What if you created something kind, positive, and useful to say? Something simple like “Today I will love myself unconditionally.” Or, “I welcome change and am open to receiving abundance.” Doesn’t sound believable? Practice. Write it down. When we put something in writing, it becomes a contract with ourselves. Post-it’s, screensavers, your phone. Put reminders everywhere.
Asking for help is not weakness, it’s honesty. We were not created to be able to do everything on our own, or to have everything all figured out. Think of anyone you consider a role model. Celebrity, politician, musician, personal acquaintance. I promise, they are surrounded by a powerful support system. So find yourself a mentor, counselor, life coach, acupuncturist, priest, ThetaHealer, personal trainer, or nutritionist. Or all of the above.
As much as possible. Go. See. Explore. Experience. Discover.
How often do you go out of your comfort zone? I love when people think ‘big.’ Hike Machu Picchu, jump out of a plane, etc. But it doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just has to be a new experience for you. For example, ride your bike when you would normally drive. You’ll be amazed at how much your perspective changes. Really want to blow your mind? Experience something by yourself that you’ve always done with someone else.
The Law of Attraction on paper. Never done it? 3 easy steps. 1. Get a bunch of magazines, some poster board, scissors, and glue. 2. Flip through magazines and identify anything that speaks to you as something you want to manifest in your life. 3. Cut and paste. Need ideas? Check out Amazon or Pinterest.
Do this visualization exercise: *Close your eyes and imagine that you are immediately given an abundance of self-esteem and self-worth.* What would that feel like? What would you do differently? How would you act differently? How would you communicate differently? What would your life look like?
Participate relentlessly in the creation of your army.