How to Build Faith in Yourself and Change Your Life

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What are the psychological consequences of low self-esteem? What are some steps you can take to cultivate a healthy sense of self-esteem?

People who have low self-esteem struggle to act in their best interests and often go to great lengths to please others in pursuit of validation, even if it comes at the expense of their own happiness. Luckily, your self-esteem is amenable to change, and you can improve it by practicing self-esteem-building behaviors.

In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of nurturing healthy self-esteem and some strategies for overcoming low self-esteem. 

The Importance of Nurturing Self-Esteem 

Having good self-esteem is a key ingredient for success. Research shows that the more self-esteem you have, the more likely you are to take risks that can lead to success. But if you focus on your failures, you erode your self-esteem and are less likely to take risks. For example, you might see a job posting for a customer engagement associate with a local software company. You’re relatively qualified for the job, but you talk yourself out of applying because you’ve never held a similar role, and you convince yourself you wouldn’t be selected. 

You likely developed your sense of self from your parents, and they may have passed along to you negative attitudes about themselves and what they’re capable of. Although your upbringing has a powerful influence on the way you perceive yourself and what you think you’re capable of, you can take steps to overcome it and cultivate a healthy self-esteem. 

TITLE: The Success Principles
AUTHOR: Jack Canfield
TIME: 90
READS: 118.1
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-success-principles-summary-jack-canfield

The Consequences of Low Self-Esteem

Not only does low self-esteem stop you from going after your dreams and causes you to miss out on opportunities in life, but it also prevents you from forming healthy relationships with others. 

According to Melody Beattie, the author of Codependent No More, low self-esteem often leads to what she calls “codependency.” She defines codependency as a stress-induced pattern of behavior that dictates how a person treats another and how she allows that other person to influence her. The codependent obsesses over the other person and seeks to control them.

This pattern can lead to a number of problems:

1) Attachment. According to Beattie, low self-esteem makes many codependents believe they can’t take care of themselves. This is a dangerous mindset to have because the more desperately you need someone, the more willing you are to settle for unhealthy relationships. Desperation leads codependents into relationships, whether platonic, familial, or romantic, with people who will never meet their needs, which just makes them more desperate.

Is Attachment Really That Bad?

Some writers disagree with Beattie’s assertion that attachment is entirely negative. In Attached, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller argue that attachment is a necessary and important part of life and that being dependent on another person actually makes you more independent, assertive, and confident. This seems to contradict Beattie’s point. 

However, Levine and Heller simply use the word “attached” differently than Beattie. Levine and Heller define attachment as a healthy connection with other people. Beattie defines attachment as unhealthy dependency. At their cores, both books agree with each other, maintaining that everyone needs healthy connections with other people. Healthy connections promote emotional health and provide a sense of security and peace, which does increase confidence and independence as Levine and Heller assert.

Though their core messages are similar, the authors explore the subject differently. Levine and Heller focus on the attributes of healthy connections and how they work, while Beattie focuses on the steps you have to take before you can make healthy connections. While relationships can provide encouragement, security, and emotional stability, you need to experience these things outside of the relationship, too. If you don’t, you’ll come to rely on the other person too much and risk becoming codependent.

2) Bad communication. Low self-esteem can also lead to toxic communication patterns. People with low self-esteem and codependency can’t defend themselves or tell people “no” either. When open communication is “banned,” people turn to manipulation, guilt-tripping, and lying to get things done.

For example, picture Jenny, a high school student whose mother is an alcoholic. Growing up with an alcoholic mother has taught Jenny that she can’t ask for attention. When Jenny has a school performance that she wants her mother to attend, she turns to manipulation and guilt-tripping rather than asking directly. She talks about how excited she is, how her instructor has been praising her effort, and how her friend’s parents are planning a special dinner to celebrate. “Don’t worry about it,” she says, “I know how hard it is for you to make time.”

While Jenny achieves her goal of getting her mother to attend the show, her mother resents Jenny’s manipulation and guilt-tripping, which damages their relationship further. Bad communication leads to anger, resentment, and ruined relationships.

Why Does Bad Communication Lead to Manipulation?

