Having healthy self-esteem is very necessary. Everyday we hear a lot of messages that encourage us to develop our self-worth but we rarely hear feasible ways we can achieve that, and maintain it.
Lack of a good self-image can be damaging. To start with the person may have challenges relating with people. Some may be so timid that they allow other people to trample on their rights, while others are so arrogant that they trample on the rights of others. Besides, timid and arrogant people are not always good employees because they cannot work without supervision. Truth is, the timid person doesn’t have confidence in himself while the arrogant one feels so over-confident that he will not ask necessary questions nor seek for direction even if he is making a serious mistake (and I don’t think anybody will want him as a team member).
If you ask me what self-esteem is, I’ll say that it is when someone has the ability to find his own space in the world and then keep it. This person neither encroaches into another person’s space, nor allow somebody else to trespass on his own. A person with low self-esteem (the timid) will leave his space for others to take over, while the one with over-bearing self-image (the arrogant) will keep his own space and still encroach into that of another. But a person with a healthy self-esteem is neither timid nor arrogant; he is comfortably in-between the two. But, he is humble. Hope you know that humility is not timidity.
We know that people that have healthy self-esteem have a lot to gain. To start with, they believe in themselves and in others. They develop and maintain healthy relationships with people. They succeed in their careers. They have less pressure and good stress management techniques. The list can go on and on.
But then, for some reasons, people have low self-worth. I don’t believe that this is genetic because no one is born with a low self-image. It all has to do with the society’s influence on the individual. Some of the causes of unhealthy self-image are:
1. Criticisms and Unkind Words: Our society is filled with people who listen to others just because they want to criticise them, and those who use hurtful words on their fellow human beings, with or without knowing the effects of their words on them. These people are everywhere, even in the internet. They talk down on everyone – adult, children, male and female. This case is made worse if the victim made some bad choices or mistakes. Those around him may keep rubbing it on his face at every given opportunity. Why they do this could only be speculated.
Criticism and hurtful words can greatly affect children with negligent parents. Most times children need assurance from their parents because of the unkind words their peers or other adults used on them. When these children find no one to talk to, they feel neglected and rejected, and the hurting words used on them will start affecting their psyche.
2. Financial Status: Nigeria is a society that has high regards for the wealthy and the opposite attitude for the needy. People that found themselves among the financially challenged have to struggle to keep their heads high within the community. In fact, they may not be called upon for any decision making – their voices don’t matter. In my village, I constantly hear statements like, “Who are my? I don’t have money so who will listen to me?” When this type of attitude is allowed to seep deep down the person, bringing him out of it will be very difficult.
Another problem that could arise from low financial status is asking for financial assistance. This could bring different kinds of insult to the person.
3. Social Class: Everyone in the society wants to belong to the upper class. When people strive and make every effort to be among the prestigious but couldn’t succeed, they start wondering what their problems are. Some will tell you that they are not meant to be among the privileged. This is more problematic in societies where someone’s birth decides his class. However, note that social class is not a strong determinant of people’s self-esteem. This is because some people in the upper class may have low self-esteem, while some in the middle and lower classes may have healthy one.
4. Level of Education: In as much as financial status matters a lot in Nigerian societies, the level education is also a very important factor. The truth is that the well educated are also respected in our society. This accounts for the reason the uneducated wealthy Nigerian men strive to acquire higher education, even if it is just to attach the title to their names. What I am trying to say here is that the higher the level of education someone attains, the better his self-esteem, irrespective of his financial status. You will understand this when a rich uneducated person is quick to tell you that he will ‘buy you and your certificates a thousand times’ any time he feels belittled by your academic prowess.
5. Physical Appearance and Attributes: Our physical attributes can affect our self-esteem. Some people feel inadequate because they believe they needed one physical endowment or another. I know of someone who doesn’t feel comfortable coming out to perform in the public because she considers herself fat. I have a relative who is afraid to talk in the public because he was made to believe that he has the ‘wrong type of voice’ (and he truly would love the opportunity to engage in public speech). I know someone who complains that people laugh at him because he limps. I know someone who doesn’t want to come out during the day because he had a domestic accident that disfigured his face. What about those that bleach their skins because they want to have a different complexion? There are so many of them out there. Our society has made them feel so inadequate because of their physical attributes. But they need to come out of their shells and concentrate on their beautiful sides.
