You’ve been working on your self-love journey for years. It started when you found yourself saying yes to more things than you wanted to. You started feeling resentful towards those who asked you for favors.
People take advantage of you because you come across as friendly and they know no limits. They’ve pushed your boundaries without your realization. As a result, you’ve become resentful and unhappy without really knowing why. You wish you were more like somebody else, less like yourself—less indecisive and more assertive, less caring and more matter of fact. Feelings of inadequacy are ruining your life. You’re holding back from being all that you can be because you’re worried about what other people think. You’re concerned about taking up too much space.
The truth is, you know you’ll shine in whatever you do, and that scares you. You don’t want to leave your old life behind and step into something more significant. You’re a private person and unsure of being seen.
Suzanne Lachmann, a licensed clinical psychologist, summarizes, those feelings of low self-worth from your past and primary caregiver relationships shape your thoughts about yourself today, along with other external factors. These relationships may have been in the form of disapproving authority figures who constantly verbalized that nothing you did was good enough. Perhaps you had preoccupied caregivers who were busy trying to sort out their own lives, thus making them emotionally unavailable to you. Most likely, their own parents also didn’t show your caregiver emotional availability.
According to Lachman, another type of relationship that fosters low self-esteem is bullying through unsupportive, over-supportive, or uninvolved caregivers. These relationships may have left you feeling boxed in, like you couldn’t speak up or were invisible.
These past experiences are why you struggle with low self-esteem. Perhaps you’ve tried everything; even affirmations aren’t working for you. Yet your self-doubt, your lack of confidence, respect, and love persist.
Affirmations may not be working for you simply because you don’t believe them. You can’t stand to look in the mirror and say, “I love you.” Another reason affirmations aren’t working for you is because you’re not taking positive action. You need to practice speaking up for yourself, being seen, heard, and saying yes to yourself.
Here are some steps to get you started.
1. Confront your past, negative thoughts, and hidden programming
Your behaviors are a subconscious result of your past. Often it can be more challenging to confront your past when you had a seemingly normal childhood. You were fed and clothed. You grew up with both parents, and you didn’t have a traumatic abuse story per se. Sure, you may have gotten beat on your butt a few times, but nothing too intense.
However, we so often overlook the emotional needs of each other. For many of us, the culture we grew up in didn’t place a big emphasis on mental or emotional health; it wasn’t that we were intentionally neglected, but our caregivers were never taught or never received emotional support themselves. How can we expect otherwise from them?
Confronting your past includes reflective journaling to help uncover your hidden desires and hurts, and reparenting, which in its simplest form is the act of learning how to give yourself the support you may not have received as a child. It’s the work of developing courage over fear.
2. Take responsibility for your life and stop blaming others.
Okay, so you’ve learned that your caregivers and environment contributed to some of your unconscious behaviors. Now what? This is where some of us get stuck in a victim mentality. Yes, what happened to you wasn’t your fault, but you must learn to stop reliving negative cycles. You must now take 100% of the responsibility for your life. You must show up for yourself and continually work on your healing.
3. Focus on what you want instead of what others have taken from you.
To help you take 100% of the responsibility for your life, focus on everything you get to have. What would healing bring to your life? What new relationship can you form? Consider relationships where you are heard and nurtured instead of being told you’re too much. Imagine your evolved self, a self that’s living the life you want, surrounded by an environment and people that bring you peace, a life of simplicity. To start this future life, the first thing you need to do is decide.
4. Decide to be who you are—the good, the “bad,” and the ugly.
After you’ve uncovered your past, your hidden programming, you need to decide if you’re going to keep hiding or take steps to be who you are. I was on a travel nursing assignment on an Indigenousness reserve in Manitoba, Canada, where I felt particularly burnt out due to personal stressors. I slumped on a chair in a communal space, on the verge of tears. An elder walked up to me and said, “come with me.” I followed her into a quiet working space, which was her place of healing, and she intently told me, “You have to go one way or the other. I don’t know what that means for you, but that’s what you have to decide.”
I instantly knew what she meant. I struggled with low self-esteem at that moment, fighting between everything my parents and society told me to be versus just being who I was. It made working more difficult because I had time to think. I understood that I needed to decide how I would live my life—pretending or being and becoming.
In the same way, you must choose. Will you go one way or the other?
5. Learn everything about your true self (not who you’re pretending or were told to be).
Being yourself is a multidimensional task; who you are is essentially a part of how you were raised and who your caregivers told you to be. Becoming who you are is about reevaluating your beliefs and deciding what you want to let go of and what you want to keep. It’s discovering what you like and what you want to explore. Learning about yourself is sometimes ugly. It also includes learning about what makes you tick, your triggers, and any unhealthy behaviors. It’s about choosing self-awareness over ignorance.
6. Accepting yourself and your past, and then letting go.
Initially, when you start learning more about yourself, you may find that you start speaking negatively about yourself even more. Accepting all parts of you looks at learning how to speak compassionately towards yourself. It’s about having the tenderness you display to others with yourself.
“Compassion is not a virtue — it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have — it’s something we choose to practice.” — Brene Brown
Letting go is accepting what is. Letting go is facing the truth about your life, about the situation you’re in. It’s only by letting go that we can build more of what is.
7. Reprogram negative thoughts. Your thoughts shape your life.
Dr. Nedly, a physician who developed a highly successful depression and anxiety program, mentions that it’s much more important to avoid negative thinking than forcing positive thought. Yes, both are important, but how can you believe the positive thoughts if you’re constantly hearing self-doubt in your head?
8. Take deliberate action. It’s only by doing can we change.
Action is a crucial step in fostering change. You must act—practice, practice, practice. Speak up for yourself. Do the things that scare you. Build your resilience and self-love toolkit. Remember, self-love takes patience, acceptance, belief, and practice. Self-love is the work of a lifetime.
9. When you’re ready—and only if you want to—share.
The term vulnerability tricks us. Vulnerability isn’t being forced or pressured into uncovering wounds that you’re not ready to heal. Vulnerability doesn’t mean you have to share your trauma story with the world.
Vulnerability is the risk of being exposed; it’s the possibility of being attacked, rejected, or harmed, and it starts with being vulnerable with yourself. Only when and if you choose can you decide to share with others, but please don’t think you need to bear your soul to the world to have value.
Self-work is the work of a lifetime. It’s evolving and uncovering, moving backwards and spiraling before moving ahead. Then, just when you think you’ve made it, you discover new wounds. Don’t give up; this is part of the process.