Self-worth is how you perceive yourself through other people’s eyes. Self-esteem is how confident and worthy you feel about yourself.
Your self-esteem can be crushed if you are around people that do not recognize your worth. And after years of low self-worth, you may feel like a loser who doesn’t deserve good things in life.
On top of that, if you work hard at developing your worth and esteem, your ego can come in and try to spoil things even more.
There are ways to build and nurture all three of these so that you can tackle life a lot easier when the challenges present themselves.
As we build self-confidence and self-worth, the ego will want a piece of the action. That’s the part of us that seeks recognition and attention. The ego is the part of us that thrives on admiration and worship.
The ego likes to get its hands in almost everything you do unless you are completely disconnected from it. But even the most enlightened people are still connected to their ego in some way. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, our ego can be quite a motivator for us. It can help us in a lot of ways.
Ego is one of those concepts that gets put down a lot and I can understand why. But, just like a hammer, the ego can be used to build a solid foundation or destroy it just the same. It is a tool. And it can be quite useful.
Ego isn’t the sole focus of this article, but it will make an appearance many times. After all, it is a part of us, an important part, that can be nurtured and evolved in a healthy way to motivate us to succeed and be productive in our lives.
One of my definitions of ego is The desire to include yourself in the experiences of life.
To put it another way, think of it as a desire to include yourself in a conversation or a situation, or even a thought. For example, the comment “I went to the store,” includes ego in the sense that the sentence and the thought behind it includes yourself, “I”, in telling someone that you went to the store.
If however, you had no desire to tell someone you went to the store you would not be engaging the ego, at least in the narrow context of that particular example.
The ego isn’t really something you can grasp. It’s more of a product or result of thoughts and behavior. Whenever you have any thoughts or behavior where your wants, needs, and desires are being fulfilled in some way, that is ego.
The hardest part to understand about ego is that because we, as human beings, are in the equation, we usually can’t see that equation from outside of ourselves. And when you include yourself in the equation of everything you think, do, and say, it’s nearly impossible to step outside of everything you think, do, and say to perceive the equation from that perspective.
Ego is abstract and challenging to explain because it’s hard to see a structure when you are inside that structure. It’s almost like explaining color to a person who’s never been able to see. It reminds me of the scene in the movie, The Matrix, where Morpheus is trying to explain to Neo what the world really is:
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
Our ego is everywhere. It is all around us. And because it is how we identify with reality and ourselves, we usually can’t see it because we are in it.
But let’s simplify things. No matter how much we talk about the ego, the labels and definitions we give it will only send us into a deeper, trance-like state of presence.
Of course, being present is very close to letting go of the ego (if you’re at all interested in doing that). But for the sake of this article, let’s just say that ego can either get in the way and destroy relationships, or help us achieve personal goals and push us farther than we would have gone had it not existed.
Without ego, you can sit and be present knowing the world is fine as is.
With ego you move, take action, and pursue life according to wants, needs, and desires.
The ego can be nurtured and used for motivation to reach higher levels of success in life. It can also be used to create over-confidence, self-absorption, and arrogance, closing your mind off from compassion, empathy, and even reality. Let’s not even get into what reality is. That’s a topic for another article. If we can agree on a basic concept that “reality” is the experience of the here and now, let’s continue.
My goal with this article is to help you learn how to build your self-esteem and self-worth, at the same time nurturing your ego so that it doesn’t inflate and become corruptive and controlling.
The ego can be a great tool for good. But for now, I’ll focus on how we can create inner confidence and worthiness in ourselves so that we have better tools to tackle the challenges in life.
That’s what life really comes down to: Being prepared enough to handle the challenges that come along.
Challenges do come. And they will continue to show up throughout life. With a strong sense of self and inner strength, all the “outer” stuff won’t be so debilitating when it happens.
A Step Into Belief
When I started The Overwhelmed Brain in July of 2013, I was entering unknown territory. I had no real online friends and no idea how to create a podcast. I had no clue where to start. I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to get there.
In the past, I would have said, “I don’t know what to do. And everything I’m learning about seems so overwhelming. I should just give up right now. Besides, I know that when I create the website, the podcast, and all the social media accounts, I’m not going to see any money from it whatsoever. So do I continue moving forward with a vision for something that won’t pay the bills? Or do I continue putting in the effort working for other people, feeling secure with a paycheck?”
At the ripe old age of 43, I couldn’t decide whether to stick with my current occupation in technology and computers, or go in a direction that seemed to come more naturally to me: Teaching emotional intelligence and healthy communication.
For about six months, I did both. For forty hours a week, I worked on The Overwhelmed Brain blog while also preparing to launch the podcast. For another forty hours a week, I had a full-time job working on computers in a hospital. For that period of time, my life was all about eating, sleeping, washing up, working, and that’s it.
