Got Low Self Esteem? This Forever Changed Mine

This is something nobody’s talking about.

Articles on “how to heal from low self esteem” are all over the internet. And the advice they offer drives me crazy.

Find a New Challenge

Learn to Be Assertive

Focus on Your Positives

Take Care of Yourself

Avoid Negative Self-Talk

If you’ve tried any of these remedies, you know none of them work, which makes you feel like a loser because you couldn’t fix the problem, which is the last thing you need right now.

To get any victory here, you’re going to need to start with one of the most painful questions you can ask.

Where did your low self esteem come from?

Hint: you’re not born with it.

Why You Think You Suck

You didn’t come out of the womb with low self esteem.

Someone gave it to you.

Sometime in your early, formative years, someone passed their low self esteem to you. In many different ways, this person (or persons) conveyed the message that you’re not worth much.

And you believed them.

Maybe you were physically abused, sexually abused, screamed at. Perhaps it was more subtle. Maybe you were neglected too much – not enough for the neighbor to call Social Services, but just enough for you to believe there’s something wrong with you.

I have a friend who’s parents follow her around 24/7 and tell her what she’s doing wrong.

She’s grown up feeling like an idiot and can’t shake it.

Or what about the guy who’s parents only loved him when he did something good? He’ll spend the rest of his life only feeling good about himself when he manages some kind of accomplishment. He’ll live from mountaintop to mountaintop, struggling to be present in his own family because the only thing that matters is success.

Low self esteem drives all manner of problems from relational discord to addiction to suicide.

Unfortunately, most people have it.

And what drives me nuts is the fact that most of the articles and resources aimed at helping people heal don’t deal with the most important truth about your low self esteem.

It came at the hands of someone else.

The Only Way Out

That might not sound like an epiphany to you, but that truth has a huge bearing on your healing.

Because your low self esteem came at the hands of someone else, the remedy is going to have to come through the same medium.

You’re going to have to spend time with people who love you, people who see the real you. Positive people. Healthy people.

These people, through their words and actions, just like the people who gave you bad self esteem, will tell you over and over again that you’re OK, that you’re not a bad person.

This truth about you can only come from someone else.

You can’t think your way out of this, or change something and watch your low self esteem magically disappear.

But because we don’t like who we are, we surround ourselves with the pretty people, the successful people – and they’re the worst. Their self esteem is just as bad as yours, they’ve just found a way to cover it up better than you have.

Healthy people don’t worry as much about style and other cultural alternatives for self worth. They’re not the sexy people; the people everyone wants to be around. Most of them can be found at churches, volunteer organizations, and nursing homes.

How boring is that?

But these people can, and will, change your life. All you have to do is put yourself in their arena. They’ll do the rest. It’s who they are.

Years ago, I drank the Kool Aide and started attending church. Because of my career, I ended up in a tiny, conservative, Evangelical country church in Texarkana, Arkansas.

While that might sound like death to you, it was the beginning of the end for my low self esteem. I was mentored by one of the elders who was an expert at encouragement. I became friends with the youth pastor who never took issue with my many unsavory qualities.

To be sure, this congregation wasn’t without its kooks. But for the most part it was filled with people who were committed to helping me see the truth about myself.

It’s who they were.

I’ll never forget them, or what they perpetrated against my low self esteem.

Now, as a Stay at Home Dad and a volunteer at our church, I deal with the unsavory qualities of others on a regular basis. I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should in the company of healthy people, but I get enough to keep moving forward.

Looking back on the last 20 years of my life, and at whatever success I’ve had in restoring my self-view, I see a long line of people who stood by my side and spoke truth, over and over again, about who I am.

Without friendships like these, I’d be a wreck.

Maybe dead.

If you’re struggling here, you’ll get nowhere without people in your life who have a healthy view of themselves. They’re the only ones who can undo the self-lying that you’ve been living with for so long.

Drop what you’re doing and find these folk.

They’ll change your life.

How to Build Self Esteem: 8 First Steps Anyone Can Take.

I was picked on incessantly in Junior High.  The cool kids needed someone to dump on, and I always seemed to be the closest target.  I didn’t know how to take up for myself and didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I began to believe that I deserved whatever abuse was coming my way.  It was so bad that I would go to bed at night worrying about who would pick on me the next day.