Research supports Beattie’s assertion that bad communication leads to manipulation, often throughout entire families, because in families that don’t have healthy communication styles, there is a constant, underlying fight for recognition and power. Being unheard makes people feel powerless, so they use manipulation to regain that power. Returning to our example, Jenny is in a constant fight for attention and recognition. She has to compete with her mother’s other responsibilities and family members, but her greatest competitor is her mother’s alcoholism. Since addiction is so powerful, Jenny has to fight dirty with manipulation.

Manipulation may start as a coping mechanism, which isn’t Jenny’s fault, but it becomes a dangerous pathological habit over time. After living with her mother, manipulation is such an ingrained part of Jenny’s thinking that she manipulates people even when it’s unnecessary. If not addressed, Jenny’s manipulative tendencies can become abuse.

3) The caretaking cycle. Low self-esteem leads you to search for validation and approval in other people. You crave good feelings that make you feel better about yourself. Beattie explains that many codependents try to find these good feelings by taking care of other people, which leads to the caretaking cycle. 

First, the codependent “saves” other people from their responsibilities, which makes them feel good about themself. Second, the codependent feels angry and resentful toward the other person for “using” them, even though the codependent freely assumed the responsibility. Finally, the codependent feels bad for themself, making themself the victim to avoid responsibility.

TITLE: Codependent No More
AUTHOR: Melody Beattie
TIME: 69
READS: 56.1
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: codependent-no-more-summary-melody-beattie

Overcoming Low Self-Esteem

According to psychotherapist and self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden, overcoming low self-esteem is a matter of behavior: What you do is the most important factor that determines your self-esteem.

In his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Branden posits that the process of overcoming low self-esteem entails practicing six pillars, or categories of behavior. Branden explains that by practicing these pillars, you behave in ways that foster and improve your self-esteem. Since self-esteem consists of confidence that you’re capable and worthy, it occurs when you’re capable and worthy—so you must act like you are. 

Pillar #1: Live With Awareness

Branden’s first pillar of self-esteem is to live consciously, or live with awareness. To do so, look for information about all the realities that affect your life, accept them, and act accordingly. For example, you take control of your finances by checking your bank account and adjusting your budget as needed. If you don’t look for this information, you’re not living with awareness; you’re choosing ignorance. If you learn relevant information and don’t react appropriately, you’re also not living with awareness—you’re still denying reality on some level.   

Branden explains that living with awareness is the foundation of self-esteem. Every day, you make decisions that either do or don’t demonstrate a commitment to conscious living: You live with awareness by not buying a drink you can’t afford, or by not avoiding a necessary but tough conversation. Each decision either nurtures or chips away at your self-esteem—and, collectively, they determine your self-esteem. 

Pillar #2: Accept Yourself

Branden’s second pillar of self-esteem is to accept yourself by choosing not to live in conflict with yourself. According to Branden, self-acceptance happens on three different levels: 

1. You’re on your own side. On some fundamental level, you’re born believing that your life is worth fighting for, and this belief propels you to make the behavioral changes necessary to improve self-esteem.

2. You’re willing to experience all your emotions and behavior—both good and bad—even if you disapprove of some. This is essential because you can only change what you accept: If you deny that some unpleasant reality exists, you won’t try to change it.

3. You treat yourself with kindness by accepting your poor behavior, then empathetically questioning why you behaved poorly. This questioning allows you to address the root cause of your mistakes, so you’re less likely to repeat them. And by being kind, you avoid damaging your self-esteem even more than your poor behavior did already. 

Pillar #3: Take Responsibility

Branden’s third pillar for overcoming low self-esteem is to practice self-responsibility, or take responsibility in all areas of your life. Branden explains that when you take responsibility, you take ownership of your life, behavior, and well-being. To do so, face your life actively rather than passively, which manifests in the following: 

1. You are productive. You understand that you must achieve independence by working. So you ask yourself: What can I do? How can I improve my current state? 

2. You think independently. You analyze others’ opinions, only repeating them if you believe and understand them. Similarly, you proactively find solutions instead of waiting for instructions. 

3. You are responsible for reaching your goals. You understand that only you can develop and implement a plan to achieve your goals

Branden contends that taking responsibility is essential both for overcoming low self-esteem and for your general well-being for three reasons. 

1. If you don’t take responsibility, you won’t feel like you control your life—so you can’t feel capable or worthy, which self-esteem requires. 