By the time my show finally launched in November of 2013, it was a huge accomplishment. My website was up, as simple as it was (and still is), my Facebook page had some engagement, and I had made a few high-quality online friends who helped me figure things out along the way.
I started with nothing, knowing no one in the field of podcasting or blogging. I had no audio equipment and had no clue how to get my podcast out to the masses. Yet, it all came together. And as of this writing, I now have two podcasts (my other one is Love and Abuse) and both shows are going strong. Perhaps I finally know what I’m doing now.
If you’ve been listening to The Overwhelmed Brain from the beginning, then you know that the show has gone through some changes along the way. The reason for the changes has to do with my own personal growth and evolution throughout the year.
One of the very first things I was told from all the online resources I used to help me get started was to believe in myself. And not only that. They said to be yourself too.
That excited me. If I don’t have to pretend to be anyone else, then it should be easy to go out there and be someone I’ve been for the past 43 years.
But it wasn’t so easy. I was nervous because this was all new to me. When I got behind the microphone, my voice was really low and monotone, without much feeling or inflection. I was afraid to express my emotions or be charismatic or animated. In the early days, my monologues were short and mainly just informational so that I didn’t have to access too much of my personal feelings.
After a few months, I started getting more comfortable. I became more expressive and more down-to-earth. I was getting into the groove and I felt like I was starting to show my real self to the world. With this more comfortable feeling, I believed I knew what the world wanted to hear: The entirety of who I am!
That meant all my unfiltered thoughts. I felt like I should simply act as if everyone loved me and wanted to hear everything I had to say, even if I said it in a song or comedy sketch. In a show about personal growth and development, I added elements that were way out of left field, taking away from the seriousness of the subject matter I was teaching.
That’s when the world stopped listening. I was losing the audience. And as much fun as some of the episodes were to do, they were also extremely time-consuming. As my thoughts started wandering into the notion of giving up, I decided to shift things around a little. I realized that perhaps the direction I was heading with the show wasn’t working.
Right about the same time, I got a message from someone telling me how great my podcast was but that I was “messing it up” by injecting humorous skits and music throughout. This person’s message wasn’t the reason I changed my format, but it did help confirm my belief that something needed to change. I took that message as validation that the steps I was taking by changing the format of my show were the right ones.
As I changed the format and created some cohesion and structure to the episodes, it gave the show some consistency so that people knew what to expect when they tuned in. The number of listeners started rising again. Since then, every year the number of listeners continues to increase.
During 2014, I’d gone through some personal successes and some greater personal losses. One of the biggest successes during all of this was that I actually started something, stuck to it, and built a solid platform on which to continue building. The process has been a plethora of challenges, most of it a labor of love. But I knew the road would be difficult and that I would learn a lot along the way.
One of the losses I experienced was the downfall of an important relationship. This was unexpected and unwanted, but it was real and I had to deal with it. I decided that no matter what, I wasn’t going to let my personal struggles interfere with all I had built from the ground up. I decided to take the pain from that event and transform it into creativity, trying to make the best show I knew how to make.
If creativity flows from your emotions, then I must have been the most creative person in the world during that entire year. But none of this would have been possible had I not possessed what it took to persevere and move forward through the thick and thin.
One of the qualities I am fortunate to have is high self-esteem. Self-esteem is confidence and an increased feeling of self-worth.
When you are confident in who you are and you feel worthy, when life throws terrible things at you, you’ll persevere.
But if your self-esteem is lacking, your confidence is shaky, and your self-worth is in question, then when things hit the fan, you’ll get sucked into a much darker place that’s usually harder to get out of.
Even if you have high esteem and the confidence that you need to tackle anything that comes your way, you will still get challenged. The rug can be pulled out from under you at any time, which is why it’s important to build up your esteem, confidence, and worth way ahead of time so that when challenges occur, you will be better prepared.
The challenges will still suck some of the positivity out of you. But when you have some left over, you’ll be in a much better place than if you had little from which to draw in the first place.
Next, we’ll talk about the ways to increase our self-esteem, build our confidence, and realize that we are worthy. There may be some old beliefs that you need to leave at the curb while you drive away.
Last week we talked about humility, which is when you view yourself as having low worth, low value and little importance. There were some great lessons on how to avoid or prevent humiliation from happening to you, but this week we’re going to talk about some more effective methods of building self-esteem and self-worth.
So let’s talk about self-esteem first. What is esteem anyway? In general, it can mean admiration and respect. For self-esteem, it tends to point out the level of positivity or negativity you have about yourself.
If you have high self-esteem, you feel pretty good about yourself. And low self-esteem is quite the opposite. Most people want to have high self-esteem, but don’t really think in terms of, “Hmm, how can I raise my level of self-esteem?”
Most people think like this, “I’m nervous”, or “I’m too scared to do anything about it”, or “What if that person doesn’t like me?”
