I knew I just wasn’t good at anything anymore.
For years—decades, even—I’d prided myself on being extremely competent and highly regarded at my job. I’d also been a devoted mother, a loving wife and an all-around pretty good person.
But not anymore. I knew I was failing at everything, because that’s what depression told me. I heard it in my head every day, screaming at me, unrelenting. Everything in my life felt muddled and cloudy, but the one thing on which I was totally clear was my inability to do anything right.
Such is life with depression and its resulting anxiety. Depression tries to take control of your mind and convince you that you are not your true, wonderful self. Depression pits you against yourself, picking away at your darkest fears and your deepest vulnerabilities.
Thankfully, I found a phenomenal cognitive behavior therapist who helped me turn the tables on depression by teaching me to develop my self-esteem. I came to understand that because my foundation hadn’t been strong enough, depression was able to break me down, brick by brick.
With my therapist’s guidance, I was able to get my house in order, rebuilding my mind and my spirit using the nine techniques below.
If you struggle with self-esteem, I encourage you to follow these steps to get back to being the amazing you that you are:
Begin by identifying things that you enjoy doing. The rationale is that if you enjoy doing them, there’s a probability that you are good at them.
Of those things you enjoy doing, determine which ones you are best at. Think of feedback you might have received from friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances or strangers.
Start doing more of those things you are good at and note any positive feedback you receive in a High-Five book (see Step 5). Try to include a photo or drawing of the thing you did. Add as much detail about the feedback as you can recall; also, include how you felt when you were doing the thing and how you felt once you’d accomplished it. You are trying to convince your subconscious of the opposite of what it has believed about you, perhaps for decades, so any ammunition you can document will serve you well. Seeing that you are useful and of value to others will go a long way toward building your self-esteem. It feels great knowing that someone values your input and ideas, your contribution to a project, your hard work and abilities. Start offering to help others, and see what a difference that makes to your self-esteem.
4. Give Compliments
Complimenting others contributes to building your self-esteem as well as theirs. It says that you are a giving person and are strong enough in yourself to tell people how you appreciate them and why. Giving others a genuine boost feels good.
Take note of positive feedback in a High-Five book and date it. Add any and all compliments and positive comments you receive about anything concerning you. All of these things contribute to your sense of who you are. Recognize even the smallest successes in your book, especially at first, giving yourself credit where credit is due. Keep your High-Five book going long after your self-esteem feels stronger, adding new entries whenever you get a boost from someone
When you are having a shaky day, re-read your High-Five book out loud to yourself. Make up a little ditty about your skills and abilities, and write it in your book. Say it or, even better, sing it aloud. Your subconscious responds best to rhyme and song.
7. Be Your Own Best Friend
Nurture yourself. Treat yourself as well as you would treat a highly regarded friend or colleague. Be gentle and kind to yourself. This does not mean being self-indulgent; it simply means not placing unreasonable expectations on yourself and not sabotaging your own success by setting unreachable goals. Be fair.
8. Re-Program Your Thoughts
When your mind starts talking about your lack of ability or worth, take a deep breath, tell it, “Stop right now,” and show it all the compliments and positive feedback that prove it wrong. If your mind insists on this negative self-talk, wear a rubber band loosely around your wrist and snap it every time your mind goes negative on you. Snap that thought shut and replace it with a more realistic, value-based counter-thought (as demonstrated through your High-Five book). Essentially, you are retraining your mind to gravitate to a new default position. This is not a quick fix—it takes time and commitment.
9. Discover Self-Discipline
Having self-discipline contributes hugely to building self-esteem, because exercising self-discipline means you have a level of control over your responses and emotions. This provides a sense of security, and it feels very good. Any time you can exercise self-discipline in your daily life, whether it’s simply by going to bed at a reasonable hour so you can feel fresh in the morning, choose to do that. And remember to make a note of this achievement in your High-Five book. Self-discipline demonstrates your ability to take charge of your own life. Enjoy your independence and your ability to stand up for yourself.