For most of my life, I was under the notion that pride and self-esteem came as a direct result of compliments from other people. If people said nice things about me, then I should feel good about myself, right?
The truth is that pride and self-esteem come from within. I grew up believing that I was a collection of negative adjectives: I was too short, too fat, too Black and ultimately too ugly to be loved. It took me many years to learn that there was no amount of weight I could lose, inches I could grow, or alterations that I could make to my external appearance that could make me feel better about the person I was inside.
It took many years of work and reflection to discover that pride, self-love, self-worth and self-respect are all inside jobs that together make up self-esteem. But how do you change how you feel? For Pride 2020, here are my ideas on 10 ways you can eliminate shame and increase self-esteem–that you can put into action right now.
1. Define yourself on your terms
My opinion of myself used to be based entirely on the negative messages I got from others. Ever hear the phrase “Opinions are like assholes… Everybody has one?” I used to take that to mean that opinions don’t matter. In all of the helpful platitudes out there, no one ever told me that the only opinion that actually does matter is my own. And, it’s just as important to take care of my opinion, as it is to take care of my asshole.
Redefine what your adjectives mean to you as the first step in healing your relationship to your self-worth and pride.
Yes, though I may be shorter than average, thicker than average and a delicious dark-skinned shade of brown, none of those things individually or combined make me any less than. Having negative opinions caused me to judge life more harshly and with less compassion. If you need help defining yourself on your own terms ask yourself these questions:
- What opinions do I carry about myself?
- Where did those opinions and stories come from?
- Are the opinions helpful or harmful?
- Do I believe them?
- How can I see positivity in all of who I am, as a whole, perfect and complete person?
Take out a sheet of paper. On the left side write down the adjectives you use to regularly describe yourself. On the right side write your own, unapologetic positive spin on it.
2. Know, and live into your values
Next on the same sheet of paper write down the top 5 things you value most. Here is a list of examples you can choose from.
Once you have your top 5 values, think through the things you do or actions you take that contradict your values. For instance, if you value your relationships with your family, but for weeks have been avoiding phone calls from a close family member, ask yourself–how do my actions contradict my values? Do I want to bring my actions in line with my values?
You don’t need to change all your habits and behaviors at once–this is practice. Have compassion for yourself. To be contradictory is human. Noticing and taking responsibility for actions that go against your values gives you greater insight and can give you pride as you take responsibility for choices you make.
3. Feeling good means more than looking good
Your body is a canvas for your self-expression. Appearances are not high on my list of values, but comfort is. So, when I think of fashion I prefer comfort to aesthetics. For a long time, I dressed in studio clothes with a frumpy appeal because I never felt comfortable in “girl” clothes. The first time I put on a collared button-up shirt, I felt home. I discovered that stereotypically “men’s” clothes are oftentimes designed for comfort. Putting on a tie and cufflinks, with a set of wingtips, I feel sexy and powerful.
These feelings immediately allow me to move differently in my body and in the world. Exuding confidence, I am clear about who I am and what I am capable of.
Take some time to think about what makes you feel good, and feel good to be in your skin. Is your main priority comfort? Showing your affluence? Following styles and trends? Write down what comes to mind and plan at least three new empowered emotions that you want to translate into an aesthetic.
Do not be afraid to express yourself and refine it.
4. Take pride in setting healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries around how much stock I take in what others think about me has been pivotal in my healing process. It used to matter if someone noticed that I had gained, or lost weight. Or, if my hair was “tame” enough. Family, friends, and general peers all had a greater say in my self-worth than I did.
Now, I find it easy to not let my thoughts be persuaded by the negative opinions of others. All that matters now is that I think highly of my actions and myself. Trusted feedback is valuable. If I want to grow in a certain area I request feedback from the people who are living a life that is in alignment with my core values. I also examine the feedback that does not align with my values to see what actions I am communicating to shift the nature of the feedback I am receiving. Building respect for myself gains the respect of others, and it starts with respecting my own boundaries.
5. Know and declare your commitments
Once you have a clear sense of your values, you will have a clear sense of what you are committed to in life. Living a life based on your commitments gives you access to long-term pride, joy and fulfillment.
Write down three things you are most committed to in order of importance. Now that you have your commitments defined, share them with the people you care about. Telling people what you are committed to makes your commitments a reality. Knowing who you are, and staying true to that knowledge, builds self-trust. Remember that commitments are precious. They give life to your values and it is important to protect them. Protect your commitments by declaring them, and continuing a practice of setting healthy boundaries with yourself and others.
6. Keep your word
Keep your word to eliminate shame and take pride in your actions. Feeling like life is unworkable can come from an inability to say “no.” Be clear about what you can (or cannot) commit to, and make sure your commitments align with your values. Saying “no” to what doesn’t work for you means being able to say “YES!” to what does.
7. Take pride in progress
It is normal to occasionally fall short of a goal or commitment. It can be easier to beat yourself up for not accomplishing something than it is to acknowledge your effort or how hard you tried.
Take pride in your progress, incentivize your dedication to values and commitments. Remember to reward yourself for what you do accomplish, even if it falls short of your original goal.
8. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments
As a perfectionist, I have struggled with the desire to undermine my accomplishments for not being good enough. I always want to be better or do more.
While pressing for your next big endeavor, take a moment to stop and acknowledge each of your achievements along the way.
Define your own idea of success. Take a moment to reflect on all of the things you have accomplished to date. No matter how big or small ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Is this accomplishment in alignment with my commitments?
- Did I grow in the process of achieving this goal?
- Am I closer to achieving my goals than I was before?
Once you have a clear sense of the accomplishments you have attained, create a plan for how you will acknowledge yourself for each of them. Write down a simple list of things you enjoy doing, treat yourself by putting them in your schedule as regular activities. I make a weekly habit of soaking in the tub for a few hours as a way of treating myself to acknowledge my accomplishments. Doing this every week causes me to stop and reflect on my recent accomplishments. I often realize that I was not aware of how much I have achieved.
9. Have a clear sense of self
Look over your list of adjectives, values, commitments, boundaries, accomplishments and incentives. These are the terms of your life; this is the person your soul aspires to be.
Take this opportunity to discover yourself. You may find that some of the things you wrote are surprising or even confronting. You may also find that you have known who you are all along, but now are seeing new ways to live more fully.
10. Live authentically
Living authentically is all you really need to increase your sense of pride and self-esteem. If you followed the exercises above, you now have a blueprint for accessing your authentic self. It is easy to get caught up in the commotion of the outside world and what it tells you is important.
Your opinion of yourself is the only thing that matters and the only thing you can do anything about. Bettering your opinion of yourself comes from living a life that is true to your values and commitments, where you honor your boundaries, growth and accomplishments.