Called “the reputation we have with ourselves,” self-esteem is among the most important factors to having a contented life. This article continues the second half of a list of ways to boost confidence. To read Part 1, please CLICK HERE.
Keep a Dream Journal
Signposts to our deepest desires and needs often surface in dreams. “Many, many women have low self-esteem because they feel a deep sense of shame and guilt that they cannot explain,” says Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, author of The Pregnant Virgin. “The explanation lies in the unconscious, and you can find it by meeting the child you were years ago, the child who gave up her authenticity to meet her parents’ agenda. That child appears in your dreams.”
To explore the meanings of your dreams, write them down in a notebook that you keep by your bed. When you first awaken, before you do or say anything, think about the dream as deeply as you can to fix it in your mind. Then write down whatever you can remember. Later in the day, read your notes and write your interpretation of the dream’s connection to your waking life.
Dreams, says Woodman, reveal to us true feelings that we may have repressed for years. If you dream of a furious person, she says, you may be able to bring your own anger to consciousness and release it from your body. If you dream of a place where you lived when you were 5 years old, you can ask yourself, What happened to me yesterday that reawakened the feelings of that 5-year-old inside me? Or if you dream of a rebel from society), you may be able to cast off the “nice girl” mask you’ve worn for so long.
“Our lives are like a sailboat in need of a rudder,” says Woodman, “and dreams provide that rudder to keep us in balance between our inner and outer worlds. “Dreams, then, can help us to reach our destination: self-knowledge—that crucial prerequisite to self-esteem.
Live with Integrity
Newman and Berkowitz say that the best route to self-esteem is doing only what you approve of. We make decisions every day—whether to pay back money we owe, whether to keep an inconvenient commitment, whether to speak calmly or scream like a banshee during a disagreement. When we act and speak in accordance with our values, we feel more respect for ourselves. But sometimes this involves some risk or discomfort—confronting a friend who has hurt you, demonstrating at a peace protest, or changing your job. Suppose you don’t feel ready to take a risk, or you feel it’s not appropriate. Suppose, say, you want to protest an unsafe practice at your company but you need your job to support your family. Psychologist Marilyn J Mason, PhD., author of Making Our Lives Our Own: A Woman’s Guide to the Six Challenges of Personal Change, suggests that you play—or replay—a scene the way you would like it to occur, speaking in your true voice either in private or role-playing with a good friend, who takes the part of the person you want to speak to.
By dialoguing, you can explore the pros and cons of taking action. You can ask—and get feedback on—what is to be gained, what the moral and ethical issues are, what the possible consequences might be, what you’re afraid of, and whether how you’re handling the conversation or the decision will achieve your aims. Then you can decide whether to use this dialogue as a “stress rehearsal” for action, or whether you have resolved this issue and don’t need to take it any further. Either way, you see that you are exercising free choice based on your best judgment.
Develop a Spiritual Practice
Spirituality is closely connected to self-esteem. Joan Borysenko, PhD., author of Guilt is the Teacher. Love is the Answer, says, “When we feel connected with something good in ourselves, with other people, and with a larger whole, we accept ourselves.” To achieve this deep sense of connectedness, she stresses the importance of taking daily spiritual time for yourself. You might take a mindful walk in nature, listen to uplifting music, read or write poetry, pray to a supreme being, meditate, or substitute inspirational reading for the morning newspaper. “By doing whatever feels right to you,” says Borysenko, “you will come in contact with a place within yourself that is intuitive and wise and has self-esteem—and that is beyond being wounded.”
Develop a Physical Practice
For many people the spiritual aspect of themselves is closely connected to the physical side. The well-known “runner’s high” (which other exercise also provides) is a kind of altered state, in which you can get in touch with your deeper self in a very special way. This is only one way in which regular physical activity can help to raise self-esteem.
“Often low self-esteem shows up as depression,“ says Mason. “And it’s hard to be depressed when your pulse is racing and you’re feeling alive. This is why I have most of my depressed patients exercising regularly—working out in a gym, riding a bicycle, running, taking a brisk walk, whatever activity is right for them.”
When you see that you can use your body effectively, you feel more in control, says Mason, who leads women’s wilderness and rock-climbing trips. This feeling of physical power boosts self-esteem, as physical activity helps you become proactive (shaping your life) rather than reactive (responding to whatever comes along). Furthermore, it’s hard not to feel better about yourself when you know that your body is fit and well-toned.
Give Yourself Daily Treats
An important element of self-esteem, and one that runs through the lives of successful people, is the feeling of being loved and special. Say psychologists Dorothy W. Cantor and Toni Bernay, PhD., authors of Women in Power: The Secrets of Leadership, we can give ourselves this feeling by doing something every day that makes us feel good. Mason, for example, works out first thing in the morning and then takes a bubble bath. “No matter what happens the rest of the day,” she says, “I’ve given myself a good, self-affirming start.” Other rewards might include talking to a good friend or reading a wonderful novel. The what is less important than how you feel about it.
By taking time for yourself every day, you reinforce the idea that you are valuable and worthwhile. “This is what we as women have to do,” says Borysenko. “If we put our needs behind everyone else’s and martyr ourselves, we won’t be strong enough to help anyone else, either.”
Can a person ever have too much self-esteem? No, says Branden, “no more than you can have too much physical health.” People who may seem to think well of themselves, by bragging or presenting a public image of total self-confidence, do not have too much self-esteem, he says. “Rather, they don’t have enough. This is why they have to keep convincing themselves—and everyone around them—how superior they are. Those who are truly comfortable with themselves don’t need to show off.”
The suggestions given in these pages are not, of course, the final answer to achieving a high level of self-esteem. They are first steps on a journey that you will be taking for the rest of your life. As Carlson says, “There is a living process and a movement within the psyche itself that can be tapped and nourished in order to keep growing. In each person there is a powerful push to grow and to continually create oneself, both from within and in relationship to other people. If that can be contacted and trusted and worked with, that in itself is a powerful source of self-esteem.“
Sally Wendkos Olds has written extensively about child development, family life, human relationship and health, and has won national awards for both her book and magazine writing. She is the author or co-author of eleven books and hundreds of articles that have appeared in major national magazines. She received the lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.