Someone online asked about self-esteem the other day, and I wrote a comment about how I raised my own self-esteem. It occurs to me that perhaps I should share this advice here, as it is an interesting reflection of the progress I've made since last May (that's when I began therapy). I can't explain enough how much going to therapy and leaving grad school has helped me. Today, I am so much more the person I want to become than I was a year or two ago, and I believe that this is directly because I am listening to what I really want to do instead of forcing myself to do something I think I should do.
Here's how I've raised my self-esteem recently:
1. working out. I don't feel particularly unattractive, but I still think working out helps me feel better. I'm accomplishing a goal I can be proud of, and I'm getting a good body in the process. My body before wasn't bad, but this is better.
2. Thinking of the person I'd like to be and then intentionally pushing toward being that person. There's this song I love (Gardener by Rebecca Riots), and one of the lines in there is "plant the [seeds] that lead me down a path towards really helping / I am the garden but I'm also the gardener" The song is about deliberately choosing to make the right decision in situations rather than the easy decision. These decisions made are the seeds planted in you, the garden. So, I work really hard to treat people exactly how I'd like to be treated. I don't always succeed, but I'm working on it. And I've seen my effort come back many-fold via people who thus treat me nicer, say good things about me, etc.
3. I've worked hard to put myself out there, meet new people, and share my skills with them. I play ultimate frisbee in a well-established league in my city. We have a lot of fun playing. I'm also a photographer, and I used to shoot sports in college. So, I take my camera to games and shoot a few photos off when I'm on the sideline. I also go to games on nights when I'm not playing to take photos. Then, I post those photos online and send the link to everyone in my league. The vast number of compliments I've received is outstanding. It makes me feel really good about myself that I can perform this service for the people and the league I care about.
4. I chose to leave grad school. Being there was pulling me down, both emotionally and mentally. My advisor made me feel stupid, my fellow students were not always kind to me, and it was slowly killing me. I made a really rough decision to take my MS and not continue on for the PhD; this decision meant altering my life goals. It was rough at the time, but I am now _so_happy_ for this decision. I consciously chose to stop worrying about what other people thought and just consider how I was feeling.
Now, I know this is really specific stuff that isn't always easy to apply generally. So I'll boil down my explanations into perhaps something more palatable:
1. started working on my physical appearance via exercise and healthier eating
2. chose to make intentional decisions that lead me toward being the person I want to be
3. found a way to share my talents with other people and be appreciated for those talents
4. started taking care of myself, paying attention to my needs, and elevating those needs above the wishes of others
This has been a 14 month process for me so far; I started going to therapy in May of '07. I'm ending therapy at the end of this month (I'm moving). I am leaving town a much better person who will continue working toward these goals.