Self-esteem is an evaluation of your worthiness, a judgment that you’re a good, valuable person. And a breakup is the proverbial bitchslap that undermines it and sends you down a self-destructive spiral.
First, people tend to get caught up in a cycle of self-belittlement and self-loathing. This is the top of our spiral. It’s where sharp-to-the-soul phrases begin to take part in one’s everyday vocabulary.
For example, ” I’ll never get over my ex. The whole breakup is my fault. I will never attract a healthy person into my life. I’m a failure. I made my ex leave me; I’m such a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend. Why did I text them this? I’ll never get them back now. I’m such a failure.”
Unsurprisingly, indulging in this sort of negative self-talk for a prolonged period only makes a person’s self-esteem deteriorate faster. At that point, one may begin to resent oneself. This is the middle of the spiral.
Once the heartbroken person reaches an all-time low, the very bottom of our spiral, they begin to see themselves as their worst enemy instead of their best friend and ally. Even worse, tendencies to self-sabotage in all areas of life begin to pop up ever so more frequently.
Maybe you’re also stuck in this sort of spiral. If so, there’s a good chance that, at some point, you have an epiphany: I should probably rebuild my self-esteem and stop treating myself like shit.
The ways to rebuild your self-esteem are actually really simple. But before we get to them, a word of warning: These are two paths to rebuilding self-esteem. One leads to narcissism and a toxic mindset; the other leads to a realistic sense of self and a healthy mindset.
We will get into the healthy ways to rebuild self-esteem shortly, but right now, let me go over what you should not — the things that will take you well on your way to a toxic mindset.
Firstly, do not engage in overly positive and self-aggrandizing self-talk. Secondly, do not subscribe to the belief that you are totally awesome and deserve every feel-good thing, partner, or experience you desire. And lastly, do not let yourself get dragged in the whole pyramid scheme of overpriced and overhyped self-development seminars where some guru teaches you all of these things and beyond.
These things don’t help you rebuild your self-esteem after a breakup. On the contrary, they help you avoid dealing with it altogether. No matter how long you follow these toxic practices, your underlying emotional issues will still be in you. They’re just going to be suppressed by the many attempts at hipping yourself up and thinking you’re an incarnation of Jesus.
Positive thinking, affirmations, entitlement, and so forth, those things are like bandages for a gun wound. You won’t raise your self-esteem with them, you’ll just push your low sense of esteem down your subconscious. This is destructive. It’s how insecurity, neediness, fear of intimacy and, at worst, trauma manifests and grows.
HOW TO REBUILD YOUR SELF-ESTEEM the right way
A healthy dose of self-esteem has a range of benefits. It helps you attract emotionally and mentally healthy romantic prospects. It makes others perceive you as more attractive and appealing. It supposedly makes your relationships last longer, your love less needy and more authentic, and the intimacy with your partner deeper than usual.
Below I’ll go over four ways you can rebuild your self-esteem the right way — without boasting, neurotic goal-setting, morning affirmations, frantic positive thinking, or fist bumping 100+ random people at a self-help 5-grand-self-help-event.
1. Practice sELF-compassion
Self-compassion is a surprisingly simple concept to understand. It translates to treating yourself as your own best friend in spite of struggles, times of doubt, and adversity. Dr. Neff Kristin described it as “an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment so that we can finally stop asking, “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?” (1)
Self-compassion is an indispensable trait in today’s time, however a lot of people still cringe at the word. They see it as a gateway to narcissism or think it’s some self-help hippie nonsense. Self-compassion is none of those things. Self-compassion is a prerequisite of becoming and being a confident, healthy, and mentally sane person.
We need self-compassion and the unconditional kindness and comfort it brings to counteract self-esteem diminishing habits like talking down to ourselves, ruminating on our past mistakes, and repeatedly indulging in self-belittlement and self-critique.
So, how do you become more self-compassionate when you’re overly self-critical and thus, raise your self-esteem? Easy. By shifting your negative self-talk to a more realistic variant.
When you tell yourself, “Gosh my ex left me, i’m such a horrible boyfriend/girfriend” you could rather say, “Maybe I did make my ex leave me, but that doesn’t make me a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend—just one who made some mistakes, as many others do.”
Or when you screw up at getting your ex back, you could say, “Okay. I have texted them something inappropriate, but that doesn’t make me a failure, a bad person, or totally destroys my chances of ever getting back with them. It was just a mistake on my part. I’ll do better next time. And if there is no next time, fine. I’ll get over them. My ex was not so special, anyhow.”
2. Just do something
This method is perfect for when you lack self-esteem and have high anxiety and fear in a particular life area. You see, taking small actions or building tiny habits in that area helps you build self-esteem in it, including confidence.
Since most breakup survivors are concerned about their love life, let’s make that our example. Pretend you have high anxiety around sparking conversations with strangers and often consider yourself unworthy of a good date, a healthy relationship, or love in general.
To get some confidence and self-esteem in this area, you’ll need to participate in your own rescue. That is, you’ll need to engage with the people you’re attracted to and prove to yourself that you can build the love life you want.
But you don’t need to go big. Forget about getting into a relationship or getting a date for now. Focus on the tiniest actions that will give you a boost in self-esteem—for example, simply greeting attractive strangers that walk past you while you’re on a stroll.
