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Q: I still struggle with self-esteem. Why is it so hard to feel good about myself? Can I change it?

A: There are many factors that contribute to our view of ourselves that it's hard to pinpoint where the problems came from and why so many of us struggle with this today. Biology, the environment of your childhood, past relationships, past decisions and how those played out, how others reacted to your decisions, your expectations for your life, and your relationship (or lack of) with God, are some of the broad categories that affect your current beliefs about your abilities and yourself as a person.


While problems in one category likely didn't directly lead to where you're stuck today, looking at some of them in a little more detail can shed some light into areas that could benefit from some self-reflection and perspective-shifting.


Biology. You can consider this from the simple angle of optimism versus pessimism. People have default wiring to think certain ways, but we can override it and choose to think in a different and more self-affirming way. Our biological predisposition contributes to the types of beliefs we hold about ourselves and how the world works. (more about beliefs below)


Childhood Environment. What was the mood of your household growing up? Did the important adults in your life encourage you as you tried new things? Did they build you up as you explored your interests and talents? Did they comfort you when you stumbled and help you pick yourself back up to try again? These are some of the characteristics of a home environment that build resilience and beliefs about yourself and the world that are positive. Missing out on this kind of support when you're younger can contribute to a decreased sense of confidence and self-esteem as an adult.


Past Relationships: How were you treated in your past friendships and love relationships? Did you feel valued and heard? Did you feel like you could be yourself around those people? Or did you feel you had to be a certain way in order for people to accept you? Everyone feels that way sometimes and not every relationship is going to be completely happy and balanced and close all the time, but experiencing true acceptance and being able to relax and be yourself around a friend or partner reinforces the belief that you are a person of value.


Past Decisions and Expectations: What are some decisions you've made for yourself in the past? Did you make them thoughtfully or impulsively? Did others approve or disapprove? Did you follow through on them or abandon them when they weren't exciting and new anymore? What expectations did you have when you made those decisions? Did your expectations turn out to be accurate? How did you feel about the consequences of those decisions?

You have beliefs (conscious and unconscious) about yourself and your abilities. As you make decisions and experience the consequences of them, your brain is either confirming or disputing the beliefs it has about yourself. People hold positive and negative beliefs about themselves. Some examples are, "I'm a good friend", "I'm a crummy dancer", "I'm good at car maintenance", or "I'm a neglectful daughter". The brain wants to be right, so it's going to filter through your experiences and focus on the ones that confirm it's beliefs about yourself. That doesn't mean that what your brain notices is 100% true and accurate though. Your brain's filter is skewed by those preexisting beliefs. It's a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but you can change the beliefs you have about yourself, teach your brain to look for evidence of those new (and healthier) beliefs, and consequentially improve your self-esteem.


Relationship with God. If you've ever read anything about living longer and happier, you've likely seen that belief in a higher power is among the protective factors that contribute to a long and fulfilling life. Humans are intrinsically flawed. All of us are. Which means that no matter how hard we try, we will never be perfectly and consistently happy if we rely on human relationships to sustain us. Cultivating a relationship with God and letting his love and unconditional acceptance and celebration of you as a person infuse your heart and life will help you learn to love and accept yourself.


Unexpected Athlete Lifestyle Coaching can help you explore these topics and more so you can better understand yourself and learn how to reach your goals.