You know that voice inside your head that often scolds you? The one that berates you whenever your appearance falls short of something or makes you wince every time you happen to see someone who looks more glamorous than you? Well, whether your self-esteem is still going strong, fading or has disappeared altogether, that beastly voice needs to be silenced – for good!
Of course we all like to say we’re “not shallow” and don’t judge appearances, but in truth most of us tend to be the most judgemental towards ourselves. If you can’t remember the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and didn’t find a single thing to complain about, then it’s high time you did. Arming yourself with a healthy dose of self-esteem is more important than ever, especially in today’s challenging environment.
In a world of peer pressure and mass media messages, self-criticism and an obsession with outward appearance are beasts that have been let loose. We live in a culture that makes people feel they aren’t good enough, pretty enough or rich enough and unfortunately most of the time appearance is valued over character.
Beauty is a word that can be given unlimited definition yet we are surrounded by a stream of monotonous messages telling us what beauty is supposedly about. Society has raised us to pay attention to those messages, which gives a deep hit to our self-esteem. We’re bombarded so much by images of perfect-looking people and fabulous lifestyles that when we look at our own selves, we’re faced with our inner critics and a line of questioning about why we’re not good enough. People are often confused about what it means to have self-esteem and keep thinking that others would like them better if they looked better. We tell ourselves that attractiveness can only be had if we wear this or eat that, buy this and not that.
Self-esteem simply means loving and appreciating yourself for who you are, flaws and all, and having confidence in your abilities and worth. Allah (SWT) made us all beautiful in our own way and we should accept it and not try to change ourselves just to fit in with everyone else.
Allah (SWT) says, “…He has given you shape and made your shapes good (looking) and has provided you with good things.” (Ghafir:64)
We’re made by Allah (SWT) to look the way we do and we’re all given different blessings, so why do we fight the battle of self-perfection at the expense of our self-confidence? It is also mentioned in another verse, “O man! What has deceived you about your Lord, the most generous? Who created you, proportioned you and balanced you?” (Al-Infitar:6-7)
Be thankful for what you have and respect yourself. Every time you look in the mirror, instead of listening to the beast inside your head, read the dua “O Allah, as You have made my appearance beautiful, make my character beautiful” (Allahumma kama hassanta khalqi fa hassin khuluqi).
We need to learn to ‘see’ with the mind, heart and soul and not just the eyes because beauty transcends what is apparent. Recognising internal beauty is a great first step towards gaining a good self-image. Beauty isn’t only about weight or facial features or makeup, nor should it be based on factors such as the car you drive, the job you have or the house you live in, it’s more about life’s magnificence reflected in your own character and attitude because real beauty stems from the inside. If not that, then what makes us beautiful? Is our beauty really only skin deep?
Building self-esteem includes making the effort to change by having the courage to look ourselves straight in the eye, appreciate what we see and then move on from there. The worse you feel about yourself, the less energy and motivation you have to do what it takes to turn your self-esteem around. Feelings of inadequacy and damaging thoughts make your self-esteem plummet as your brain locks in on negative thinking, but self-esteem improves by changing both your notions and behaviours.
So how can we cultivate confidence, learn to end this negative self-criticism and begin to talk to ourselves in a kinder way? Here are 10 ways to help boost your self-esteem:
1. Look good, feel good
A low self-esteem doesn’t mean that your appearance should be neglected. An-Nabi (SAW) said in a hadith, “Allah (SWT) is beautiful and He loves beauty.” (Muslim) When you care for your appearance, you project an outward image of confidence even if you don’t feel that way and, by making that little extra effort to look your best, you will start to feel better.
2. Read something inspirational
Read books and articles that uplift you and make you feel positive. Stay away from negative television programmes, web sites, advertising or anything that reinforces a poor self-image.
3. Acknowledge failures
See failures as a necessary part of growth and learning. Failures are evidence of effort and you always learn something from them. Also, avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself because you will just be disappointed and feel low again.
4. Be creative
Focus on your talents and passions. Creativity is a wonderful feel-good therapy and finding something that you’re good at makes you feel happy and confident.
5. Embrace healthy habits
In Islam, we are encouraged to look after ourselves and practice healthy eating, sleeping and exercise patterns. Look after your body which is an amanah entrusted to you by Allah (SWT). Being healthy also induces a positive mindset.
6. Don’t use a magnifying mirror (both in the literal and figurative sense)
If you don’t notice tiny imperfections, chances are others won’t notice them either so don’t scrutinise yourself and go looking for physical or character flaws that are invisible to the naked eye as you’ll just end up feeling insecure.
7. Don’t compare yourself to others
Competing and comparing with others is a fool’s game that no one ever wins because it’s a never-ending cycle. There will always be someone who is more sophisticated or better at something. Everyone is blessed in a different way but that’s what makes us unique.
8. Use hopeful statements
Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement, because we become what we tell ourselves. Remember that as believers we are encouraged to be optimistic and positive.
9. Forgive yourself
Everyone makes mistakes and mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.” Find ways to fix your mistakes if you can but don’t be too hard on yourself.
10. Focus on the positive
Think about the good parts of your life. Remind yourself of things that have gone well recently. Consider the skills you’ve used to cope with challenging situations. Encompass your positive qualities. Make a list of things that make you feel good about yourself or keep an affirmation journal. Reminding yourself of all your assets is a sure confidence booster.
Rafeeah Laher is a South African based writer, hoping to inspire others through her writing. You can follow her on twitter: @Rafeeah_L.