Can you see a pattern here? They all emphasize the negative instead of the positive.
We tend to get stuck on how we feel instead of what we want
Think about that. When you feel low, you probably check inward and confirm that you do indeed feel low. This is actually a good first step to feeling better. Check inward, confirm how you feel, and check for other emotions while you’re there. But let’s not move ahead too quickly yet, because we haven’t talked about self-worth yet.
Self-worth is a close relative to self-esteem, but here’s the difference I see: Self-worth is usually how you perceive yourself through other people’s eyes. We develop self-worth early on in life. And I know there are those of you out there who can totally relate to this next question:
Have you ever felt like you didn’t mean much to someone else? And when you think about that time, did that lower your self-esteem?
Self-worth usually develops in childhood, and self-esteem is the result when you’re an adult. Isn’t that an interesting perspective? Self-worth is when you take what others say about you to be true, and self-esteem is the combination of all those times you took what others said about you to be true.
Of course, nothing anyone says about us is true, because it’s all interpretation. If a dad sees his son writing on the wall, the father might interpret that as someone destroying his property and discipline the child. The father comes in the room, sees the proud child’s creation, says, “What the hell are you drawing that crap on my walls for?” and the child suddenly develops a belief that his art is “crap”.
Thus begins the programming of self-worth. Our parents may have had different intentions when they said or did certain things, but how they came across is what helped create our self-worth. I was a middle child in a family of five, so my mom was not only busy with the other children, but also the barrier between us and her alcoholic husband. As a child, I didn’t get to spend too much quality time with my mom. So I developed a belief that I wasn’t worthy enough to spend time with. I’m long over that now, but children don’t understand what’s really going on most of the time.
Let alone, the fact that my stepfather was drunk most of the time made me feel even less worthy, because “if he loved me, he wouldn’t drink.”
Self-worth begins in childhood, self-esteem is the result of how worthy we feel about ourselves. We still build upon self-worth as adults, but typically we place value on what others say about us, so self-worth originates outside of us. Where self-esteem originates on the inside. It’s when we take our self-worth, and convert it into self-esteem.
Or, to make it the clearest I can possibly make it:
Worth comes from outside of us, and Esteem comes from inside of us
Worth starts in childhood, Esteem stems from worth
Self-worth is how we measure how much we’re loved and respected by others.
Self-esteem is how we measure how much we’re loved and respected by ourselves.
I know there’s a lot more to both, but let’s stick with those concepts as we talk about these things. I think the most important step we need to take to build self-esteem is to deconstruct self-worth, and put the pieces back together again, in a way that benefits us.
We don’t even have to touch on self-esteem if we can just build on our self-worth. But how is that possible? If self-worth starts in childhood, what do we do to rebuild it and create a healthy perspective of ourselves without actually going back in time to do it?
Well, we’ll just have to go back in time. Let’s start the journey.
This is one of those wandering articles where you’ll be wondering about where you’ll go next. So before we wander, just know that if the journey ever becomes too challenging, all you have to do is stop, and come back to now. You may have some trauma in your past, and if that’s the case, I want you to feel completely comfortable during this journey.
So all I want you to do is go back to your childhood for a minute or two and think about a time that you could have used an adult version of yourself to help you through a tough time.
Now, I’m going to jump around during this journey on purpose, so just stay with me as we go through it. When I was four, my stepfather rubbed my dirty underwear in my face. He believed that the best way to teach me not to soil my clothes was to rub them in my face so that I would get the message. Imagine the worth a four-year-old would feel after that?
When I go back in time, I think about that four-year-old kid on the floor being abused like this and I can see the entire event in my mind as if I were standing right there watching from a few feet away. Now, this isn’t really happening right now, it’s just a memory. Plus, I’m watching from my perspective as an adult. Remember, what’s coming up for you, whatever memory you have, is in the past. You are now an adult in this situation looking at yourself as a child in that situation.
As we travel into the past, if you’d like, I can go with you. With the event that you’re thinking about, you can be there as an observer, watching yourself and whoever else is involved. If this is too traumatic, then come back to now and just relax until you’re ready. Or, just visit another time and place in your past that isn’t so traumatic.
When I watched myself as a child, I could see that I needed help, but the person who I would normally reach out to for help was the one I needed help from. So I was confused and suffering. I can look down at myself and my stepfather and now, in this memory, can see what I needed at that very moment.
What do you need in the memory you’re recalling? What is it that the child in front of you, who is going through the event, needs right now? Now, I know some of you want to pull out a baseball bat and take care of things, but let’s give that child something else he or she can use for the rest of their life. Let’s give them the confidence knowing that they will survive this. Let’s give them the love that they may not feel right at this moment. Let’s give them the strength they need to get through this time. And most of all, let’s let them know that you see the worth in them and that this event doesn’t define who they are. This event is a stepping stone to be something even greater.
