Building Self-esteem

In an ideal world, all of our experiences growing up would be positive. Our family members would unfailingly give affirming messages about ourselves, ones that told us we were worthy of love.  This kind of treatment would get internalized as positive beliefs and thoughts, such as “I’m a good person” or “I’m love-able”. 

Unfortunately, our environments aren’t always ideal! Even the best may at times provide input that is negative or punitive, rather than positively disciplining. When this is the case, we form negative beliefs about ourselves, such as “I’m bad” or “I’m not love-able”.  This disguises the basic truth that we all have worth and dignity and deserve to be treated with respect and love.

Using affirmations is an exercise for the mind, intended to bring up and release limiting beliefs and feelings about ourselves.  Whatever our experiences in childhood, we are free to change how we see ourselves today. This is not to say that it is easy!  However, we can choose to base our self-concept on what is inherently true for every person (including yourself!).  We can also base our self-concept on what we know to be true from our accomplishments and from feedback from others.

Changing how our bodies look and perform involves paying attention to physical exercise and what we put into our bodies. Mental fitness involves paying attention to our thoughts and what we “feed” our minds, and actively creating nurturing and positive ones.  This is how we free ourselves of self-destructive beliefs.

The following are affirmations which are true for everyone, even though we don’t all believe them.

  • I am a lovable and capable person.
  • I have a lot to offer.
  • I love myself fully just the way I am.
  • I am enough.
  • I am kind, compassionate, and gentle with myself.
  • I am okay when I ask for things I want or need.
  • The more I love myself, the more love I have to give to others
  • I am trusting myself and going at my own pace.
  • I can accept compliments easily.
  • I am making time for what is important to me.
  • I enjoy taking risks and learning new things.
  • I can relax without feeling guilty.
  • I am doing my best and that’s enough.
  • I am okay even when I make a mistake.
  • I can appreciate doing something well without it being perfect.
  • I will be happier and perform better if I have realistic expectations for myself.

The proof that using affirmations works is near at hand!  Think about how the negative self-talk you’ve had for years has worked.  Affirmations can have just as great an effect in the positive direction if you spend time with them.

Try out this Affirmations Exercise:

  1. From the list of affirmations, pick one that you’d like to start working on.  If you notice that you argue with the affirmation being true, this is simply an indication of the negative beliefs you have.  Notice them and continue.
  2.  Take a sheet of blank paper and put Affirmation at the top on one side. Turn the paper over, and write Roadblocks at the top.
  3. Write the affirmation you’ve chosen once on the Affirmations side.
  4.  Then pause and see what kind of response you get from your mind.  If your mind responds with thoughts like “no” or “untrue, this isn’t a sign that it’s not true, but a sign that you will have to work to change it, just as our bodies’ sore muscles or fatigue are signs that we’ll have to work to attain physical fitness.  Write down any negative responses to the affirmation on the other side of the paper under Roadblocks.
  5.  Then turn the paper back and write the affirmation again, paying attention to your mental response and writing it on the reverse. Keep returning to the affirmation until you’ve written it ten times.
  6. Notice how it felt to keep writing the affirmation.
  7. Look over everything you’ve written under Roadblocks and notice how your responses changed or stayed the same.

Continue to do this exercise daily, several times a week, or as often as you can.  The repetition of new beliefs gradually leads to change.  Work with one affirmation until you think you have made progress before going on to another one.

Remember that progress is an uneven journey, so when you experience relapses into old thinking, do not take this as a sign that it’s hopeless.  Just remind yourself to shift to the new way of thinking.  It’s like a mental train switching onto new tracks, and you’re the engineer who has to work the controls.

Be patient with yourself and keep switching tracks, Engineer!

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