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Life Beyond Therapy: How to raise your self-esteem

Self-esteem is a phrase that you hear a lot in the media. I’d like to talk a bit about what self-esteem is and how you can improve yours.

When I worked for Kaiser-Permanente Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, I both founded and facilitated the “Healthy Relationships Support Group.” A key concept of the group was that without healthy self-esteem, a healthy relationship is almost impossible.

That said, I invite you to take this self-esteem quiz. Read the following statements and rate them on a scale of 1 (totally true) to 10 (totally false).

Answer the questions as you honestly feel today, right now:

  • I feel positive about myself most of the time.
  • I believe in myself.
  • I know that I am a good person.
  • I have an inner sense of pride.
  • I take excellent care of myself.
  • I treat myself as I would a beloved friend.
  • I deserve great things to happen to me.
  • I love myself.
  • I know I am precious, wonderful and truly unique.

Done? Good. Take a look at your answers.

If most of your answers are between 1 and 3, you have high self-esteem. Put this column down and go share your wonderful self with everybody.

If most of your answers are between 4 and 6, your self-esteem is average. It could use some work, but overall, it’s okay.

If most of your answers are between 7 and 10, baby, we gotta talk. Your self-esteem is low and you deserve to feel better.

So, what is self-esteem? Re-read the questions; to me, they summarize nine key elements of self-esteem.

One of the best ways to increase your self-esteem is to be willing to help yourself. This is not good news for chronic complainers! If you continually see yourself as a victim of unfair circumstances and tell your friends how things suck for you, you probably got a lot of 7s and 8s on the quiz.

We need to stop blaming others for our situation if we want to raise our self-esteem. This kind of change is usually uncomfortable at first. For some of us, as our self-esteem rises, we get scared.

“It would scare the shit out of me to like myself,” one client told me, “Who would I be then? Would anyone like me?”

Ironically, other people usually like us better when we like ourselves.

Here are some more specific suggestions for raising your self-esteem:

Self-assessment. Ask yourself questions like, “What is it I want?” “What am I afraid of?” “How would my life change if I liked myself more?” Learning more about yourself is a crucial part of improving your self-esteem.

Get new information. Reading and listening to books/CDs/MP3s are great ways to allow new information to flow through your subconscious, slowly changing how you feel about yourself. It is especially helpful to listen to them just after you wake up and right before you go to sleep, as these are times when your subconscious is particularly receptive to new information.

Write. Introspection put to paper is usually more powerful than just having thoughts about something. Writing things down makes them more concrete. It’s a great way to learn more about yourself and monitor how your self-esteem improves over time.

Changing behavior. Great ideas are nice enough, but you want to gradually change your behaviors to make them real. Insights come, but what do you do with them? Begin to do things differently. Changing your behavior usually happens slowly so don’t give up too soon. One step at a time is a good, sustainable pace.

Get support. A good therapist or friend will be able to encourage you, hold you accountable and kick you in the butt when you need it. This stuff is too hard to do alone, get help.

“Why bother?” you may ask. “This sounds like a lot of work.” You’re right. It is. But, what’s more important than how you feel about yourself?

Raising your self-esteem isn’t selfish, either. When we love ourselves more, we have more to give to others. We are more secure, kind and forgiving when we are strong, centered and full of good feelings for ourselves.

You CAN raise your self-esteem. Try these ideas and watch it rise.

—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

(Editor's note: This column was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.).