Recently I was commenting on a post about self-esteem by Caz of Mental Health 360º and decided it was worth expanding on in a post of my own. I’ve always has good self-esteem, and this is what I’ve identified as the basic building blocks that support it.
Inherent worth of humanity
This is probably more of a philosophical stance rather than something that’s focused on me. I believe there is inherent good in all of us through our shared humanity. Some people may have tucked away that inherent value in an inaccessible place, but that’s a whole other discussion. I believe other humans have value, and therefore, so do I.
Something that also came up with Caz recently is that, for me, self-esteem and thoughts of suicide have always been very different things. Wanting to die isn’t about liking myself or thinking I’m good enough; it’s about not wanting to live this life, this way.
I’ve always been pretty self-aware, self-reflective, and introspective. I know myself well, both the good and the bad. I’ve spent 41 years with myself, and at this point, it’s like wearing a cozy flannel onesie with a bum flap; it’s comfortable, and there’s really no reason to get changed, ever.
I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but accepting myself isn’t about that. I’m here, and I can’t escape from myself or fundamentally change who I am, so why fight it? And the opposite of accepting oneself seems like it would be absolutely exhausting. After all, no matter how hard you might try to fight it, you’re still you, and that’s never going to change.
Being able to laugh at myself and my mistakes
I can be a complete doofus sometimes. Not only am I okay with that, I firmly believe that I have the right to laugh at my doofusness. I think a lot of that I picked up from Grandma, who’s always willing to laugh at herself. Part of why I think Seinfeld is the best TV show ever is that it celebrates the ridiculousness of humankind.
I used to play on a beer league softball team. I sucked. Catching, throwing, and hitting are not a part of my skill set. I owned it, and it was totally fine. Had I tried to take myself seriously, my teammates probably would have felt like they had to pretend to take me seriously, and why bother?
When things go wrong, unless there’s clearly something I’ve done to bring about the situation, I tend to attribute the cause to external factors. That pattern of attribution leaves my self-esteem intact, as I’m not needlessly blaming myself. I’m sure there have been times when I’ve attributed things to others’ actions and failed to recognize my own role, but I’m okay with that. I’d much rather erroneously attribute some uncomfortable things to others than to myself, as long as that stays inside my head and I’m prepared to recognize when it really is all on me.
External attribution doesn’t prevent pain from whatever might be going on, but it can keep self-esteem from getting involved.
Compartmentalization rather than over-generalization
While I sometimes overgeneralize external things, when it comes to myself, my tendency is to compartmentalize. If I try to do something and I’m completely lousy at it, that sense of being lousy is limited to that specific thing; it doesn’t diffuse across other areas of my life.
The beer-league softball team I mentioned earlier involved several people I worked with. Nursing and softball were separate compartments, so in my mind, the lousiness at softball didn’t have anything to do with work; therefore, it wasn’t a connection I worried about other people making.
There are probably a few other things that have gone into the self-esteem mix, but I think these are the most important. This is certainly not the only way to build up self-esteem, but it’s what’s worked for me.
What have been some of the key building blocks for your own self-esteem?
The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit has a wide range of different resources that can help make coping a little easier.