Tammuz 5760 – Improving One’s Self Esteem

1 Tammuz 5760

Dear Chana,

Many people ask how they can improve their friends’ self-esteem, and the answers that I’ve heard are very good ones, and seem to work. I’ve also heard of the saying, “You may be what your parents made you but it’s your fault if you stay that way.” My question is, with all the talk of low self-esteem being the #1 problem of our society today, which I completely agree with, how can one improve one’s own self esteem?

Toda raba, v’tizku lemitzvos!

[Name withheld upon request]
Darchei Binah 5758-9


This question really is a very broad and enormous topic. I will try to touch upon a few points which can give direction and guidance in this area.

The Torah perspective on the greatness of each person can best be summed up by 2 phrases. “Beloved is man for he was created in Hashem’s image” [Pirke Avos 3:18], and “The world was created for me” [Sanhedrin 37a]. If a person can truly internalize these ideas and realize how much value he intrisically has as well as how everything in this world is for his personal benefit, then he would be well on his way to appreciating his self-worth.

So what makes it so difficult?

Lack of self-esteem usually comes from unjustified feelings of worthlessness, which are not based on the truth at all. It is like a hallucination, an illusion, if you will… it is in the realm of dimyon. These thoughts may have developed because perhaps there were fault-finding parents or teachers in your life from a young age, or maybe you went through a situation and felt that you had handled it completely wrong and either you or others were very down on you and this damaged you deeply.

What we tell ourselves has an absolutely huge impact of how we think and act. If a person repeats all of the negativity about herself to herself all the time, of course she will feel rotten about herself. Guaranteed. We have to work to change the “Script” of how we think about ourselves. Whatever the case was for your negative feelings may not be true anymore. Perhaps you weren’t a good student in younger years but, after much hard work, you have truly changed that aspect of yourself [learned how to study properly, take good notes, apply yourself more]. But the negative ‘script’ of who you see yourself as remains. So you must repeat in your head lots and lots of times a day how good a student you are and what you have accomplished in your classes. Change the Script, rewrite it. It doesn’t have to be what it once was. Give yourself positive messages about yourself. This can work wonders, because if you do it enough, you’ll actually start believing it! As we’ve said before, Attitude is everything!

Don’t be a quitter. If you make a mistake, so be it. We all do. In life we have to strive and that sometimes means we have to take risks. It’s much more safe not to, but we won’t get anywhere. My mother used to say that that is why there are erasers on the ends of pencils. If you make a mistake, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Failure doesn’t mean that you are worthless, and most things aren’t so black and white to say that the outcome is a total failure or success. We don’t have to be the best at everything, but we do have to try and we must constantly be improving ourselves.

If a person would take an honest look at herself instead of the self-evalutation which is delusional, she would see that she probably isn’t such a bad or lowly person. If you’re not where you want to be, so help yourself. Write down very specifically the kind of person that you want to be in very specific areas and one by one work toward your goals. All the while let yourself in on those wonderful things that you’ve kept secret, so well hidden from yourself. Dwell on your past successes. Bring your strengths to the forefront. Each of us is just chockfull with wonderful abilities and assets, find them, focus on them and build them up. Get with the program and take life by the reins! Life is too short for wasting time and feeling negative.

Several books that I would recommend are: Lifes’ To Short [Rabbi Abraham Twerski] and the few books on self-esteem written by Nathaniel Branden.

Don’t hinder yourself. What you make out of yourself is indeed in your hands. Teach yourself to be optimistic about YOU!