The most important relationship that I have is with myself. Are you friends with yourself? Do you like yourself? When I went to rehab, my answer to both of these questions was “no.” I was diagnosed with low self-esteem, and I didn’t have a clue how to fix it.
Low self-esteem is seeing oneself as inferior, deficient, or lesser than other people. People with low self-esteem often have negative, warped perceptions of themselves. In my experience, I labeled myself as “crazy,” I called myself “stupid” in my head, and I felt that I was not worthy of my loved ones.
Not every addict and alcoholic struggles with low self-esteem, but negative beliefs about oneself often drive people to use substances to feel better, to numb those feelings, or to silence their thoughts. Most of us are our own worst critics. would life be like if you were your own best friend?
Someone told me once that self-esteem is built by doing esteemable acts—things that we value and hold in high regard. When we do things daily that we consider valuable, we get to know ourselves and we start to like ourselves. Every thing we do, every interaction, every piece of our day is a scrap in the big book of whoever we are. Our character and our identity are things that we build over time. I do believe that I build my self-esteem daily in a few, small tasks.
Make Your Bed
When I start the day by making my bed, I start the day by accomplishing a task. Seeing that I can accomplish this small, first task of the day encourages me to accomplish the next tasks. Knowing I can do this simple task daily helps me feel more assured in my abilities as a functioning member of society.
I gain a small sense of pride and I build trust with myself, knowing I can commit to a daily discipline. And if the day is terrible, I come home to a bed that is made and at least one piece of my life is not a mess.
Cook a Meal
Nourishing our bodies is another activity that shows us we are capable humans. Easy-Mac has always been a favorite, convenient option for me, but there is less satisfaction in these get-fed-quick schemes. Preparing a meal for myself is an act of love towards myself.
When I cook a meal, I have to clean, cut, and cook all of my ingredients. I have to transform them into something new. The meal I make feeds my body and pleases my senses. The entire process is a reminder that I can and will take care of myself. We often cook meals for our friends, why not for ourselves?
Our bodies need exercise—to maintain our physical health as well as our mental wellness. Ultimately, exercise is another act of self-care. When we exercise our body releases endorphins, which are our bodies’ natural painkillers and they give us a great physical feeling. It also increases our serotonin levels, which can improve our mood in the long run.
Energy builds up in us throughout the day, and we often need to expend it in some way. We feel good about doing it, and research shows that our body image can improve just from the sense of accomplishment we get after we exercise.
Sing Along to a Power Song
Everyone has a power song—the kind of song that gives you goose-bumps and makes you want to belt it out to the world. Something like “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child or “Firework” by Katy Perry. With a song on full-blast, me barely able to hear my own singing, I feel exhilarated and powerful, completely engrossed in the moment.
When we sing, our body releases oxytocin, which alleviates stress and builds feelings of bonding. Usually these songs have messages that I believe in, and I cultivate my friendship with myself by singing along.
Call a Friend
A friend can be a long-time BFF, a co-worker, your sister, your mom—talk to someone who you care about and who also cares about you. The act of caring for someone makes us feel good. As humans, when we reach out to someone, we feel connected and this gives us a sense of belonging.
Talking to someone who loves me also can remind me of the good things I tend to forget about myself throughout the day. On a less-than-stellar day, when I get down on myself, I can forget that I am smart or thoughtful or unique or that feeling as strongly as I do can be a beautiful thing. When I talk to my peeps (my loved ones), they don’t perpetuate my negative self-talk. I feel accepted as I am. I experience the peace of being authentic.
Read What You Believe In
Much like talking to a dear friend, reading things I believe in helps to center me and to remind me of who I am. Everyone at least glances at a story, article, or quote at some point throughout their day. When we make time to read something we are interested in, it continues to shape us as humans and deepens our sense of identity.
In my house, I have one of my paintings displayed that reads “Not all who wander are lost.” I know that seeing this quote makes me feel more positive about my journey into recovery, rather than punishing myself. At work, I allow myself to click on an article about Robert Frost or Beyonce because these are people who influence me in some way. Read something that makes you feel at home on this planet.
Make Eye Contact
There is untold power in eye contact. When I used to lie while I was getting high, I would give myself a pep talk beforehand so I could look the other person in the eye. Being honest helps with the ability to look someone in the eye, but making eye contact is also a small practice in self-esteem and self-worth.
When I feel inferior, I want to look down at the ground because it is uncomfortable to make eye contact. When I am confident, when I am unashamed, I can look someone in the eye. Even if I still need small pep talk on some days, that’s okay. Practicing eye-contact means I practice feeling confident, to show myself that I can hold someone’s gaze and maintain my composure.
Respond Kindly to Rudeness
Hey, sometimes rudeness happens. Someone yells at you in rush-hour traffic, someone in the grocery line is nasty about all of your coupons, your co-worker makes fun of you at lunch. I typically want to be extremely sassy in response, but this makes me feel worse. Someone else’s rude behavior doesn’t have to infect me with the same nastiness.
Responding kindly to a rude remark can be empowering, it makes me feel good as a person. When the person behind me in line tells me, “Ugh, would you hurry UP?” I can simply say, “Won’t be too much longer—so sorry!” When a driver yells, “You idiot!” from their window, I can smile and shoot them a peace sign. When I feel good about my actions and hold them in high esteem, I build my self-esteem.
Find Your Funny
As humans, we all have a capacity to enjoy humor. What makes you laugh? Giggle? Chuckle? Find these things and allow yourself to laugh. Much like our friends, the things we read, and the music we listen to, our humor is a definitive piece of our identity. If we don’t engage it in some way, it can feel like a part of us is lacking.
When I tell a good joke, even if it’s just to my fish, I enjoy my own humor. I like myself a little bit more. It has the same feeling as reading one of my favorite quotes—I feel at home on my planet.
Dress to Empower
The way that we dress says volumes about us, but it can also influence how we feel about ourselves. We like ourselves more when we enjoy our own style. Some might feel like their ultimate self in a pin-striped power suit, while someone else might find the same feeling whilst bra-less in a maxi dress. You don’t have to be a fashionista to feel good about what you wear.
Maybe you’ve got a pair of high-tops that you consider the fresh-est. Maybe you have a special pair of panties or boxers that make you feel great. Our style is a form of self-expression. When we appreciate our own clothing choices, we build pride and feel more confident. For me, I have about 10 bracelets and anklets on at all times because they make me feel like me.
What makes you feel like you? What do you like about yourself? Discover the elements of you. Cultivate these aspects of self. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we treat ourselves lovingly. When I stepped back and realized I actually like a lot of things about myself, it became easier to celebrate those things. I am the biggest fan of my books, my music, my humor. Find a way every day to remind yourself of just how cool you are.