We all have something in our past that helped us define our own worth. Whatever happened to you, as an adult, you are there now to give that younger you the resources you need to build a stronger, more empowered you. Because anything that took your power away is the perfect time to revisit in your mind and give yourself the resources you need so that you can have them for the rest of your life.
When I look down at myself on the floor getting humiliated and shamed into making sure I never make a mess my pants again, I can meet my own eyes and share the strength and power I have now with that smaller version of myself. It is exhilarating knowing that I will survive this, and it will not last. I am there as the rational adult in the situation, telling my child-self how worthy I am and how this other person is sick and doesn’t know how to communicate.
And when you are there, wherever you are, go to the moment after the event, when you needed someone the most. The time when all you wanted was someone to tell you everything is alright now, and that if this ever happens again in the future, you’ll be there for them. You know the past hasn’t changed, but what you had to deal with in the past is over. This younger version of you now has more tools and more knowledge because of your visit. The younger you can deal with other events that happened in a different way, knowing that he or she will survive and make it through with more power each time.
I said to my younger self, “Do you know how worthy you are? Do you realize how much I value you? You are the most important person in my life, and you have the strength and ability to get through this situation. And I know that you did suffer, because I remember, but going forward, you can remember that each moment is a challenge that in some huge way benefits you. And you are not suffering for no reason, you are resilient, and will get through these tough times, bringing your power into your future and into who I am right now. You are me, and I am here to give you exactly what tools, skills, and resources you need so that you know that you are important, and loved.”
When I said those words, my younger self knew exactly what I was talking about. Yours will too because whether you’re a child or an adult right now, time doesn’t matter in the mind. You can know now what you didn’t know then, or know then what you know now, it’s all timeless, and it’s all to make sure you bring this new you into now.
Remember I said I’d jump around during this? There is a reason I do that, so just know that I am there in that thought if you need me. And if you need more time in the past to continue helping that younger you through this or more situations, just press Stop and visit those times now. Otherwise, I’m coming back and want you to come along for the ride too. So come on back bringing with you all the new resources you didn’t have as a kid. Or maybe you already have them now, without even knowing how they got there.
Come back to now, feeling more positive and more empowered than when you started. And it’s great to be back.
The event I talked about from my childhood was one of those events I felt it was important to revisit. After all, that event planted the seed of certain phobias I had to deal with when I got older. It’s crazy what some of our parents and caretakers did to us when we were kids, isn’t it?
An interesting side story to what happened to me is that I visited my hometown a few years ago and decided to make a stop at the house I grew up in. This is the house where that event took place. Well, I saw a couple outside working in the yard. I approached them and told them I grew up in this house. They immediately asked me if I wanted to come in and take a look. I was shocked because they were so open and friendly and totally willing to allow a complete stranger into the house.
So I accepted, and I got to see a part of my history. They showed me around, but what I really wanted to do was stand in the spot where I was abused, and look down at where it happened.
I did that. I stood there, and just remembered for a moment. It was just for a moment, but I wanted to make sure I was truly over this event in my life. I’d done a lot of work on myself, and this was a great way to validate my progress. As I checked in with myself, I realized the bad feelings were gone. And I smiled knowing I made it through and became the person I am now.
I quickly snapped back into the present moment and they showed me the rest of the house. It was a small house, but they made it look bright, open, and cheery because of all the renovations I did to it. Much different from the dark rooms I remember from my past.
I was so grateful for their generosity. I thanked them and left. Now when I think back to that childhood memory, They’re just pictures, but no bad feelings. And, I now have a bright, cheery room in my mind, so revisiting the house where that took place helped me to solidify the entire image into something more positive.
I’m not saying you have to revisit the places in your past, but even adding different colors to the walls, or brightening or even darkening the memory might change the feelings you have about them quite a bit.
The most important part of the process we just went through is that it doesn’t matter if your visit into the past is real or not. When we have self-worth issues, we are dealing with memories of how we were treated and what was said to us. That means we are living today through our memories of yesterday. And if by simply turning on our imagination and taking a trip into the past changes how we feel about yesterday, don’t you think it will also change how we feel today?
We don’t have to dismiss or forget what happened, but there’s no reason that the bad feelings have to stick around if we’ve already learned what we needed to learn from the experience. It’s sort of like when I visited a friend once who had one of these fancy refrigerators. Apparently, the fridge was kind enough to tell you when it was out of ice by beeping once every seven minutes.
As we were all chatting at the kitchen table, I’d hear this beep. It happened three or four times, and I finally spoke up and asked, “What is that beep?” They were confused about what I asked. Then they realized, “Oh, we’ve learned to tune that out. It’s our refrigerator! Haha! I don’t even hear it anymore.”
I asked, “Can’t you shut it off?” They said, “No. We’ve even had a technician out, and he said we had to replace something or something.”
