Having a strong sense of self-worth can be really hard. We see so much goodness in others and have a hard time seeing it in ourselves, blinded by cries to fix our weaknesses, and told by others that it's only polite to dull our shine. Self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence-- this is all stuff you can work on. And unlike in those cheesy after-school specials and made-for-TV movies for teen and tweens, these moments of growth don't have to center around a sports event, a school dance, or getting the girl/guy/gender-nonconforming-cutie. (Side note: I'd love to have stories with gender non-conforming cuties become so mainstream that we have tons of cheesy, poorly written shows where teens overuse slang in attempts to seem more realistic that are also full of genderqueer characters.)
I really pride myself on being an extremely self-confident individual with a solid concept of my own self-worth. I like who I am. I like that I can list 5 things I think are awesome about myself at the drop of a hat. But the level of self-confidence I have isn't entirely innate. It's something you can cultivate and it's something I was just lucky enough to cultivate early on. If your level of self-esteem is not where you want it to be, you can fix it by taking steps not just within yourself, but within your environment.
First things firstYou gotta understand that changing things outside yourself to change things inside yourself actually makes a whole lot of sense. It's not necessarily superficial or surface level-- your environment has a big impact on you: how you feel, how you act, what you do. A lot more stuff is situational than we often like to think. The fundamental attribution error is a term in psychology for when we attribute an act to an individual's personality or who they are, when really, the situation that person is in could have a huge amount of sway on how they act. When someone cuts you off on the highway, you might get really angry and think they are a huge jerkface, but what if they are driving a loved one in the midst of a medical emergency to the hospital? Are they still a jerkface in that situation? Probably not. Situations can really drastically impact things, so it's important to try to put yourself in situations that encourage better outcomes. (Side note: I highly encourage everyone to watch this 20-minute TED Talk about the effects situations can have on mankind's ability to reach its lowest lows and how to combat it!)
Now that we understand that changing our external situation can have profound impacts on how we function, let's get down to the nuts and bolts of how to make positive changes in our external environment.
There are two ways to change your external environment. Actually changing it or changing your perspective on it. Deciding between the two is about what is best for you, and sometimes it takes a brutal amount of honesty to understand which is best.
Path One: PerspectiveChanging your perspective on something for the better is all about finding the thing in something to be grateful for. Maybe you're resentful of the religion you were forced to grow up with, but surely there are some positive values in it that you took away from the experience. Maybe you hate how your parents are always on your case, giving you advice that doesn't make sense from where you stand-- but you can find their caring and compassion for you within those acts, however misguided their actions might be. It's all about seeing the good things that can come with the bad, which can help you deal with the more disappointing parts. Changing your perspective is sometimes really hard, but can totally turn things around.
Some exercises in Perspective♥︎ Write 5 things you're grateful for in a notebook every day. Try not to hit on the same things over and over.
♥︎ Take note of the things that make you happy, no matter how small. A full night's rest, cooking a meal for a friend, the weather, remembering to take all your vitamins, drinking enough water, stopping to chat with a buddy, an episode of a show you just watched, the candle you just lit. It's really easy to focus our attention on the annoyances in our lives, so break out of that cycle and balance your world by consciously taking note of the good.
♥︎ Take something you are really bothered by or sad about. Find the good in it. No matter how small. Appreciate the good. Realize the importance of that glimmer of light in something very dark. Be glad that you have it now, instead of just the darkness before you moments ago.
♥︎ What could be worse? Make a list. Make it silly and outrageous. You might be in "insert-terrible-situation-here," but that's way better than being in "insert-terrible-situation-here" and unable to stop sneezing for any amount of time. You could be stuck at a fireworks show with an incredibly poorly-trained technician! It can always be worse-- and people just like you have gotten through worse.
Changing your perspective should be part of your mental health first aid kit and life skills tool kit.
Path Two: Change ItThis path can be a lot harder, but it can have a huge pay off. People are all different, and not every person does awesome in every situation. Not being able to do as well as other people in a given situation is not a sign that there's something wrong with you-- it just means this is not a good match for you, and there's probably somewhere else where you will fare better than some others. Sometimes it can be really hard to change things, but to get better things, you sometime need to let go of stuff to make room in your life. Accept that.
Some exercises in change♥︎ Evaluate. What's good for you? What's bad for you? Be brutally honest with yourself. Sometimes comfortable things are also hurtful or stifling. Knowing who you are can help you make changes for the better.
♥︎ Let go. Clinging to the familiar and broken can keep you from reaching the new and wonderful.
♥︎ Make your feelings known. Sometimes the first part of breaking the status quo is you saying you're not okay with it. Sometimes things can change just because you made it known you weren't happy with them.
♥︎ Excise. Cut things out. Remove them like a surgeon. Some things and people are toxic, and you've got to get them out of your life as soon as you can and as completely as you can.
It feels weird to admit, but working to change the stuff on the outside can really help you feel safer to be the kind of you that's most "you"! It puts you in a safer environment with more supportive people, and once you're in that kind of space, not only are you happier in general, but you can really become comfortable with loving yourself and taking risks to grow.
Have you ever taken either of these two paths to make a change? How did it work out for you?