If you’re somebody who struggles to like yourself, then you’re not alone. Around 85 percent of the world’s population is affected by low self-esteem, and it’s a problem that seems to be getting more intense in western countries. Is humanity sick? Or is there a problem with the environment in which we live?
The reasons for people not liking themselves are varied. For some, it’s the product of an abusive past. A parent or a caregiver regularly made spiteful comments about their appearance or character, giving them the impression that they were a naturally bad person, unable to change. For others, it’s something that they’ve learned from the society around them or that they were born with. People with disabilities can often view themselves in a negative light.
The problem with all this is that science shows that people who don’t like themselves struggle to lead fulfilling, engaging, and satisfying lives.
Low self-esteem affects all of the areas of life that matter to us the most. It impacts the type of work that you do, the quality of your relationship with your family, and your willingness to go out and seek exceptional romantic partners. It can also have a profound effect on your overall health – something we’ll discuss later. Suffice to say, when you don’t like yourself, your life can suck.
This brings up the question of how to engage in self-care when you don’t like yourself very much. If you don’t believe that you are something valuable, then you won’t take steps to protect yourself from harm. Instead, you’ll engage in whatever destructive activities come your way because looking after yourself isn’t something you “deserve.”
Of course, it all depends on the reasons for the self-loathing. Yes, if you’re an ax murderer, then perhaps you’ve got a point: you’re not a particularly lovable person. But for the majority of people, self-loathing is something that’s learned: it’s not an authentic true-self reaction to one’s own capacities and behaviors.
Step One: Find Out Where The Loathing Comes From
The first step on the path to health is to work out where the loathing comes from. It’s no good just stewing, believing that you’re a terrible person if you don’t know what started the process in the first place. Understanding where it all comes from is an essential step on the road to health and becoming a person who actually likes themselves.
The first place to look is a historical cause. Often something happens in a person’s past that puts them in a thought pattern where they begin to dislike themselves. Over time, the same thoughts get reinforced, and eventually, it becomes embedded in the personality. A person might declare, “oh, I’m useless because I lack talent” or “I could never do that because I don’t have courage.” These are a sort of learned response to particular situations that the person believes but which, if put to the test, would probably end up being false.
The story that we tell ourselves about ourselves is crucial. It’s not just a story, but a blueprint for how we live our lives and how we treat ourselves. When the story is negative or false, it can have dire consequences for happiness.
Step Two: Recognize That A Lack Of Self-Care Can Have Life-Threatening Consequences
The next step is to recognize that a lack of self-care can hurt you and that it’s something worth caring about. The thoughts and feelings that you have against yourself probably aren’t justified. But the consequences of those feelings can be devastating.
Let’s say that you feel bad about yourself because of the way that you look at turn to food as a remedy. Chips, candy, and cake all make you feel better in the moment by taking away that pain, but they could lead to serious health problems in the future. People who medicate with food have a much higher chance of needing to see a recommended cardiologist than those who don’t.
The choices that we make with our bodies can have lifelong ramifications. Your lack of self-worth might mean that you’re more willing to engage in dangerous activities and to hell with the long-term consequences. Those consequences could then lead to shortening and worsening of your already miserable life – not exactly a happy solution. Abusing yourself could also lead to a lowered mental capacity to escape the low self-worth trap (especially among drug users).
Step Three: Make Intellectual Peace With The True Source Of Self Worth
The next step is an intellectual one. Instead of going straight in and dealing with the emotional stuff, it’s worth thinking about where self-esteem comes from. Most people don’t have self-esteem because it comes out of something that they can’t control, like their beauty or intelligence. We think that we have something that other people don’t, like “good looks” and then fight to protect that, even as it fades with age.
It’s a bad idea, in general, to focus your reasons for loving yourself on your positive qualities. Yes, you might be fabulously intelligent, but you’ll still feel bad about yourself when somebody inevitably challenges that status.
The trick is to become somebody of extraordinary character. It’s behaving with integrity and doing the tough stuff, like having courage in the face of bullying or being honest with a partner when you don’t want to. Those character-forming experiences teach you that you have it within yourself to act with virtue.
Step Four: Live In Accordance To Values
The final arbiter of your self-worth is you. Once you’ve got it, nobody can take it away. This is why acting with extraordinary character is so important. All your decisions confirm your worth. You do the tough emotional stuff that others can’t, and that has the effect of providing evidence that only you can see that you are a worthwhile person. The more you commit to living with values, the less you care about external stuff, like athleticism or looks. It’s just not that important anymore.