I said, do you mind if I have a look at it? They said, “Of course not, be our guest!” So, with my background in technology, I was ready to find the little speaker and disconnect it. But after playing with the settings, I managed to get it to beep once every four hours instead of once every seven minutes.
I told them what I did, and they weren’t sure if they should believe me because no one has ever been able to silence the beep. But, we waited…
And ten minutes went by. Then twenty. And finally, after (believe it or not) a year of listening to this beep every seven minutes, they no longer had to think about it. Well, at least every seven minutes.
The point is, sometimes the feelings we have about our past is a notification that we need to deal with something. But my thought is when you already know you have to deal with something, why should we continue to have the bad feelings about it? When we can walk through an exercise that minimizes or gets rid of the bad feelings, then at least we can silence the beep. Sure, we may still have something to deal with, but let the bad feelings go so that you can deal with it from a place of clarity.
Whew, that was a lot. We went through an exercise that may have had a huge impact, or seemingly no impact at all. But I guarantee you, anytime you revisit a bad moment in time, you change how you feel about it, even if only slightly. That’s because you’re never the same person when you return.
Have you ever watched a movie more than once? I’m willing to bet most of you have, but why? Why in the world would you watch a movie where you know exactly what’s going to happen next? What’s the point?
Because, when you watch it again, you are in a different place and space inside you. You’ve learned new things since the last time you watched it, you understand your life a little differently. There’s something different about you every day, so watching a movie you’ve already seen is like having a new experience. You’re going to perceive it from a new place, and you’ll see things, hear things, and feel things much differently this time.
It feels like a different movie because you feel differently watching it. At least a little. That’s what I mean by returning to a memory. The event doesn’t change, but you learn something different when you return to that event in your mind. You change a little every day, and when you revisit something in your past, you’re a different person.
That’s why even if you think nothing has changed from that exercise we did, that’s okay because simply revisiting it as the person you are now creating a new perspective, new feelings, and new learnings.
It’s like the time I went to a therapist. He said things I didn’t agree with, and by the time the therapy was over, I felt I had wasted my money. And after I realized that I didn’t learn anything, I decided to figure out another way to help myself. And that worked, and I felt better. So, the “bad therapy” I got was actually the impetus I needed to get better. Strange but true. So even if you believe nothing has changed about how you feel about the past, just give it some time. You’ll soon realize something a little different than you did before.
But let’s go over one more thing about self-worth. What is one thing that you do that makes you feel worthy? Can you think of it? When I create a new episode, I feel pretty darn worthy. I feel like I’m contributing to the world what I know, and that I might actually be helping others.
When I hear someone laugh because of something I said, I feel worthy.
When I see my cat get excited to see me and walk over just to be near me, I feel worthy.
When I visit my niece and nephew, and they call me uncle Paul with their tiny voices, then they run over and hug me, I feel worthy.
There’s so much to list, I could go on and on. But it’s stuff I never think about until I think about it. Self-worth can continue to be built upon when you amplify what makes you feel worthy now.
So what about the misinformed adults that treated you badly when you were a kid. No one knows how to be a perfect parent, because there are no perfect children who grow into perfect adults. It just doesn’t happen. Yeah, yeah, we’re all perfect in our own way. But let’s get serious: We all have faults. All of us.
We have to come to terms with that because when we lack self-worth, we can say, well, my dad had his faults. Or, my mom had faults. Or whoever played an authority role in your life. They had faults.
Now what I’m about to say goes against the grain of typical personal growth teachings. Of course, the long-time listeners of my show are probably already aware of that, so just know that the following statement is no exception to this. And here it is:
You are not perfect.
You have faults. You are just like me, in the sense that I have faults.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you embraced your imperfectness? It would be so liberating!
The reason I emphasize how imperfect we all are is because it helps us be a tad more compassionate towards everyone else, even ourselves. Also, because when we think of our caretakers when we were children, and we remember the mean things they may have said to us, or the mean things they might have done to us, we can say, “Yup, they had their faults. And they were doing what they believed they needed to do to survive. Their faults made them say and do things that they wouldn’t have, had they been perfect. In other words, they couldn’t have been any better than they were because they were not perfect.
We are not perfect. And maybe that’s something we don’t hear enough. And maybe if we heard it more, we’d be better prepared when the stuff hits the fan.
Isn’t that a great piece of advice from a personal growth or motivational coach?
“You are not perfect! And when you can embrace all your faults, and see others as just as imperfect, you will be liberated from your own emotional prison.”
Yes! Now you can start enjoying life.
So let’s get into self-esteem. Remember, self-esteem is the result of years of your collective self-worth. And self-worth is defined by how we interpret other’s opinions of us, or their behavior towards us. But we also throw our own additions of how worthy we are into the mix. After all, you could be trying to change your own tire one day, and not be able to figure it out. You might say to yourself, “I’m worthless!”