In order to build our self-esteem, we have to develop both our inside and our outside. This is because self-esteem is a thing of the mind, but it exudes from the inside and showcases itself on the outside. Anyway, let’s look at some ways we can achieve this.
- Read a Lot and Feed Your Intelligence: The importance of reading can never be over-emphasised. Reading exposes us to a lot. The knowledge we acquire from the things we read can do so much for us – it helps us to hold intelligent conversations and it teaches us how to manage problems in our lives. Sounding intelligent boosts our morale and increases our respects in the society. The easiest way to gather knowledge is through books. So, read up anything you can lay your hands on.
- Evaluate Yourself Objectively: In as much as we don’t have to let negative things people said about us affect us, we still need to be honest with ourselves and tell ourselves the areas that need to be changed. We are human, so we are not 100% perfect. This means that we have some characters that may be affecting others negatively. We need to find out these attitudes of ours and find how to change, modify or re-channel them. Honestly, when you have an honest and objective evaluation of yourself, you will turn out better. It will even help you in your career development because you will know your strengths and your weaknesses. This means that you will know where you will excel in.
- Try not to Compare Yourself with Others: This has been a common saying these days, but it is actually easier said than done. Truth is that you will continue to compare yourself with your contemporaries, but you need to keep reminding yourself of your strength which is what makes you unique.
- Replace Envy with Admiration: Envy is an emotion that can creep up on you and consume you if you allow it in. The only thing I can say here is that you should find a way to learn from the person you envy. Look at it as a business strategy and it will help you a lot. You can read the article I sent in earlier on learning from your competitor here.
- Find Your Strengths and Weaknesses: Everybody has something unique about him or her. Your strength and weakness both make you unique. Sharpen your strength and work on your weakness. I always tell people that their strength is their active part while their weakness is their passive side that drives the active one. For example someone that is considered stubborn but innovative can re-channel that ‘stubbornness’ to resilience while working on his new inventions. So, he doesn’t need to be ‘over-submissive’ all he needs is to use that part of him that people complain about to bring up something positive. So, have you found your strength and weakness? Have you planned how to re-channel it? If you are a busy-body and talkative like me you may enjoy teaching, lecturing or research jobs (*smiles*).
- Dress-Up: People always think it’s hilarious whenever I say that there is a difference between ‘putting on clothes’, ‘wearing clothes’ and ‘dressing up’. Some people wear clothes just to cover up their nakedness, some do because the community demands them to wear that particular clothes, and then there are the ones that wear clothes because they want to look good. Please, be among the third group. I’m not saying you should be a ‘fashionista’, or that you should break a bank, what I’m only saying is that you should always look your best. It has a way of making you feel good about yourself. Don’t overdress, but don’t under-dress either. Package yourself very well.
- Work on Your Carriage: Our posture gives out certain impression about us. The way we carry ourselves can determine how people treat us. Like one beautician said, anytime we are walking, sitting, standing, eating and the rest, we should pretend that we have a thousand cameras fixed on every part of our body. In other words, we should be conscious of how we walk, stand, sit and all. Let us develop good postures, it says a lot about us. I will come back later with an article on this.
- Work on Your Language: There is already an article on how to improve our speaking skills. You can access it here. When we work on our language, we should also consider our choice of words, manner of speech and pronunciations. They say so much about us and encourage or discourage positive attitudes of people towards us. Truth is, the way we talk displays our level of education, family background, financial status, social class and so many others.
- Financial Independence: Knowing that we don’t have to beg people for money for our basic needs does a lot of wonders to our self-image. So, don’t wait to be told to find something doing no matter how little. You can find a side hustle to augment your income. A list of side hustles that can easily be engaged in Nigeria can be found here.
- The People around You: I know a lot of people advocate that negative people should be cut off from our lives. That is necessary, to some extent. But we still need those people that keep us on our toes. So I’ll suggest that you look for people that will be honest with you so that they can tell you where should improve on. The difference between these people and those that try to put you down is that the latter will always complain without making any constructive suggestions except the ones that will benefit them. So be careful with people that you bring into your circle. Look out more for those that will encourage you one way or the other to come up.
Remember, nobody is born with low self-esteem. If you find out that you don’t have much confidence on yourself, it is not your fault, so to say. But if you have the opportunity to make some changes and you failed to grab it, then it becomes your fault.