Anyone who spends time scrolling through social media will be familiar with positive psychology induced memes on their news feed. Mantras such as “know your worth” and “believe in yourself” are commonplace, and while indeed great advice to follow, where is the “how-to” bit?
Confidence and self-esteem are two different concepts, though most people tend to use the terms interchangeably. To clarify, self-esteem is a person’s overall attitude about themselves and their value, whereas confidence relates to a person’s belief in their capabilities.
For instance, a person can be confident in their ability to sing or pass an exam but this does not necessarily equate to them having high self-esteem. So just be mindful that many people who appear outgoing and extremely confident can in reality be continually seeking approval from others and deficient in self-love.
If you lack confidence in your ability to do something, you can easily remedy this by developing new skills, learning something new or practising until your confidence in your ability increases. On the other hand, attempting to repair a broken image of yourself is far more complex.
Self-esteem problems often begin in childhood but can also occur after a painful life setback such as the breakdown of a relationship or the loss of a loved one. Low self-esteem bleeds into your psyche and controls every action you do and every thought you think.
This week is International World Mental Health week and with that in mind, I would like to share some ideas that I find particularly helpful in boosting self-esteem:
Stop caring what others think:
Well, actually, let me rephrase that. Stop caring what the people who do not matter think. A while back, I was carrying out a much-needed spring clean of my bedroom, when I came across a box of letters and cards I had stored away in the back of my wardrobe — Christmas cards, birthday cards, ‘Bon Voyage’ cards, etc (not too many Valentine’s cards mind).
Sitting on my bed, I read each one carefully — some left me welling up and others left me beaming from ear to ear. There in my hand were so many gorgeous words penned with love, written to me and about me.
Either they were all from people who played or do play an important role in my life — my circle of family and friends who have loved me at my best and loved me at my most unlovable. This find was a special reminder that it is only the opinions of those who are important to us that should count.
Acquaintances, Tinder matches, internet trolls, etc, should have no impact on how you feel about yourself — they do not know you, your background or your values and therefore, their presumptions about you are irrelevant.
Take up a new hobby or evening course:
Whenever I read/see/hear an interview where the interviewer asks the interviewee what their biggest life regret is, I notice the answer to that question is often that that person cannot play a musical instrument. If you do not play an instrument and have always wanted to, then start. Alternatively, attend an acting class if you like that idea or swimming lessons if you cannot swim and want to learn a new life skill. A new activity can give you focus and is excellent for building your self-esteem. During times of adversity, hobbies can help ease anxiety and stress by giving you a sense of achievement every time you progress and in turn, helps you feel good about yourself.
Speak to yourself as you would to your best friend:
Freud reportedly said that we (the Irish) are the one race who are impervious to psychoanalysis and if he did say that, I firmly believe he was referring to our ability to take a compliment. We are certainly unique in that to “love yourself” is not viewed as a positive in this country. It is almost as if the Irish have an innate fear that if we do not resist a compliment at least once before accepting it may be true, we would be perceived as being an arrogant so-and-so. We Irish can be a very self-deprecating bunch, who constantly put ourselves down.
The next time your inner monologue tells you that you are not enough, or you find yourself judging yourself harshly, think to yourself — would I speak this way to my best friend?
Would I ridicule my best friend for doing the same?
The answer is no, so why speak in that manner to yourself?
Show yourself the same compassion and support that you would your friend.
Be kind to yourself and remember you are worth your weight in gold.
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 9 October 2019.