By the time I graduated High School, I decided that I had had enough.  I worked out, took steroids, defended myself – physically if necessary, changed my look, and hung out with the cool kids.  The “cooler” I got, the more I needed other kids to pick on, mainly because I was still lacking confidence on the inside.

Since then I’ve changed, dramatically so.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned – what I would consider the basics of building self esteem.

1.  Understand where your poor self image came from.

Low self esteem isn’t something you’re born with, someone has to give it to you.  We think poorly of ourselves because someone told us that we should, and we believed them.  Parents, peers, bosses, media, anything with a voice can convince you that you simply don’t measure up, and leave you thinking that you’ve got to “perform” to be on equal footing with everyone else.

2.  Spend time with good people.

If listening to stupid people got you here, listening to good people can get you out.  Folk who like themselves naturally reek of self-worth – it’s hard to hang out with them and avoid getting some on you.  These people can be found in churches, non-profits, volunteer opportunities, etc.  They’re easy to spot – they smile, help a lot, and unwittingly make you feel like you matter.

3.  Join a community where you can serve.

By listening to the lies other people have told you, you’ve come to believe that your life doesn’t matter.  Volunteering and serving can help you understand that you have something to offer, that you have just as much power to bring change to this world as anyone else.

4.  Get a Mentor.

It’s good to hang out with groups of people, but you won’t get very far in this game unless you’re willing to find someone who’ll sit down with you over coffee, someone who’s safe, who’ll listen to your stories and tell the truth about you.

“Where do I find a mentor?”  As a mentor/counselor I get asked this question all the time.  Below are some ideas, but understand that finding a good mentor is difficult, you’ll have to do some leg-work here.

Visit a nursing home.  Elderly people love to help, have a ton of wisdom/life experience,and have typically navigated more bullshit than you can possibly imagine.

Keep your eyes open for older, peaceful folk as you volunteer and serve. You’re bound to run into someone that’ll invest in you.

If you’re OK with church, join one that highly values peace and social justice.  There will be a lot of good people there.  Avoid churches that are all white, all straight, anti-this, anti-that etc. These are not typically places of peace and encouragement.

5.  Never treat anyone like you’ve been treated.  Ever.

I know it feels good to make fun of people, especially if you have low self esteem, but few things will wreck your view of yourself like disrespecting others.  If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Whatever you throw at others will come right back at you, so it’s always best to throw the good stuff.

6.  Tell Yourself the truth, over and over again.

The people that hurt you were first hurt by someone else.  They didn’t abuse you because you deserved it, they did it because they didn’t know how to deal with the shit they were carrying around.  So they painted a picture of you that wasn’t true, and you believed it.  Now there’s a huge gap between the real you and how you perceive yourself.

What’s the truth about you?  You bring just as much to the table as anyone else, you’re just too afraid to step into the arena because you don’t want to get hurt again, so you’ve come to believe that you’re worthless.  Not true.

7.  Get a handle on your body image issues.

Here’s the truth about the way your body looks, regardless of how you look.  It. Doesn’t. Matter.  Lose some weight if you want to.  Workout 30 times a week and get ripped to shreds.  You might garner some attention from people who care way too much about being pretty, but theirs is typically a worthless opinion.  Healthy, emotionally strong people don’t care what you look like.  It’s the weak/immature folk who’ll treat you differently based on how you look.

I have a friend who’s over 6 feet tall, gangly, and can never seem to cinch his belt tight enough to keep his pants up.  He’s changed more lives than you can imagine, including mine.  He’s a prolific speaker and teacher, a published author, and a respected leader, both in the U.S. and the U.K.

He’s also good friends with the lead singer for Mumford and Sons, just to throw that in.

I’m so glad he didn’t decide to curl up in a corner and cry himself to sleep every night because his body is what many would consider “ugly.”

Our world is full of fat, gangly, less-than-attractive world-changers who decided that “pretty” is a waste of time.

8.  Never stop pursuing this

Like any great pursuit, failure is part of the deal.  Some of the world’s greatest leaders see failure as little more than evidence of a good effort – if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

What’s not acceptable is quitting.  When we have a poor self image, it’s easy to see failure as proof of the problem and an excuse to stop trying.  You’ll need to get “I quit” out of your vocabulary.

The people who’ve managed to crawl out of the low self esteem hole are people who’ve tried over and over until they figured out how to see themselves properly, and then lived accordingly.  They’re not people with some unique skill set, they simply made the decision to unconditionally persevere.

I did it.  So can you.