Have you had an experience like this? You try to accomplish something, but then feel worthless because you can’t do it? No one even has to be around to see you fail, because all you do is just tell yourself how worthless you are.
Now the easy advice is: Just don’t tell yourself that you’re worthless!
Hey, if you can do that, go for it. But for the rest of us where those words just slip out, you need to explore two things about a statement like “I’m worthless.”
The first thing to do is ask yourself, who in my life, ever, would have said those words to me, that I’m worthless?
If you can’t come up with an answer, pretend you know who might think that about you. I’m pretty sure you can come up with someone! I’m willing to bet that 99% of the time, there is a person that comes to mind.
So when you say to yourself, “I’m worthless”, it’s never really coming from you. It’s something you’re repeating or imagining someone else saying to you. After all, you don’t feel worthless when you’re born! You can only ever feel worthless when you start believing what people say about you, which starts the process of you planting seeds of doubt about yourself. Then as you grow older, you repeat those things to yourself as if they were your words.
In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that every negative thought you have about yourself originates from someone else. We don’t develop negative self-talk until we hear others do it. We don’t develop bad feelings about ourselves until people tell us or imply that we aren’t worthy.
We are nurtured into feeling bad about ourselves. Who nurtured you to feel bad about yourself? Once you understand where that kind of talk comes from, you can start to disconnect the words you say about yourself from yourself. In other words, realize that you aren’t actually saying these things about yourself, you’re just repeating them. Once you can grasp that, you can take the next step.
The second thing to do is to is ask “What else am I that’s not worthless”
So, the words come out, “I’m worthless!” or they could be something similar like, “I’m not important”, then you ask yourself the question, “What else am I that’s not worthless?”
That’s it. Ask that question. And when you get an answer, ask it again.
“OK, what else am I that’s not worthless?”
It’s a shift in your perspective. And it will help guide you back to a more resourceful state. Try that two-step process next time you speak or have a thought of worthlessness:
Ask, “Who else has ever said that to me?” Then ask, “What else am I that’s not worthless?” If anything, it has to shake up your reality just a little bit.
Now let’s talk about several practical ways to build self-esteem. And as we talk about this, remember all that stuff about the ego at the beginning of this article? This is where it’s important to differentiate what inflates your ego as opposed to what builds self-esteem. The ego wants to be noticed. It wants attention and loves for people to know what you accomplished in life. Our ego is the kid in us telling people, “Look what I did!” It’s also the celebrity in us that says, “Do you know who I am?”
At the same time, the ego is a motivator. It’s something that can drive us to better ourselves and enrich our lives. It can cause us to be braver than we feel, and even make us feel so alive that we keep moving forward in a direction that benefits us and those around us.
Self-esteem and ego sit side by side, and both can rise equally when it comes to learning, growing, and self-empowerment. For example, you can get a compliment at work, which may make you feel worthy, which builds your self-esteem, which can also build your confidence. But if you develop an attitude of superiority over others because of it, then your ego decided to get involved.
As you build your self-esteem, don’t worry too much about your ego. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a little higher than thou feeling every now and then, as long as you bring it back.
Ego gets stronger when you feel superior to others.
Self-esteem is internal and helps empower you to take on challenges. Ego goes external and makes sure everyone knows that you are the person that can take on challenges. Your self-esteem guides you to lead yourself first then lead others by default. Your ego will make sure you tell others that you are a leader.
There’s a difference between being someone others look up to, and telling others to look up to you.
I once had a job where I found out that my coworker was making considerably less than I was. Immediately my ego kicked in, and I felt superior. Then right after that, I pulled it back and realized what I was doing. I didn’t want to feel superior, and what did what I get paid have to do with anything. This person was probably smarter than me in a lot of things, yet I just happened to get more money than him.
Well, I quickly learned that in order to tame my ego, I had to develop compassion. Compassion keeps the ego in check. Whenever a superior thought comes to mind, where you feel superior over someone else, turn it into a compassionate thought. A compassionate thought I could have had about my coworker is, “How can I help him get the same amount of money as I do?”
When you are able to be compassionate, this actually raises your self-esteem. How you feel about yourself moves into a more positive light when you feel helpful towards others.
Our ego can turn our compassion off. And our compassion can turn our ego off. I don’t know if we can be egoic about the same thing we are compassionate about.
I know that a person’s ego will turn off when they run into a burning building to save a child or an animal. That’s all compassion. But can you have ego and compassion at the same time? Perhaps about two entirely different things I guess, but the solution to making sure the ego doesn’t inflate when we build self-esteem is to turn on our compassion.
Now that we got all this talk about ego out of the way, how can we build self-esteem? We already covered one important method: Be compassionate.