2. Unless you acknowledge that your self-esteem is your responsibility, you won’t take the actions necessary to raise it.

3. If you don’t take responsibility, you might wait for someone to save you instead of fixing your own life—but since this person will never appear, your life will never improve. 

Pillar #4: Assert Yourself

Branden’s fourth pillar of self-esteem is to assert yourself by expressing what you want, need, and value in appropriate ways. You don’t speak or act in ways incongruous with your thoughts or beliefs—and when this involves opposing others, you express this refusal politely. 

Branden contends that various elements of asserting yourself improve your self-esteem. For example, since self-assertion involves thinking for yourself and acting accordingly, living with awareness (Pillar 1) is an act of self-assertion.  

Pillar #5: Live Intentionally

Branden’s fifth pillar of self-esteem is to live purposefully, or live intentionally. Branden explains that when you live with intention, you don’t just react to what happens: You proactively decide what your long-term goals are, create plans to achieve them, then implement those plans

Branden explains that living intentionally is essential for overcoming low self-esteem because it improves your confidence in your capability. You develop this confidence through the intentional process of achieving specific goals, not the achievement itself: If you win a race, your confidence rises not because you won but because you were able to create and follow a winning training plan. 

Pillar #6: Act With Integrity

Branden’s sixth and final pillar for overcoming low self-esteem is to act with integrity, meaning that you strive to behave in ways that reflect your values. Additionally, since you can only live by your values if you know what they are, living with integrity involves examining why you have certain values and changing them if necessary—like if you hold a value you learned from others but no longer believe in.

Branden warns that when you act without integrity, you damage your self-respect and thus your self-esteem. By rejecting the behavior your own mind deemed right, you reject yourself and lose self-respect. This is true even if nobody else knows about your bad behavior. 

TITLE: The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
AUTHOR: Nathaniel Branden
TIME: 66
READS: 67.2
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-six-pillars-of-self-esteem-summary-nathaniel-branden

Can Self-Esteem Be Harmful?

Psychologists have long noted the danger of raising kids with constant self-esteem-building messages like “you’re so smart.” Some psychologists even argue that self-esteem—confidence in your worth or abilities—is inherently harmful to your psyche. They argue that self-esteem implies value comparisons: It defines you as either “better than” or “lesser than” other people, which puts you in a judgmental mindset. Further, if your sense of value is dependent on peoples’ opinions of you (including your own opinion of yourself), it’s not stable, but instead will rise and fall as peoples’ opinions change.

Some psychologists go further to say that even confidence based on achievement is dangerous, because it’s predicated on your success, and liable to disappear if your achievements fail. It can also lead to negative traits like perfectionism and anxiety. Instead, these psychologists advise you to focus on self-acceptance, rather than self-esteem or confidence.

TITLE: Ego Is the Enemy
AUTHOR: Ryan Holiday
TIME: 49
READS: 144.5
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: ego-is-the-enemy-summary-ryan-holiday

Final Words

Your self-esteem affects you no matter what. You can ignore your opinion of yourself, but you can’t refrain from having one. If you have low self-esteem, you’ll struggle to form beneficial relationships and pursue bold opportunities that can improve your quality of life

As mentioned, overcoming low self-esteem is in your power because your self-esteem is based on your behavior. While external factors do affect your self-esteem, your behavior is the most important factor.

If you enjoyed our article about overcoming low self-esteem, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

The Confidence Code

In The Confidence Code, journalists and authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman examine the art and science of confidence—what it is, why it matters, why women have more trouble accessing it than men, and how this shortage affects professional success, personal achievement, and even happiness. Biology plays a role, and so do systemic inequalities, but confidence is also largely a choice.

The Confidence Gap

Do you feel bombarded by negative thoughts, or feel you’re incapable of accomplishing anything? Do you often feel blocked from achieving your life goals because you lack confidence? Psychotherapist Russ Harris believes this is a common state of affairs and calls it living in the confidence gap. He believes you can get beyond this gap by learning how to relate to your negative thoughts differently: Instead of letting them dictate your actions, recognize them as mere mental events and carry on pursuing your goals. You’ll never be able to rid yourself entirely of negative thoughts and fears, but you can change how you react to them.

Behavior-Based Strategies for Overcoming Low Self-Esteem

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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