• Katherine Pan

How I Tried to Build Self-Esteem

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Low self-esteem has plagued me throughout life. It has manifested in the form of being a people pleaser, having weak boundaries, and a lack of trust in my judgment and abilities. This behavior determined how I carried myself and has influenced major decisions in my life. Two months ago, I was determined to try to build my self-esteem.

Wait, what is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves. It relates to our overall sense of worth and it is the positive or negative evaluation of ourselves. Self-esteem is often confused with self-confidence. Self-confidence is having faith in our abilities to handle challenges and solve problems. It relies on external measures of success and values, while self-esteem depends on our internal beliefs of ourselves.

Recognizing the Severity of My Low Self-Esteem

Although I knew that I had low self-esteem, I only recognized the severity of it when I started to journal. With each passing day, I noticed an increase in pent-up resentment and overall dissatisfaction with life. My lack of self-esteem influenced me to

  1. 1. Govern my behavior based on other people’s opinions. I often made decisions out of obligation to earn the good graces of people around me. It was robbing me of my time, energy, and sanity.

  2. 2. Be deeply insecure about being alone. I chose to remain in emotionally unfulfilling friendships out of fear. I was miserable and did not believe that I would forge better friendships.

  3. 3. Struggle with imposter syndrome in my freshmen year. It was the most difficult period of my life. I questioned my self-worth, capabilities, and did not believe that I deserved a place in my university

I am 100% guilty of this. (Source)

Yet for the longest time, I remained comfortable with low self-esteem. It was easier to stay within my comfort zone and make excuses about why it is better to let things remain status quo. Little did I know that the biggest hurdle in my personal growth was myself. I was settling for less and forgetting that there are possibly much better options in life. After my breakup, I did soul searching which led to the discovery of the consequences of my sorely lacking self-esteem.

This was me for years. (Source)

We have this constant feeling we can be better than we currently are, but we choose to ignore it.”

How I Built My Self-Esteem

1. Took the Time to Clarify My Values

High self-esteem is derived from consistently living a life that aligns with one's values. This was the single most useful piece of advice.

Oftentimes, I struggled to follow through with decision making. I did not feel any strong motivational pull because I did not know what my values were. With no clear and compelling values, I had no clear vision for what truly matters most to me and I was indecisive. I did not trust my judgment, was easily swayed by opinions, and heavily relied on friends and family for their advice. To understand what values were important to me, I set aside time weekly for introspection and reflection. By evaluating my personality, course of actions, and behaviors I disliked, I narrowed down 6 values I possessed and highly valued in others.

After understanding my values, I felt a gradual increase in the justifications behind my actions and decisions. No longer do I seek out second opinions and listen to the words of others. A well-defined vision of what is important has reduced the need to second-guess myself. Furthermore, the mental fatigue that accompanied constant self-doubt has slowly been eliminated. By living a life that encompasses the values I hold dear, I feel myself building not only self-esteem but also self-identity.

2. Strengthened My Boundaries Using Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is ranked as the most effective communication style. Assertive communicators state their needs and feelings and advocate for themselves without disrespecting other people. Assertive communication has helped me to build self-esteem as I aligned my values with my actions and behavior.

There are four communication styles: Passive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive. Due to my low self-esteem, my main communication style was passive communication. It was a pattern of not asserting my opinions, feelings, and identifying my needs. Due to weak boundaries, I often made choices according to another person's expectations. There were many times I would compromise for them and it would go unnoticed. Thus, it was easy for me to be taken advantage of while grievances and annoyances start to mount within me. My low self-esteem caused my life to be emotionally unsatisfying because I made decisions out of obligation instead of choice.

Although assertive communication is a simple concept, I struggled to find a balance between asserting my needs and healthy compromise. After all, I had practiced unhealthy levels of compromise throughout my life. Coming off as overbearing was the last thing I wanted to be. After much thought, I determined that the most basic level of personal boundaries was asserting my needs.

My life has become more emotionally fulfilling in the last two months since I started to assert my needs. My friends and family were accommodating, and I realized there was nothing wrong with voicing my feelings. I had reduced levels of pent-up resentment and annoyance while I enjoyed my outings much more. Moving on, the next level on my quest would be to call out people when they violate any of my values. I am currently working on setting this personal boundary.

My end goal is still far, but I know I am getting closer every day. Moving away from my comfort zone and witnessing improvements in my life has empowered me for further growth. I found a newfound sense of fulfillment and self-esteem as I actively work towards assertive communication.

3. Noticed the Triggers of Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteem comprises our global identity and our identity in specific situations. These situations include as a friend, a student, or a daughter. Situations that more important to us will have a larger impact on our self-esteem. I took the time to evaluate what were my triggers of low self-esteem and their significance as a part of my overall identity. Noticing the triggers of low self-esteem has helped me to mold resilience.

Had I not taken not a step back to evaluate my triggers with detachment, it would have been easy for me to become overly critical of myself. In social settings, I sometimes struggle to provide substantial advice to friends in need or react poorly because I lack the relevant experience. My shortcomings caused me to feel incapable and helpless.

After taking the time to analyze my triggers, I concluded that I had unreasonable expectations of myself. It is normal to be unable to give good advice because it is impossible to know everything. I can still be a great listening ear, show empathy, and direct them to someone else for advice. Meanwhile, it is normal to make blunders occasionally. I am still young and learning how to navigate the complex world of human interactions. It makes no sense to expect myself to know things that I do not exist.

Although these triggers are not fully eliminated, I no longer feel as terrible when they happen. It is silly beating myself over situations beyond my control or scope of knowledge. Learning to take a step back and observing with detachment has been crucial. It prevents me from being easily consumed by my thoughts and emotions. Thoughts are like fair-weathered friends that come and go easily. It is senseless to let a single thought inhibit the mind and negatively affect our self-esteem.

My Conclusion Thus Far

Ultimately, everyone gains self-esteem in different ways. For me, it has been aligning my life with the values I cherished. I am two months in, and the entire journey has been empowering. My progress thus far has invigorated me with a compelling sense of fulfillment that feels indestructible. I am consciously aware of the steps I am taking to build my self-esteem and I am reaffirmed of my self-worth.

If you struggle with low self-esteem, I hope my article could encourage you to take the first step out of your comfort zone.

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