Until I hit high school, I was a very confident girl. Then we moved, and I started at a new high school. I didn’t know anyone, and everyone else already knew other kids. I did eventually make friends, some of whom are still good friends today, but I also found myself being bullied by kids on the bus, and some on campus. A lot of people think high school was the best time of their lives. I think it was one of the worst.
Four years of bullying destroyed my self-esteem, and the relationships I had with men afterward didn’t change that. By the time I left my second abusive relationship at the age of 32, I pretty much had no self-esteem at all.
I didn’t date at all for about six years. And let me tell you, I think that was probably the best decision I ever made. Why?
Because when I did decide to date again, it was my current partner. We’ve been together almost two years, and while our relationship has it’s problems like any other, it is definitely the best relationship I’ve ever been in.
So, what did I do during that six years to rebuild my self-esteem?
I Got to Know Myself Again
When your self-esteem is shot and people keep telling you that you’re not good enough, you try to fix it. You try to be good enough by figuring out what they want and then being or doing that.
The problem with that is that you end up being someone else entirely. Any self-esteem it gives you is just a false layer that comes from their approval. Plus, it’s downright exhausting. Pretending to be someone you’re not wears you out.
And when it’s over? You don’t know who you are anymore.
So I spent those years getting to know myself again. I immersed myself in old hobbies and interests. I read books that I used to enjoy, watched TV and movies I’d always liked.
I went deeper, though. I really got to know myself. I thought about the hopes and dreams I once had, and whether they were still ones I wanted to go after. I thought about new hopes and dreams I wanted to chase and how I could accomplish them.
I figured out what had been wrong with all my past relationships. I asked myself what I wanted from future relationships. And I didn’t just stick with surface level “I want to get married again someday” stuff. I dug deep, figuring out that I wanted the kind of relationship where my partner respected me and was willing to compromise, with whom I felt completely safe and comfortable, and who never talked down to me – and what all that would look like.
I Read Books
I read a lot of self-help and self-development books. They’re not necessarily going to fix all your problems overnight, but what they can do is help you shine a light on the thoughts you have that contribute to your low self-esteem.
I remember reading one, though I can’t recall the book’s title, that had a paragraph about feeling worthless and as if everything that had been dished out to the author was well-deserved. As I read that paragraph, it was as if I’d written it myself. That told me that not only was I not alone in how I felt, but that I could get past it, because the author had.
Which books you’ll want to read depend on you and why you lack self-esteem. If you lack it in general, then general self-help and self-development will be a great start. But if you find that you are generally a confident person, but when it comes to relationships or business or some other specific aspect of life you completely lack self-esteem, you’ll want to focus on books that focus on that particular life area.
For the record, I still read these books. Self-esteem and confidence aren’t static. You don’t build them up and they just magically stay there forever. You have to keep working at it, and continuing to read and learn helps me keep my levels up.
I Surrounded Myself with Confident People
One of my dearest friends is an intuitive life coach and I met her a couple of years after I left that second abusive relationship. I didn’t know that was what she did at the time, but I definitely felt drawn to her.
She doesn’t coach me – well, she might do it to a degree naturally as a part of our friendship, but we don’t have a coaching relationship. She’s just a really dear friend whom I trust completely.
What’s amazing about her is not so much how confident she is, but that she is super supportive of women in general. The combination of the two things and the frequent exposure to her positive mindset makes it much harder for me to think poorly of myself.
I’ve found many more people with a similar mentality. Confident, supportive, positive-minded people who look for the upside and refuse to give in just because of a setback will make it much harder for you to throw up your hands and give up.
You Have to Put In the Work
None of these things will improve your self-esteem if you’re not willing to put in the effort to change your own feelings about yourself. Ultimately, regardless of how you got to where you are, you have to decide you want higher self-esteem and then put in the work. You have to apply the information you read, do the homework a life coach assigns, and really pay attention to your thoughts and take steps to change them when you notice they’re taking a backward slide.
Also remember that these are just a starting point. Working on your self-esteem isn’t going to be a quick fix. The things listed here are a place to begin, but you might need to engage a life coach or a therapist to really get to the bottom of things and find a solid foundation for your self-esteem to grow on.
I still have days when I slip. Days when I’m tired or frustrated, when things just aren’t going right, or when I let old voices creep back in to whisper negative thoughts in my head. But those days are far less frequent, and I’m better able to recognize them for what they are. I might feel bad about myself that day, but I keep making the effort and it doesn’t take long for me to feel better again.
The last thing I want you to remember is this: Once you start rebuilding your self-esteem, remember it belongs to you. You don’t have to let anyone or anything destroy it ever again. Getting fired, getting dumped, being insulted – they might make you sad, or even make you question your abilities or looks or personality, but ultimately, it’s up to you to remember that you’re an amazing person with a lot to offer. If that person couldn’t see it, that’s their problem, not yours. Keep working to believe in yourself, no matter what happens.