Whether we realize it or not, our level of self-esteem affects every area of our lives including how we view ourselves, our relationships, and even our careers. Terri Cole, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Boundary Boss-The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen and (Finally) Live Free, defines self-esteem as “how you experience yourself and your value from the inside out or subjectively.” And the benefits of having a healthy self-esteem are many. If you’re not sure where yours is, taking a self-esteem test can help you figure out where you fall.
A high level of self-esteem, Cole says, means you’re less likely to tolerate people treating you poorly, and it provides courage to take risks and go after the things you really want in life. And, she adds, you also know that you are resourceful, resilient, and feel confident making decisions for yourself, even if others disapprove.
Low self-esteem, on the other hand, can negatively impact all areas of life “because it equates to having feelings of low self-worth and a negative or fraught relationship with yourself,” Cole says. “Your relationship with yourself sets the bar for every other relationship in your life.” Meaning, if you think poorly of yourself and treat yourself as unworthy, others will inevitably reflect that back to you and treat you accordingly, which can create a lot of pain and suffering.
Regardless of where you land on the self-esteem spectrum, self-esteem is something we can all work on improving. Below, Cole offers three tips to help raise self-esteem. But first, she shares how to test your level of self-esteem to better understand your baseline.
How to test your level of self-esteem
Becoming aware of your self-esteem patterns is one way to determine whether you have a low or healthy level of self-esteem. Signs of low self-esteem include not valuing your own thoughts, opinions, or ideas or knowing your inherent value and worth, Cole says. You may also constantly worry or fear that you are not good enough and seek validation from external sources. Cole says signs of a healthy self-esteem include having self-respect, feeling good about yourself, as well as knowing your preferences, limits, and non-negotiables and communicating them with others.
Another way Cole recommends testing is by getting honest with yourself and asking yourself a few questions such as: Do you genuinely like yourself? Are you aware of your unique gifts and talents? Can you list qualities you love about yourself? And do you feel worthy of love, attention, respect, and kindness? The more you respond yes to these questions, the higher your self-esteem.
Still not sure? You can also take this short self-esteem test from Psychology Today, which helps you evaluate.
3 tips to improve your self-esteem
1. Set and maintain healthy boundaries
Cole—who wrote the book on setting boundaries, literally—says learning how to set and maintain healthy personal and professional boundaries is one of the most powerful ways to raise your self-esteem. “The more you practice making choices aligned with your true feelings, preferences, and desires, the greater your self-regard and self-confidence,” she says.
2. Focus on small goals
Becoming masterful at something and sticking to your commitments to yourself is another key to elevating self-esteem. So, rather than setting lofty goals and then not following through, Cole recommends setting small weekly goals or focusing on changing one small habit instead. “Choose something achievable that will make you feel good to have completed,” she says, maybe that’s walking 10 minutes a day, drinking more water, or meditating in the morning. “Keep it small but be consistent.” Those small wins are self-esteem boosters.
3. Celebrate yourself
“Developing real self-esteem is about valuing and accepting yourself, warts and all,” Cole says. “It is socially acceptable and taught early on that we should diminish our accomplishments or minimize our skills to avoid threatening others or being perceived as being full of ourselves or conceited. I believe the time for false humility is over and it is in direct opposition to building healthy self-esteem.”
To put this into practice, Cole recommends grabbing pen and paper and answering some journal prompts, which can help strengthen that sense of self-acceptance and self-love. Prompts include listing people you have helped and how you helped them, things you love and appreciate about yourself, achievements you feel proud of, skills you possess, and occasions when you’ve overcome adversity. The more you can jot down, the better. And if you get stuck, ask a friend or family member you trust to reflect back your best qualities and special skills.
And lastly, Cole emphasizes that raising your self-esteem is both a practice and a discipline that takes time to develop, so be gentle with yourself. “It does not happen overnight but your future happiness and life satisfaction make it worth your effort,” she says.
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