4 Myths About Self-Esteem

The first myth? You either have self-esteem or you don’t.

Posted Jun 21, 2019

1. Myth: You either have self-esteem or you don’t. Self-esteem can seem so elusive and out of reach that many deem themselves fated to a life of low self worth. They imagine some have the gift of loving themselves through amazing parents, perfect childhoods, or fortunate genetics, and that they have lost the lottery on the gift of self-esteem.

Truth: Self-esteem is learned through a series of interactions with the environment and others over time and through your reactions to these experiences. Start by seeing your setbacks as opportunities for growth and new learning versus ultimate statements regarding your worth as a human. When you don’t succeed or feel rejected instead of giving up on yourself entirely, consider what you can take away and learn from that experience.

2. Myth: Working on "you" will increase your self-esteem. It’s common to hear people say they are going to work on themselves or take a break from life or relationships so they may discover and accept themselves. The reality is you can’t banish yourself to some phantom self-esteem island and expect to come back all better.

Truth: Self-esteem is a process that evolves over time. It needs interaction with others and the world. You will grow each time you interact in the world and have positive experiences of yourself. Positive experiences of yourself include triumphing over hardship and rejection. Challenge yourself to develop relationships and interests that make you feel whole and grounded. Get rid of toxic relationships that bring out the worst in you.

3. Myth: Doing things you are good at will increase your self-esteem. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, popular advice would suggest we should do the things we are good at and as a result, we will feel better. Doing the things we are familiar with is easy, far easier than doing what we are unfamiliar with. However, we can’t grow and see ourselves in a new and more positive light if we stay stuck in the same old ruts.

Truth: It’s the hard things in life and new experiences that help us feel strong and empowered. When we continue to date the same types of partners and take on the same activities and work projects, our perception of ourselves remains in one place. Challenge yourself to tackle novel tasks, different experiences, and to meet new types of people. Do that and you can start to feel more capable.

4. Myth: Shiny new things (including new romantic relationships) will bring self-esteem. It’s tempting to outsource a sense of self to material possessions or new romantic partners. The reality is each time you try to buy self-esteem or distract yourself with romantic relationships that lack true emotional intimacy, you are turning away from the only person who can make you feel whole—yourself.

Truth: Self-esteem is not purchasable. When you feel as if you want to buy something or date someone, pause and sit with your feelings. Chances are you are running from the one person you can’t escape. Instead, start building your comfort with yourself one step at a time. In my book, Building Self-Esteem: 5 Steps, I offer more strategies for how to build a positive sense of yourself.