Compassion is when you care about others and want them to be well. The more compassionate you are towards others, the more good you feel about yourself. It’s almost an automatic thing. If you don’t believe me, pay for the person’s meal behind you at the drive-through one day.
After you do, park where you can see them, and watch their expression. I bet you’ll feel really good about that. Of course, if you walk over to the person and explain, “Hey, I paid for your meal. Just wanted to let you know”, then you’ve turned your compassion off, and let your ego take over.
So the more compassion you have, the more your self-esteem has no choice but to build in a healthy way.
Another thing you can do to build your self-esteem is challenge yourself. My sister does this by hiking. She found a trail that leads to an amazing view of the lakes in New Hampshire. She took me on the hike, and by the end of it, I felt like I accomplished something. It was like I was proving to myself that I could do it.
What can you do to challenge yourself? Here’s another story of someone who challenged herself: My mom never graduated high school. She got pregnant at 16 and never went back to school. She did a great job of raising all of her kids, and I’m sure she feels good about that, but something always bugged her about not graduating high school. It was something she’d always felt a little down about.
So a few years ago, she decided to get her GED, which is the equivalent of a high school diploma in the US. She didn’t need to, as she didn’t need to get a job or anything. But she wanted to build her self-esteem, and prove to herself that she was smart enough to finish high school.
So she took classes that prepared her for the big test… and she passed everything… except math. But that didn’t stop her. She was determined, and she decided to hit the books and classes again. And within a couple of months was able to pass the math portion, allowing her to finally get her diploma.
I chatted with her just today on this subject, and she is still proud of that accomplishment. What can you do that challenges you? What can you do to push yourself a little bit, to get past that comfort zone?
Maybe filling in the blank to this statement will help, “I’ve always wanted to blank.” And if you can’t think of anything for some reason, then think of something you can do that you know that will give you a sense of accomplishment.
With accomplishment, comes esteem.
Finally, let me give you a piece of advice that goes against what everyone teaches, even me! This is going to be strange to hear after all that talk about the ego, so I’ll preface it with a story. When I was 17, I was a long-haired, skateboarder that was regularly made fun of by the jocks in school. I had two real friends but actually got along with almost everyone. Well, not so much with the jocks. But, I knew how to talk my way out of fights so that was never an issue.
I did however have a big insecurity problem. I was a loner and afraid of girls. I had little self-esteem and was very self-conscious of my body. I never went to a school dance and I believed everyone else was somehow better than me in some way.
Well, something happened that changed all of that. My mom bought me a muscle car. It was a 1969 Mercury Cougar. It wasn’t really muscular, but it looked cool. I saw it on the side of the road for sale, and my mom and I went to look at it. I wanted it because it looked cool. I didn’t even care that the second gear slipped or that there was a dent in the back. I had to have it. About a week later, I drove it to school. Everyone was looking at me. This time, they weren’t making fun of me, they were surprised to see that I was driving a cool car. After all, my previous car was an old, tiny 4-door Toyota sedan. But now I was driving a muscle car. It might have been the coolest car in the whole school.
As you can imagine, my ego inflated, as did my self-esteem. People asked about the car in the hallways, and girls were actually looking at me. Guys would come up and tell me that they were going to purchase that car, but I got to it first. All of this kept inflating my ego and also making me feel like I was worth something. All these years, I’ve never been treated like this.
My confidence level rose, and I just became happier overall. This was the pivotal moment in my life that transformed me from a complete introvert to at least a partial extrovert.
I ended up selling that car a few months later, but whether I had kept the car or not, the shift had already occurred inside me, and I was a new man. I just felt good about myself after that.
This leads me to the advice that goes against what I’ve been talking about so far, and it’s this:
Please your ego just enough so that you know what it’s like to feel empowered. And when you start living with more confidence and more self-assurance, back off the ego a bit and find your balance. This is the important part, to back off to find your balance.
It’s sort of like the scale at the doctor’s office. They always push the weights too far to the right, then pull them back slowly to figure out what your actual weight is. Feed your ego so that it goes just beyond where it needs to be, then back it off a little.
You remember how to back it off right? Compassion. When you turn ego into compassion, you can scale it back. But my point is if you find that no matter what you do, you cannot build your self-esteem, and you still feel a little insecure (or a lot insecure), sometimes you need to go beyond the normal limits to balance things out a bit.
This could mean buying a fantastic outfit or suit. It could mean impressing people with one of your talents. Maybe it means getting your teeth whitened or even buying a cool-looking car as I did. Whatever will inflate your ego to help you gain enough traction so that you know what it’s like to feel empowered. Then when you feel it, ease back on the ego, and you may find that your self-esteem is now where it needs to be.
Sometimes you need to know what something is like so you know what direction to head. For me, I never knew what being secure in myself was like until I got that car. Luckily, I didn’t let it go to my head, and I was willing to sell the car once I felt good about myself. That’s not necessarily why I sold it, but selling it did come easier once I knew that I could keep this self-esteem whether I had the car or not.
