How to improve self confidence

Self esteem is a critical part of living a happy and healthy life. In this article we will go over some of the self-help techniques and therapies you can use to boost your self-esteem.

Most people, at one time or another, struggle with low self-confidence. A teen boy feeling like he’ll never keep up at school, an adult woman worrying she’ll never get respect at work, a fourth grade girl who is being picked on by classmates, an out of work father feeling like a failure… There are many instances in life that can trigger lower self esteem.

While improving confidence can become an ongoing challenge, these worth while methods listed below can help you build up your self-esteem and trust in yourself.

Stop False Comparisons

Many people compare themselves to what they see of others on social media. Someone may look polished and beautiful, like they are a perfectly together parent, or a wildly successful individual, but these accounts are often meticulously curated (influencers or not). Media profiles often show only idealist photos of peoples lives, leaving out the struggles and strains.

People don’t often show themselves without makeup, their children having tantrums, or a fight they had with their spouse on the way to a restaurant.

However, others compare the most difficult parts of their lives to the misleading “perfect” images of others. And, most people wouldn’t stand up to their own “perfect” images in a typical moment.

Even if these images are somewhat real, they don’t reflect the inner experiences and happiness of such people. The ability to look beautiful (which can have varying descriptions) in a photo has no bearing on the quality of life for that individual.

To escape these false comparisons, limit your exposure to social media and follow more realistic, authentic accounts. Remember that these are idealized images, much like advertising, and aren’t reflecting people’s everyday lives.

Cognitive Restructuring

Many people have a constant inner critic that brings down self-confidence. Thoughts like, “I can’t do anything right,” or “No one likes me,” may repeatedly replay. While some people may be hard on themselves in order to improve, over time these negative messages begin to do damage.

Cognitive therapists note that ongoing thoughts will influence feelings and behaviors. If someone is telling themselves negative things, they will begin to feel down or discouraged, and may then quit trying.

For example, if Maria feels like she’s bad at her job, she may look for evidence to support this. Even when minor things that go wrong, she uses these as examples to support her negative self view. Then when Maria does something particularly well, she dismisses this as a fluke or still not good enough.

Eventually, Maria may stop trying altogether, since she feels she can’t do anything right anyway. She then uses this as more evidence of her negative self-view. Constantly beating up one’s self is guaranteed to lead to low self-confidence.

Sometimes people say they’re difficult on themselves in order to motivate themselves to work harder. While that may work for some, up to a point, no amount of success will feel good. This is why perfectionists may never seem to enjoy themselves, even when they do well.

For many others, beating up on themselves actually leads to a lack of motivation. This constant negative talk eats away self-confidence until nothing is left. If nothing works out, then why even try? This discouragement can lead to depression and complicate other mental health issues as well.

Fortunately, these patterns can change. Identifying and replacing the negative beliefs you have about yourself can begin to reverse this process.

For example, many people feel like they always fail. Even when things go well, they will notice the negative parts of it.

Rather than accepting such thoughts, they can make a list of events that contradict such beliefs. Perhaps they’ve had a difficult time recently, but they’ve achieved things in the past. Making a list of such achievements can help reframe thoughts. 

Once people have found evidence to contract the negative self-thoughts, they can create new, more accurate thoughts. For example, rather than saying, “I can’t do anything right,” they might say, “Sometimes I struggle, like anyone, but I am always improving.” Or, “I feel like I do everything wrong, but actually there are a lot more things I’ve done right.”

Thinking this new thought can seem awkward at first. However, with consistency, the new, more helpful thought will become habitual. And, in time, you’ll believe these positive thoughts.

To practice this, follow these basic steps:

  • Identify a common negative thought about yourself
  • Make a list of evidence that contradicts this thought (get outside help if you struggle with this)
  • Identify a new, but believable thought, that is kinder and more helpful to yourself
  • Repeat this practice, with up to a few thoughts at a time, until you begin to change your broader thinking patterns

Here are some examples of how initial negative thoughts can be changed over time:

  • Instead of thinking, “I’m a bad person,” think, “I only care about this because I’m a good person.
  • Instead of thinking, “Why do I always mess everything up?” think, “No one’s perfect, but what’s important is that I learn and do my best.”
  • Instead of thinking, “There’s something wrong with me,” think “I’m a unique and live life in my own way.”

Sometimes more engrained thoughts, or those based in traumatic experiences of the past, can be the most difficult to change. This is why working with a therapist, such as a CBT counselor, can help you begin to change such patterns of thinking.

Building Confidence with DBT

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) helps participants address issues like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. DBT is based on noticing, practicing, and changing patterns. Here’s a look at some of the common DBT skills recommended to boost confidence.

Opposite Action Skill

This skill encourages you to change your behavior, even when you feel like doing the opposite. For example, if you feel you’re a horrible cook, cook anyway. If you feel down and depressed, make yourself try new activities. If you feel shame, then act as if you’re proud and self-accepting instead. Over time, these positive behaviors will help change your feelings.

