Click play to listen to this article.
Self-esteem is an evaluation of our worthiness, a measurement of how we feel about ourselves. If you think you’re a pretty good person, have confidence, and can accomplish your goals, you have high self-esteem. If you think you’re a piece of shit, your life a flaming dumpster fire, and that no one loves you nor will ever, you probably have low self-esteem.
Now, a breakup is the proverbial bitchslap that undermines whatever amount of self-esteem we foster and usually sends us down a self-destructive three-part spiral.
First, we 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 our everyday vocabulary. Phrases like:
- I’ll never get over my ex.
- The whole breakup is my fault.
- I’m such a failure.
- I will never attract a healthy relationship into my life.
- I made my ex leave me; I’m such a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Why did I text them this? I’ll never get my ex back now.
Indulging in this kind of self-talk for a longer period makes our self-esteem deteriorate faster. At that point, we may even begin to resent ourselves. This is the middle of our self-destructive spiral.
Once we reach an all-time low — the bottom of our spiral — we begin to see ourselves as our own worst enemy. As a result, a few things happen. We begin to self-sabotage. We grow more anxious than usual. We become prone to developing depression. We grow ever so insecure.
The way out of this spiral — or the way to never get into one — is by rebuilding self-esteem. In fact, doing this has a range of benefits far beyond the scope of simply helping us claw out of our self-destructive spirals: (1)
- It makes you less needy, more vulnerable, assertive, and confident, hence more attractive.
- It enables you to form more honest and secure relationships.
- It makes you more likely to stay in unhealthy relationships.
- It helps you cultivate realistic expectations of yourself.
- It makes you less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others.
There’s a toxic path to rebuilding self-esteem, and there’s a healthy one. The toxic path leads to fragile self-worth, an overly-sensitive disposition, and narcissism. The healthy path leads to antifragile self-worth, true confidence, and a good dose of pride and respect for oneself. The toxic path is based on aggrandizing self-talk, boasting, positive thinking, and a subscription to a belief that you deserve everything you set your mind to. The healthy path is based on the tips below.
1. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is an indispensable trait in today’s time, but 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. Well, self-compassion is none of those things. It’s a prerequisite for being a confident, healthy, mature, and mentally sane person.
We need self-compassion and the unconditional kindness, comfort, and love 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.
Now, the way you grow more self-compassionate is by shifting your negative self-talk to a more realistic variant.
For example, instead of saying to yourself, “My ex left me, I’m such a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend,” say, “Maybe I did make my ex leave me, but that doesn’t make me a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend. It just makes me one who made mistakes. And guess what? We all make them.”
Or when you screw up at getting your ex back, you could say, “I’ve texted my something inappropriate, but that doesn’t make me a failure or a bad person. 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 anyways.”
Another thing you can do whenever you catch yourself being harsh to yourself is stop for a second, take a step back, and try to see your situation from the viewpoint of a kind and compassionate friend. Then ask yourself if things really are that shitty and try to realize there are some things you just can’t control. That should make you see your situation more realistically and make you feel much better.
2. Write a compassionate letter
Let’s continue from where we left off. Here’s a simple exercise nested in self-compassion to further your self-esteem growth.
First, grab a piece of paper, pretend you’re your own best friend — someone kind, compassionate, nurturing — and then write a letter to yourself. Write down how you think your friend would respond to whatever notions you’re going through.
Suppose you’re pissed off, and you’re beating yourself up about the breakup. What would a kind and compassionate friend say to you in that case? Write it down.
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 in that case? Write it down.
Suppose you can’t sleep because you can’t get your ex out of your mind. What would a best friend tell you in that case? Again, write it down.
When you’re done writing your letter, read it out loud. There’s a good chance that what you wrote your imaginary compassionate friend said is far kinder and gentler than what you kept saying to yourself. If so, try to include his or her phrases in your day-to-day self-talk. The more activities like this letter-writing exercise you do, the quicker you’ll rebuild your self-esteem.
If self-compassion is something that’s up your alley and you’d like to learn more about it, I suggest picking up Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Neff Kristin. It’s the biggest and best reservoir of self-compassion-raising activities I’ve come across in a long time. And it will undoubtedly help you rebuild your self-esteem.
3. Just do something
This method is perfect for those who lack self-esteem in a particular life area. Since for most breakup survivors, that’s their love life, let’s make that our example. Let’s pretend you have high anxiety around sparking conversations with strangers you find attractive and consider yourself unworthy of a good date, a healthy relationship, or love in general.
A good idea to get some self-esteem in this specific area would be to engage with the people you’re attracted to, get some positive responses, and prove to yourself that there’s a possibility for you — even if it’s tiny — to find and attract love.
