Know Your Worth: How to Improve Your Self-Image
Low self-esteem or self-image is something many of us live with every day. We tell ourselves we’re too fat or too short, not rich enough or not popular enough. Our friends complain about how they feel inadequate, and we can’t help but relate. And when we feel we’ve reached an all-time low, we isolate ourselves and tailspin. With our inner critic and the words of others eating away at us, it’s easy to forget just how much we’re worth. And we really are worth so much!
You don’t have to live with low self-esteem. There are so many ways to climb out of that hole — and others can reach down and lend you a hand. You just have to decide to begin.
Living With Low Self-Esteem
People with low self-esteem tend to feel awkward, unworthy of love, inadequate and incompetent. These feelings often stem from difficult life events, impossible expectations and negative thoughts — factors that create a very fragile sense of self that can be easily damaged by others. Those with low self-esteem tend to look to others for affirmation and are hypersensitive to rejection and disapproval.
Often, individuals lacking self-esteem will perceive exclusion and rejection even when there isn’t any. The fear of making a mistake, doing something embarrassing or even being themselves often paralyzes them and prevents them from fully enjoying life. Their poor self-image blinds them to the fact that most people are totally unaware of any of their negative attributes at all.
For example, many teenage girls have low self-esteem because they consider themselves not skinny enough, pretty enough, stylish enough or cool enough. I know I did when I was young — sometimes I still do. It’s a toxic way of thinking that only grows more lethal the longer you choose to dwell on those negative thoughts.
I bet your friends and family members have never even noticed that belly roll when you sit down or that pimple on your chin. Besides, they don’t love you for the way you look or dress. Odds are, they haven’t even noticed these things. Which is why, when it comes to self-image, you are your own worst critic.
This harsh inner critic can wreak serious havoc on our lives if we don’t learn to silence her. The way we interact with others is greatly influenced by the way we perceive and interact with ourselves. For example, if we keep telling ourselves that we’re unlovable, we’re more likely to avoid interactions with others and be quicker to react defensively or cynically. We think, “How could anyone possibly see me in a positive light when I don’t see myself that way?”
The Path to Self-Improvement
The good new is, you don’t have to let self-esteem drag you down. The first step to self-improvement and boosting self-esteem is knowing your value.
It’s important to note that self-worth is not the same thing as self-esteem. They may sound similar, but these terms aren’t interchangeable. While self-esteem is all the things we believe to be true of ourselves, self-worth is realizing that we are much more than all these things. It’s a deep knowing that you’re valuable, lovable and needed. You are worth more than you could ever possibly imagine.
Realizing that you are of incomprehensible worth is the springboard to self-improvement. But what determines our self-worth?
According to the self-worth theory, self-worth is determined by our effort and our abilities which, combined, create our level of performance in activities we deem valuable. Unfortunately, individuals with low self-esteem tend to use other factors to measure their self-worth. These factors may include appearance, income, career, achievements, possessions and social connections.
While succeeding at these things may temporarily boost your self-esteem, it’s dangerous to solely rely on them to measure your self-worth. As I mentioned earlier, self-worth is recognizing that you mean more than these things. Giving your best effort and using your natural abilities will result in performing the best that you humanly can. Your performance may not be better than your coworker’s or your friend’s or that guy on YouTube, but you can still have high self-worth because you know you’re being the best you can be.
Know Your Worth
As previously mentioned, realizing your self-worth is the first big step to improving your self-image. But how, exactly, do you go about increasing your self-worth? It’s simpler than it may seem. Taking care of yourself, admitting your shortcomings, asking for help and giving yourself grace are all feasible and actionable courses of action to increase your overall sense of self-worth.
Take Care of Yourself
If you aren’t taking care of yourself, your self-worth will take a hit. Not sleeping or eating well has direct negative effects on your physical and mental state and can send your self-worth into a tailspin. Keep your mental state — and self-worth meter — healthy by eating nutritious meals, taking time to do things you enjoy and getting some exercise. The more you take care of and love your physical self, the more you’ll develop a capacity to love your inner self, the part that’s ready to criticize you.
Believe in Yourself and Your Decisions
Make yourself your own standard. You, your decisions and your reasons behind them are enough. Swap self-criticism for grace. You don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. Besides, your mistakes make you who you are just as much as your victories. So when you mess up, treat yourself with the same compassion you would a friend. You wouldn’t discourage them or beat them up over their missteps, so why would you treat yourself any different?
In both your successes and losses, recognize that you are still valuable and worthy of love. If you put in your best effort, you should still feel good knowing you tried, even if you did fail.
Allow Others to Help You
One of the worst things you can do when you’re experiencing low self-worth is to isolate yourself. Doing so will only encourage a decrease in your self-esteem — not to mention a spike in depression.
Instead of barricading yourself in your room, surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Even if you make every effort to take care of and improve yourself, it’ll be difficult to maintain a high level of self-worth if you spend time with people who do not encourage you. If the most important people drag you down, it’s time to find new friends. Remember, you have a right to your own happiness and sense of worth — along with a responsibility to protect them.
Once you find the right people, asking for support is crucial. Oftentimes, those around you won’t even know you’re struggling until you admit it and ask for help. But once you ask for help, others will be more than willing to support you in this journey if they’re good friends and family members.
Be careful not to fall into old habits of comparing yourself to others. Don’t make your support system your standard. Remember, you asked them for support because they know their self-worth and will probably have a more positive mindset than you in the beginning. We all have to start somewhere. Understand your potential for improvement, and let it be your motivation.
Remind Yourself Regularly of Your Value
Sometimes the only person around to encourage you is you. Repeat a mantra — I am enough — or speak words of affirmation to remind yourself that you matter. In time, this powerful tool will replace all those negative thoughts and words with positive ones to assure your self-worth.
You might also leave reminders for yourself around your home, office and car to help you remember your own value. Place sticky notes on your mirror that remind you how beautiful you are. Write an encouraging note to yourself and read it next week. Or maybe give yourself a pep-talk. Talk to yourself in third person to give yourself support when others aren’t there to do it for you. Give it a try next time you’re feeling discouraged or unworthy!
Creating healthy lifestyles and new patterns of thinking won’t happen overnight. Loving yourself and realizing your true worth will take time, practice and patience. But the more work you put in to improve your self-esteem and self-worth, the more rewarding your journey will be. Ultimately, you’ll look forward to a brighter future.
Start Improving Your Self-Image Today
When it comes to your true worth, only one opinion matters — yours. So give yourself a break. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, build positive relationships and remember that you’re worth more than you know. Everyone’s path to a better self-image looks different, so focus on yourself. Be your own standard, and try not to compare yourself to others. And don’t wait until tomorrow. Today is the perfect time to start loving yourself!
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Also published on Medium.