How amazing would it be if you could cast a protective shield around you like a Harry Potter character? In this case, a type of psychological barrier where no insult, criticism, or discouragement could ever touch you.
“Did you gain a few pounds?”
“My daughter just got married to a millionaire. And how’s your life?”
“Was this the best you could do?”
*waves finger in air*
Yeah. I wish.
But here’s the thing. You don’t need a magic wand to build a protective barrier around your ego. This form of self-preservation exists – in the form of strong self-esteem.
People with high self-esteem, much like optimists, walk around with an aura. They speak with passion and excitement. They smile and laugh easily. Nothing seems to bring them down; in fact, it seems as if nothing bad ever happens to them. It’s like they live in a different reality from low self-esteem people or pessimists, leaving the downtrodden either wondering what their secret is, or disgusted by their never-ending gush of icky, Pollyanna with pink frosting. I can offer you my assurance, however, that high self-esteem people are not hiding anything. The secret to their success and their ability to deal with life’s ups and downs is as plain as the nose on their happy face – their development and nurturance of solid self-esteem.
According to the data we collected from 12,920 people (you can check out the Self-esteem Test here), high and solid self-esteem creates an impermeable barrier that bounces off negative life experiences. After assessing our sample’s self-esteem, we asked the following questions:
Do you get discouraged easily?
- Those who answered “Yes” had a self-esteem score of 38 (on a scale from 0 to 100)
- “Sometimes” – score of 65
- “No” – score of 81
In the span of a day, how often do you criticize yourself?
- Those who answered “Very frequently” had a self-esteem score of 36
- “Occasionally” – score of 65
- “Never” – score of 79
Do you ever find yourself worrying about whether your friends, family, or significant other still love you?
- Those who answered “All the time” had a self-esteem score of 36
- “Sometimes” – score of 59
- “Never” – score of 79
Have you ever been diagnosed with Depression?
- Those who answered “Yes” had a self-esteem score of 53
- “No” – score of 65
- “I am in therapy right now” – score of 44
When self-esteem is developed at an early age, a person is more likely to go through life’s “milestone minefields” (socialization in kindergarten, the awkwardness of puberty, school success, dating) with a lot less bruising to their ego. This isn’t to say that if you didn’t get a good start in a supportive encouraging environment, you’ll never be able to develop self-esteem. You can, but it will require effort on your part to change old habits of thinking and viewing yourself. Yes, there’s work involved. You can’t expect to feel good about yourself in a week, after spending at least a decade, if not more, putting yourself down.
Look at self-esteem as a painting. Every compliment, encouragement, and success adds a splash of color to the painting – as does every insult and failure – creating the picture of who you are inside. Some people think they need to stay with that painting and can’t change the colors because it’s who they are…but that’s not true. Self-esteem can be rebuilt, developed, and strengthened. You can start fresh with a totally new coat of paint.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Learn from – but let go of – mistakes. Absolutely everyone, no matter how perfect they may seem, messes up from time to time. This is how we learn – like the process of learning to walk as children. If we don’t stumble, we won’t learn how to get up and keep our balance. Keep this in mind as you venture out into the world. Be gentle with yourself.
- Don’t rely on others to make you feel good. One potential trap of a shaky self-esteem is a dependence on others. The fact is if you feel a void inside, no one can fill it but you. While healthy relationships are important for happiness, what’s more important is the relationship we have with ourselves.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You may look at someone and think they possess some quality or advantage that you don’t, but the fact is they may be looking at you and thinking the very same thing! Besides, someone who is seemingly happy or successful may be going through their own secret difficulties that you don’t know about. Judge yourself by your own standards, because every person is unique.
- Associate with people who affirm who you are. Do you have toxic relationships with people who criticize you or make you feel small? Take a good look at the people you surround yourself with and how they affect your self-esteem.
- Do things for others. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and forget that there are people out there who are in need. Give to others – your time, company, whatever you have to share – and you’ll find yourself feeling much better about yourself.
- Practice positive affirmations. This isn’t just a new-philosophy – it has a scientific basis. The success of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example, lies in the reprogramming of the brain. Write 5 or 10 self-affirming statements (“I am healthy, wealthy, and wise”) and repeat them to yourself every day for several times a day – don’t just say them 3 times, and then spend the rest of the day criticizing yourself or complaining! Say your affirmations as often as you can, whether you’re on the way to work, cleaning the house, or shopping. When a negative thought pops into your mind, replace it with something positive – and say that positive statement three times. Continue to practice your affirmations for as long as it takes for them to sink in. It will sound fake and untrue at first, but that’s from years of brain programming in the opposite, negative direction. It can be done, if you make it a habit.