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.