That said, you don’t need to go big — as in, straight to getting phone numbers, for example — if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. Forget about getting dates and forming relationships for now. Just focus on the tiniest actions that will give you a boost in self-esteem. A good starting point would be greeting attractive strangers that walk past you while you’re on a stroll.
When you get comfortable with this, take on a new, slightly bigger challenge — for instance, engaging an attractive stranger in small talk. And when even that feels comfortable, try asking an attractive stranger for their phone number and then set a date with them.
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 you find hot gives you when rebuilding self-esteem around your love life. So don’t stagnate. Just do something. The rest will follow.
4. Cultivate Acceptance
Sometimes you will feel inadequate. Sometimes you will feel unworthy of something or completely worthless. Sometimes you will see people happier than you, people in better relationships, people with better jobs and with more valuable skills, people with self-esteem much higher than yours.
All of this is okay. Accept it.
There will always be someone that is in some aspects better than you and whose life is in some aspects better than yours. Become comfortable with all of this. Start accepting yourself for who you are, warts and all.
I know you don’t believe me, but you’re okay. Sure, you can do and be better, but ultimately, you’re okay. We’re all flawed. We’re all average at most things. We all have our skeletons, our dirty laundry. It’s okay.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s this way of thinking that will make you a happier person. In fact, saying “so fucking what” to your problems — financial, political, technical, spiritual, emotional, etc. — will unearth various self-improvement possibilities for you.
In a sick and twisted way, it’s through radical acceptance that we bust open the doors to radical self-improvement.
5. Internalize That A Breakup Doesn’t Equals Failure
Lots of people take failure to heart, especially when it comes to breakups. In fact, for most, having a breakup equates to being an unworthy sack of shit. And this view only results in a knock-on effect on self-esteem and future relationships.
It makes us settle for relationships that aren’t what we want. It makes us stay in relationships for longer than we should. It makes us tolerate our partners even when they treat us as second-class citizens. It makes us put our partners on a pedestal and butcher our identity and character for the sake of pleasing them. It makes us ignore any signs of incompatibility and red flags.
I’ve brushed on this point a few times in this article, but I feel an extended repeat is needed, so here goes: no matter the events that led to your breakup, the reason for it is incompatibility. And incompatibility is the fault of both parties, not only one.
Therefore, you’re not an inadequate or unworthy person for getting into a breakup — you’re simply a person who made a series of mistakes. Like we all do. I mean, life is a series of mistakes. Don’t define yourself by them nor identify with them. Learn and grow from them, and carry on.
The Self-Esteem Dilemma
Many people have skewed beliefs around self-esteem. They think that people with high self-esteem are blessed with eternal happiness, likability, passionate relationships, spicy dating life, and financial success. Whereas people with low self-esteem are perpetually cursed with misery, lovelessness, drugs and poverty, and shitty social life.
It’s alarming how many people view self-esteem in this black and white way. The truth is that there are numerous grey areas between the two extremes. And when you’re rebuilding your self-esteem, your goal should always be to stay in these grey areas.
Because as soon as you get close to each farthest side of the metaphorical self-esteem spectrum, there’s a chance you’ll turn into one of two types of narcissists:
- Someone who believes they’re a perfect human being whose only focus in life should be maximizing happiness and minimizing pain and who deserves everything they set their mind to.
- Someone who believes they’re flawed beyond repair, undeserving of happiness, and destined to fail at life.
In both variants — or put differently, on both ends of the metaphorical self-esteem spectrum — a narcissist sees themself as special, unique, and feels as though the whole world revolves around them and only them — all quintessential qualities of narcissism. You don’t want this to be you.
So again, whenever you’re rebuilding self-esteem after a breakup, remain around the grey area of the self-esteem spectrum. It’s where you’re not devoured by feelings of superiority and entitlement nor the feelings of worthlessness and misery.
It’s here that you form a healthy and sustainable kind of self-esteem — a kind that doesn’t make you an insufferable smooth-brained chimpanzee.
4 Reasons Why Going Back To Your Ex Is A Terrible Idea
I know you want to go back to your ex. Well, you probably shouldn't. And here are 4 solid reasons why.
How To Overcome Breakup Inspired Limiting Beliefs
A breakup makes us form many limiting beliefs about ourselves that hold us back from recovery and growth. Here's how to overcome them.
I Dream About My Ex Every Night (Why And How To Stop)
Learn why you dream about your ex every night, what does it mean, and how to stop dreaming about them so you can function normally again.
Never Suffer Alone
Always have a support system. Always be part of a community. Always get professional help. And always start dating as soon as reasonable.
8 Ways To Overcome Anger After A Breakup
It’s normal to feel angry after a breakup. It's a key stage to recovery. Here are 8 ways to deal with your anger after a breakup effectively.