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Proven ways to build your self-esteem: from self-talk to meditation


Nurturing self-esteem is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. But what exactly does healthy self-esteem look like and how do you go about achieving it? Vhi Health Coach Dr Mou Sultana has the techniques that work, even if you feel like you “can’t do anything right”…

Do you struggle with saying “no”, talk yourself out of compliments, minimise your achievements and let disrespect from other people slide? Maybe you’re reluctant to join in conversations, find yourself avoiding challenges and generally hide away from the world.

This is what low self-esteem looks like, but it’s not always easy to spot. Indeed, just because someone seems outwardly confident doesn’t mean that they don’t struggle with their self-esteem. You can be high achieving and have the hallmarks of self-confidence – being assured in your abilities and trusting your judgement – while also feeling that you are not quite good enough. So, we can all suffer from diminished perceptions of ourself. However, self-confidence usually stems from high self-esteem. Why? Because if you value yourself positively, you will be more inclined to believe in your capabilities, improving your self-image and ability to get on with life.

Low self-esteem can even affect your overall health. Avoidance strategies may lead to bad habits and self-sabotage, reinforcing negative ideas that, in turn, lead to further bad coping mechanisms.

So, nurturing our self-esteem is vital. But what exactly does that look like?

When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel you are ‘good enough’. It’s not about being narcissistic or believing you are superior to others. In fact, ‘narcissistic grandiosity’ is a form of aggressive compensation for a weaker sense of self; a faulty mechanism of managing anxiety.

True self-esteem means recognising your limits, accepting your flaws and finding ways to navigate challenges. So how do we maximise our strengths while making peace with our weaknesses? When we work on ourselves, there are 6 pillars of self-esteem that we should be looking at and aiming for.

Conscious living: Your ability to be in the present and have an open mind. Your actions should be guided by your values and principles and you are committed to growing rather than stagnation.

Self-acceptance: Feeling compassion for yourself and being willing to help yourself.

Self-responsibility: We own our actions and are aware of the effect they have on ourselves.

Self-assertiveness Being vocal about our needs, views and positions.

Living purposefully: Having goals that are achievable and our ability to monitor our progress.

Personal integrity: Integrating the different parts of ourselves and integrating with others while maintaining our own individuality.

That’s all well and good, but how can we get proactive about building these 6 pillars of self-esteem? Here are some proven ways to enhance your own …

Feel you ‘can’t do anything right’? Think again

If you find yourself in this mindset, the first thing to do is commend yourself on recognising that something is wrong. You are paying attention and have the ability to introspect, which a great start. But you are likely seeing a distorted version of yourself. Think: what lens are you using? Then, when you are ready to see things as they really are, let’s list 5 things that you can do right.

These observations can be as simple as thinking: my gums are healthy so I’ve kept good dental hygiene, the electricity is still on so I paid the bills. That means you are a dependable, responsible adult. There are lots of adults who don’t make that right decision, but the evidence is there that you can look after yourself and exercise good judgement. Go from there and count up the little wins.

It’s important to catch yourself making these statements about yourself that are untrue. Evaluate where it is coming from, whose voice are you repeating? If you are frustrated about struggling to do something new, ask for help. You’re learning. You might be asking too much of yourself. So be realistic in the lenses you use to evaluate yourself and your actions. Look for biases you use against yourself.

Challenge negative thinking patterns

Self-awareness is key but it doesn’t happen overnight. There are different practices that can enhance the process of building awareness (and building confidence). Here are some guide questions to challenge your thoughts:

  • Are you exaggerating, minimising, catastrophising or over-generalising?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions by ‘mind-reading’ or ‘fortune-telling’?
  • Are you prone to magical thinking that somehow you are an exception?
  • Is your blinkered thinking disqualifying the positives you find?
  • Are you operating from an “all or nothing” position?
  • Do your sentences include ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’?

You will miss some negative automatic thoughts initially. Or catch some after a good few cycles where they have ruined your morning or evening. But, with practice, you start catching them in time. It gets easier and easier to spot them and dismiss them.

Where self-talk comes in

Speech has an immense effect on us. Words can make people fall in love, even start and end wars. They are not just words; they shape who we are, what we do and what we are capable of doing. So, use your words to good effect. Positive self-talk should be affirming and supportive and it’s something you can practice throughout the day. Eventually, it should come naturally to you. The trick is to speak to yourself with the same compassion you would use when speaking to someone else. Try these affirmations for self-love:

  • I am good enough.
  • I am doing the best I can.
  • My needs and wants are important.
  • No one can make me feel anything. I am in control of my reactions.
  • My values and beliefs do not need anyone else’s validation.
  • The scars from my past are my accessories. I wear them with pride. I am a survivor.
  • I feel proud of myself when I…
  • I am grateful to have…
  • I give myself permission to be me.

How meditation really helps

Meditation increases self-awareness and our ability to be mindful. It also improves our perception of our reality. This makes it an ideal practice to help get rid of the usual cognitive distortions and find the courage to see things how they are without filters.

The science also backs this up. Evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that, when practicing meditation that focuses on compassion or ‘loving – forgiving – kindness’, certain parts of our brain get activated. This includes the likes of the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes, which are responsible for cognitive function and empathy in particular.

Many meditation apps have guided meditations that focus on these specific areas.

This will help you get away from both all-negative and all-positive versions of yourself, so you begin to see how flaws and strengths can co-exist. As a more realistic version becomes visible, we feel compassion for what we don’t have (or have lost) and become hopeful about improving ourselves within our scope. In this way, self-esteem blossoms.

Other proven practices

People often ask whether hypnosis for confidence can genuinely work. While it’s not for everybody, if you are susceptible to it, it can indeed bring about positive change. However, there are plenty of other, everyday things you can do.

Regular exercise is a great way to boost self-esteem, at any age. But it plays an especially huge role when it comes to developing the self-esteem of children and adolescents.

Any activity that provides opportunities for small, consistent achievements is very useful. Learning better communication skills and assertive techniques will also make a big difference in your daily life. Indeed, learning anything new helps build positive self-esteem. Set small challenges and reach those goals. It’s a great way to regularly remind yourself of your ability to evolve, navigate the world and function far better than we think we do!

If you are concerned that low self-esteem is taking a particular toll on your mental health, talk to your GP. There are also trained people ready to offer support.

Above all, learn to be kind to yourself. You’re already doing a lot of things right, but you might be overlooking your strengths and achievements, minimising them and brushing them off. Let’s start acknowledging them today.

This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.

Meet our Vhi Verified Expert

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Dr Mou Sultana

Vhi Health Coach

Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist

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