Build Mastery

With the building mastery skill, you slowly build up your confidence by trying new things. You can start with small things, like adding a new hobby, or even everyday simple tasks. Try these and other steps to build confidence:

  • Try a new hobby
  • Revive an old hobby
  • Take small steps to face a fear
  • Read a book on self-development
  • Volunteer to help out at a local non-profit
  • Participate in a challenge or contest just for fun

Mindfulness and Acceptance

A cornerstone skill of DBT therapy is mindfulness. This is being aware of what’s going on around you in the moment, but also of what’s going on within yourself. You can begin by noticing thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Next, simply accept them as they are. Accepting a thought doesn’t mean believing it. Rather, it means noticing that it is a thought, and often not the truth, or fact, of a situation.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT therapy has much in common with DBT and CBT approaches. However, it revolves around accepting your thoughts and making decisions based on your values. Rather than challenging thoughts, you can practice simply noticing thoughts and letting them go by. This process is called “cognitive defusion,” and can be freeing for many people.

With ACT therapy, you might notice negative thoughts about yourself, and choose not to attach to them. Notice them as one part of your brain reacting, but not representative of what’s really important to you.

A common practice in ACT therapy is the Leaves on a Stream Meditation. This process practices cognitive defusion, encouraging individuals to imagine removing thoughts and placing them onto leaves. They then imagine these leaves floating down a stream and floating away.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is an alternative viewpoint that looks at what’s going well, and what’s positive about us, rather than what’s wrong. Instead of assessing weaknesses, mental health problems, and areas to improve on, it builds on areas of strength.

Many psychologists use a tool called the values in action (VIA) survey, which helps you find what things you’re good at, that match what’s important to you. There’s no right or wrong in values, simply each individual’s personal perspectives.

Once you identify what’s important, you can begin to take steps to recognize, or expand, those areas. Example values from the survey include an appreciation for beauty, a thirst for learning, or a value of working with others.

Another important aspect of positive psychology is one of gratitude, and noticing the positives. You can recognize positives in others, situations, and yourself. Many people keep a daily list, where they outline things they’re grateful for, and write about positive experiences they’ve had.

Tangible steps you can take to practice positive psychology to improve self-confidence include the following:

  • Keep a regular journal, focusing on positive observations about yourself as well as positive expectations.
  • Complete the VIA survey, and consider which values and activities are most important to you.
  • Have fun. Take time to participate in pleasurable activities, with others or on your own. Examples will vary by individuals, but could involve music, dance, writing, playing games, and more.

Healing Childhood Memories

Many people do all the right things to get better, but continue to struggle with low self-confidence. When childhood complex trauma is interfering, this can get in the way of accepting yourself.

In his book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, he writes: “Toxic shame … obliterates a [trauma] survivors self-esteem with an overwhelming sense that he is loathsome, ugly, stupid, or fatally flawed. Overwhelming self-disdain is typically a flashback to the way [she] felt when suffering the contempt and visual skewering of [a] traumatizing parent. Toxic shame can also be created by constant parental neglect and rejection.”

It can be difficult to heal childhood abuse and neglect. But it’s not impossible. Some people suffer from fully developed PTSD, and healing the shame of trauma can be freeing. Once shame is healed, then the door can open to personal growth. This allows for development and building of self-esteem.

Trauma-focused cognitive therapies can help address this type of shame, such as cognitive processing therapy or prolonged exposure therapy.

For others, they don’t suffer with everyday PTSD symptoms. However, they may feel a sense of depression, or have emotional flashbacks, that affect confidence. Such complex trauma from childhood can interfere with friendships, intimate relationships, and career and job performances. This can further lower confidence over time.

An experienced therapist trained in EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. Trauma-focused EMDR can help you identify and heal childhood memories that are still affecting you. It allows individuals to imagine difficult memories, and finally process and make sense of them.

As children, we all feel that we did things wrong, or there may be something wrong with us. Looking at this from an adult, more objective, viewpoint can be powerfully healing. Trauma-focused therapies allow this to happen, in a safe and structured way.

Build Purpose and Meaning

Another way to increase self-confidence is to explore what brings meaning in your life, and what gives you a sense of purpose. Purpose can vary from wanting to help others, to wanting to be the best tennis player in the world. Or, it might revolve around being a great parent, or exploring spiritual beliefs and connection. And, it could be a combination of these things.

Sometimes people move through life with little sense of purpose, simply going through the motions. In fact, this is often what’s encouraged in our society: work hard, play hard, and always improve yourself.

However, all of this working hard can be distracting from what you feel is really important. Taking time to slow down, become mindful, and explore things that really matter is centering. For many, this type of centering will heal wounds that affect self-esteem. Self-perception will heal itself when actions are based on purpose.

There are many ways to develop this sense of purpose. The journey will differ for anyone, but here are some ideas to try:

  • Read books focused on purpose such as The Alchemist, Daring Greatly, or The Happiness Project. The book itself isn’t as important as simply exploring your own areas of your strength and purpose.
  • Talk to mentors who you respect. Is there anyone in your life who seems to have things figured out, and everything goes right? That’s probably not the case behind the scenes, but they may have some life advice that could be helpful.
  • Take time to meditate, pray, or reflect. Meditation offers a chance to center, and listen to your inner wise self. Some view this as a spiritual self, while others see it simply as a scientifically based process that calms the brain and helps you think clearly. Either way, this will help you identify the things that are important to you, and will guide you in next steps.

There’s no simple process that immediately fixes self-esteem. However, when you’re ready, you can begin to build up this part of your self-perception. Recognize that your ideas, contributions, and simply your existence are all valuable. Make a choice to practice believing this, and work on believing in yourself.

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