When you get comfortable with this, take on a new challenge and engage an attractive stranger into a round of small talk. And when even that feels comfortable, try asking a person you fancy for their phone number and then set a date with them.
(Note: I go even deeper into developing social skills here)
This may sound farfetched at the moment, but you have no idea how much momentum and motivation and inspiration a tiny act like greeting a person gives you. Soon after, you’ll quickly start to seek a new challenge. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll rebuild your self-esteem and confidence.
So, Just do something. The rest will follow.
3. Write a compassionate letter to yourself
This exercise ties in with the previous point on self-compassion. It builds it, and therefore also builds your self-esteem. Here’s how to do it.
First, grab a piece of paper, pretend you’re your own best friend — someone kind, compassionate, nurturing. Then write a letter to yourself while pretending to be this bubbly friend. Write how you think your friend would respond or comment on the traits and aspects of yourself that you hate/dislike the most.
Suppose you’re pissed off and beating yourself up about a recent breakup. What would a kind and compassionate friend say to you in that case? Write it down.
Or suppose you’re failing at getting your ex back and feel like you’re a worthless sack of shit with nothing good to give to the world. What would a best friend tell you about your low self-esteem and self-loathing? Again, Write it down.
When you read your letter, chances are, the things your friend would say to you are far different than those you keep saying to yourself. Far kinder and better, to be more specific. Try to include them in your day-to-day self-talk.
I hate to plug my own shit here, but fuck it. You can find many more exercises similar to this one in my Breakup Recovery Manual, if you’re interested.
4. ACCEPT YOUR SITUATION — EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL
Sometimes you will feel inadequate. Sometimes you will feel unworthy of something or completely worthless. Sometimes you’ll see people happier than you, in a better relationship, with better jobs, skills, and brains. And this is all okay. Accept it.
Accept others for being better, having better lives, and a bigger dose of self-esteem compared to you. Accept yourself for who you are — warts, weird fuckups, and all. Become comfortable with your lack of self-esteem. That’s it. We are all flawed. It’s not just you.
This way of thinking will counterintuitively make you a happier and more self-accepting person. And most importantly, someone who holds a healthier dose of self-esteem.
In fact, saying “so fucking what” and accepting the amount of self-esteem you have will open up many possibilities of genuine self-improvement in that aspect for you.
The self-esteem dilemma
Many people have a skewed belief about self-esteem. They believe that a person with high self-esteem will be blessed with torrential downpours of happiness, likability, passionate relationships, spicy dating life, and financial success.
While the people with low self-esteem will be forever riddled with depression, misery, drugs, bad business, poverty, and a shitty social life, consisting of mostly lewd lowlife folk.
It’s alarming how many people view self-esteem in this kind of a black and white way. Even worse, they believe that if they just think highly of themselves, they’re going to morph into the outgoing, confident, always-smiling stud everyone loves and wants to hang out with. The life of the party. The CEO of the company. The alpha male/female.
Look, this view between the variations of self-esteem levels is totally and utterly flawed. At worst, even dangerous! There are numerous grey areas in between the overly anxious and depressed crackhead and the outgoing and obnoxious ape.
Here’s a visual representation of what I mean.
When you’re rebuilding, building, or simply improving your self-esteem, the goal should always be to stay in the grey area because as soon as you get close to each farthest side of the spectrum, there’s a chance you’ll turn into a narcissist — a.k.a, the person no one wants to hang with for more than a few seconds.
Let’s unpack this idea further.
On one extreme of the self-esteem spectrum, you believe you’re a flawless human being who should always strive towards happiness and thinks they deserve everything that feels good and nothing that feels bad. And on the other extreme, you believe you’re flawed beyond repair, undeserving of happiness, and destined to fail at life.
In both cases — on both ends of the spectrum — you see yourself special, entitled, and unique. Like the whole world revolves around you. A quintessential trait of a narcissist.
Ultimately, both extremes of the spectrum suck banana fish sticks.
Why fish sticks?
I don’t know, but let’s just go with it.
Here’s a different angle on our self-esteem spectrum that will help you understand why being on each far end of it is unfavorable, perhaps even destructive, to your mental health.
While overly low self-esteem can make you depressed, miserable, codependent and tends to help you attract people with the same kind of shitty self-view, overly high self-esteem can make you morph into a self-absorbed asshole. In other words, the type of person with a string of unhappy and failed relationships behind them.
Years ago, I made the mistake of listening to a few oddballs instructing me to pursue higher self-esteem at all costs. They told me I could “fake it, till ya make it” and preached that I should act happy when I was sad and confident when I should’ve just accepted my lack of confidence.
These instructions were one of the many reasons why I became a narcissist after my breakup. Potential partners found me attractive at first due to my fake charisma and confidence. But, after dating a few months, they began to notice my red flags, such as my constant need for validation and admiration, false sense of entitlement, and pompous grandiosity. It took me years to revert my toxic transformation.
You can quickly get into the same cesspool I was in without ever noticing it if you begin rebuilding your self-esteem the wrong way. So be cautious of what content you digest and who you follow when you’re working on yourself.
On a final note, whenever you’re rebuilding or improving your self-esteem, try to remain around the grey area of the self-esteem spectrum from earlier. It’s the place where your self-esteem is not too low or too high; it’s where you’re not devoured by feelings of superiority and entitlement nor the feelings of worthlessness and misery.