So yes, fill your ego, then bring it back. Just be aware of where your ego is at all times. You do this by checking in on yourself and asking, do I still care? Am I still compassionate? Do other people think I’m snobby?
Sometimes just being aware of how we’re behaving is all we need to do to get back to that homeostatic state of being ourselves. That balance between too much and too little of who we are. When we are aware of ourselves, we stay in a more compassionate place. When we lose that awareness of ourselves, that’s when the ego takes over and the fake self-esteem kicks in.
Embracing and building your ego in a healthy way is a great way to rebuild your self-worth and develop more self-esteem. I’d love for you to walk away with the knowledge that self-worth is externally driven and comes from how you feel when others talk about you, to you and how they treat you. Self-esteem is internally driven and comes from how worthy you feel inside. And ego can be helpful by driving you to succeed. It can also hurt your progress by driving you to arrogance and ignorance which is why you have to be careful.
Above all, check in with yourself at all stages of your evolution. Ask yourself how you feel about yourself. Ask if you feel worthy. Ask if you feel confident and empowered. And when the answers are no, it’s time to take steps to improve that. Use the steps I’ve outlined here, or come up with your own.
And if nothing else works, then go a little bit extreme and inflate that ego. Get a taste of what power feels like. Get a taste of confidence and security. I knew someone who took a martial arts class because she wanted to feel empowered. She wanted to be in charge of her life. What will it be for you?
When you make it a mission, it becomes something to act on. Make it a mission to build your self-esteem. That very thought alone could start the process before you even do anything.
When I got my first fan email, a couple of things happened. First, I felt honored. I was amazed someone was listening, and I had to share it with my friends and family. Second, I felt unworthy. After all, who would listen to me, and learn from me? What do I have to offer the world? This message was high praise for what I do, but I almost couldn’t believe it. I thought, is this person so low in self-worth that I’m the person they’d look up to?
I didn’t think I was really sharing anything new. I thought everyone knows what I know. And how will anything I teach be better than Tony Robbins or other personal growth teachers out there? What if everything there is to learn has already been taught by someone else out there? Why is this person writing to me when there are so many better teachers out in the world?
So I had to introspect and figure out what was going on inside me. What I was feeling is known as “The Impostor Syndrome”. This is where you feel like you’re an impostor, and shouldn’t be teaching anyone.
It took a while for me to work through this. I was feeling like an impostor for months until a friend of mine said, “People are already listening and learning from you. You are already the teacher. There’s nothing more you need to do except do more of what you’re doing!”
He said not to fear it, but to jump right into it. Don’t hold back, do more instead. When I got that through my head, I realized that I do provide value and that my experiences in life, and my training, and everything else I put together in my head is valuable to someone else.
This is what it’s like for each and every one of us. No one knows everything you know. Your history mixed with your experience mixed with what you’ve been taught mixed with your unique personality creates a powerful, significant, and compelling person from which to learn. Only you can be you and teach others what you know. It doesn’t even have to be complex, it could be just teaching someone else how to plug a wire into a DVD player. Believe me, people get paid to do stuff like that.
This is why I always say that you are worthy. There is no one out there with your exact set of skills and history. It doesn’t mean you have to teach others, it just means you are unique and will stand out because you are you. You end up teaching others by default anyway, just because there are people who want to know what you know.
When I awoke to the realization that people wanted to hear what I have to say, then I decided to make it a responsibility and an obligation to make that happen. I didn’t wallow in self-doubt for very long. In fact, if anything, I became even more knowledgeable in my field. I didn’t just look stuff up and relay it to the masses, I drew upon my own history and experience because I knew that my information like that, my unique blend of learnings and life lessons, could be found nowhere else.
And when I think about Tony Robbins, and how he seems to have the answers to everything, I remember that I’ve met people who have no clue who he is. I’ve also met people that don’t resonate with him either.
In this article, I didn’t go over comparing yourself to others, but not doing that is also a step toward higher self-esteem. When you stop comparing yourself to others and fully immerse yourself in your own uniqueness, you will bring something really special into the world.
I want you to really soak in the fact that you are more worthy than you could ever imagine. And it doesn’t matter what kind of crappy things people told you as a kid because all of that is just fluff anyways. People say things and do things to us while we are children, and we start believing that we’re not special.
But the people who raised us and took care of us were far from perfect. They had their faults just like we have ours. In fact, the more perfect you try to be, the worse your life gets. So just think of those imperfect people that we called dad or mom or whoever. They were trying to not only get a handle on their own lives but trying to raise kids too!
Embrace who you are, and breathe in that potential because it’s right there. I believe in you. And no matter what happened in your past, or what’s going to happen in your future, always remember, you are amazing.