Since I released my novel, Crumbs Aren’t Enough, I’ve been asked by a number of women, “How did you go from accepting crumbs to demanding the full meal?” My answer is always the same and it’s pretty simple. I had to first feel better about myself. And once I improved my self-esteem, I could seek out what’s best for me in a relationship and demand it.
So how did I improve my self-esteem? Well, I first had to understand where my self-esteem went off the rails. See I don’t think any of us starts off with low self-esteem, this is a condition that we develop and a lot of it comes from outside forces.
When I look at pictures of myself as a young child, I see a little girl who was fearless and felt great about herself. She thought she was awesome and she was. But, then she heard “you’re fat,” “you need to lose weight,” “you’re ugly.” These put downs slowly but surely chipped away at my self-esteem and that little girl no longer thought she was awesome.
Like Charlie, the main character in Crumbs Aren’t Enough, I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t deserve the best from the men I dated. Through therapy, I re-learned that I am awesome and learned strategies to help me see myself in a positive light so I could seek out the best for myself.
What types of strategies? Well, there are probably too many to share in this brief post but here are three which I think were critical.
1. Say Nice Things About Yourself
I had to combat those negative voices with positive talk from myself – basically, I had to learn to say nice things about myself to myself. I don’t know about you, but I am my toughest critic. I had to learn to give myself a break and stop saying negative things about me to me. I had to learn to say kind and positive things to myself. I realized that even though there were areas in which I could improve, that didn’t make me a bad person. I was a great person and I had to tell myself that every day. For example, the biggest challenge area that affected my self-esteem was definitely body image. So instead of speaking negatively about my body, I forced myself to say five nice things about my body. This was really hard at first. But, by forcing myself to do it daily, I started to see myself in a more positive light. I continue this practice today.
2. Write Down Your Strengths
I bet if I asked you to tell me five of your weaknesses, you would rattle them off to me with no problem, but if I asked for five of your strengths you would probably have to think about them. It is absolutely crucial to know your strengths and write them down. I know when I first heard this I felt like writing my strengths would make me seem arrogant, but it doesn’t. If you can’t articulate your strengths, how will anyone else see them?
3. Set Achievable Goals
If you are anything like me, your goals are always grandiose. I never wanted to lose five pounds in a month, I always wanted to lose 20 pounds or so a month, which was unrealistic. Then I would fail and feel bad about myself, which impacted my self-esteem. Through therapy, I learned to set more modest goals that were achievable, and learned to establish realistic time frames. When I hit these modest goals, I celebrated each success and gained confidence and trust in myself. This process can work for you too.
After you start to work on these strategies, you have to practice, practice, practice. Like Jamie explained to Charlie in Crumbs Aren’t Enough, practice makes perfect. When you first learn a new song on the piano, you have to practice before you are any good. When you learn a new dance routine, you have to practice it before you have confidence that you will do it well. It’s the same notion when you are rebuilding your self-esteem. It’s not going to happen overnight because – guess what – it didn’t break down overnight. So you have to force yourself to implement these strategies daily.
Once my self-esteem improved, I started to question whether I was getting the best out of my relationships. I didn’t just accept what was given to me. Slowly but surely, by building up my self-esteem, the light bulb went on and I realized I was much happier unattached and on my own instead of settling for another bad relationship. My dating experiences improved as my self-esteem improved, too.
More on that later . . .
(And then, Raquel, are you going to provide and opportunity for reader feedback here? Ask people to share their own experiences? If not now, in the future?)