How To Develop A Strong Sense Of Self And Self-Esteem
A robust sense of self, rooted in self-knowledge and self-worth, can help keep a person grounded even as life throws changes and challenges their way. It allows them to weather any storms they may encounter with resilience and self-assurance. Understanding one’s unique identity and intrinsic value plays a significant role in maintaining well-being and navigating the daily dynamics of life with confidence.
Sense of self is a vital concept in many human development theories. But what exactly does it look like, and how can you strengthen yours? Below, you’ll find additional information about these topics.
Importance of sense of self
A sense of self—sometimes referred to as "self-concept"—is your perception and awareness of who you truly are, including your sense of identity, your emotions, and your moral code. A person's sense of self is directly related to how they feel about themselves, their interests and beliefs, and their level of self-confidence. This perception of self-efficacy psychology is critical because it forms the foundation for many other aspects of our lives, from personal goal achievement to work, family, and other relationships.
A strong sense of self often breeds confidence and decisiveness, while a weak or unclear sense of self can cause self-doubt, self-criticism, and difficulty making decisions. Research suggests a link between a sense of one's own identity and a healthy sense of self-esteem. Since other studies have correlated low self-esteem with anxiety, depression, and other negative mental health outcomes, self-esteem—and therefore a sense of self—is generally considered to be an important element of good health.
Gain a stronger sense of self
Strengthening your sense of self is a process that you can work on over time. There are many different ways to approach it, all of which can contribute to a clearer, more stable sense of who you are.
Get to know yourself
Making a conscious effort to get to know your authentic self like you would a new friend can help you on this journey. It might be useful to try and distill key elements of who you are into physical lists. For example, you could list out your best qualities, your own worth, the personal beliefs you stand by, your goals and dreams for your life, and even your favorite things or likes and dislikes. Putting these aspects of yourself into words can be a good way to form a clearer self-image and enhance your self-awareness.
You can also do this by putting yourself in new situations. For example, taking a trip alone to somewhere you’ve never been can show you new sides of your personality. You might surprise yourself by how resourceful and adaptable you are or by how much you enjoy some new places or activities you stumble upon. You could also try taking a class in something completely new to you, like rock climbing or drawing, or joining groups or clubs with new types of people you don’t normally spend time with. Experiences like these can help you solidify your key qualities and what and who you enjoy spending your time on while playing a significant role in defining your place in the world.
Boundaries can be a way to delineate where the needs and desires of others end and yours begin. They can prevent others from having too much say in your life and how you live it, helping you defend your own sense of agency and self concept clarity. If you don’t have a history of a strong sense of self, knowing where to draw these lines can seem difficult at first. Plus, those with a weaker sense of self may struggle with boundary enforcement because of people-pleasing tendencies or feeling hopeless due to mental health issues.
You can start practicing in small ways, though. When asked for your preference or faced with a choice, take a moment to tune into yourself and see what you really want, and then practice expressing it. You can start small, like with what table you’d prefer at a restaurant or whether you’d actually like to attend an event you were invited to. Listening to and then expressing what you want is the core practice of getting better at boundary-setting over time. This ability will not only help you in defining your ideal self but also offer support for personal growth.
Plus, research shows that self-compassion can have a whole host of additional benefits, from higher levels of happiness and motivation to lower levels of depression and anxiety. Expressing gratitude daily, refraining from comparing yourself to others whenever possible, cultivating a mindfulness practice, and saying positive affirmations out loud every day can all help you in this practice.
Heal from past trauma
Past experiences can often impact how we feel about ourselves today, but they don’t have to define us. If you have wounds from unhealed trauma—such as a neglectful or absent parent, an abusive relationship, bullying, loss, or any other type of damaging experience—addressing it and working toward healing can be a big step toward a stronger sense of self. Without this healing, we may identify more with our trauma than our actual selves. Past trauma may also contribute to trouble feeling or expressing emotions, accepting ourselves, or building healthy habits. Working through those experiences can bring a host of benefits, including strengthening one’s sense of self.
A therapist can be an invaluable resource in this process. They can help you uncover and express difficult or even buried emotions related to past trauma so that they don’t hold you back anymore. They may also help you reestablish a sense of safety, identify triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and otherwise support you on your journey of establishing or re-establishing a strong sense of self. Some experts recommend the use of radical acceptance to heal trauma. This is a skill of accepting the present facts that are out of our control to effectively cope with the situation.
There are many different ways to connect with a therapist today. If you prefer to seek treatment from the comfort of your own home, you can connect with a mental health professional virtually. Research suggests that online therapy offers similar benefits to in-person sessions and may even feel more personal. With a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist via phone call, video call, and/or chat to work together on whatever challenges you may be facing. To learn more about BetterHelp therapists, you can read reviews from individuals who have sought their help or even request a personal interview with a therapist who has previously worked with clients like you.
"Marysue has been a great support to my path of self-discovery and healing. She is kind, patient, professional, and above all, a pleasant human being who cares. Thank you."
"I can not express how much Cindi has helped me in the past few weeks that I have had her as my counselor. She's helped me understand more about my condition, helped me settle some things from my past, and has given me brilliant coping techniques that I will use in the future. I've been to many psychiatrists, but no one has ever been as wise, caring, or considerate as Cindi. She's helped me realize things about myself that I have never known. Cindi, if you ever read this, thank you so much for everything you do. You're amazing."
A strong sense of self may contribute to positive life outcomes and improved mental health. Building it is a journey, but can be done over time with the right strategies and resources.
What is a sense of self?
A sense of self is an awareness of who you are and what your own needs and desires look like. It’s about being in touch with your feelings, dreams, values, personality, past, and what makes you feel good and aligned in order to make decisions that promote a positive future for yourself.
What is the ideal sense of self?
An ideal sense of self is simply one that is aware. By being tapped into who you are and what you want, you can make life decisions to take you in the direction of what’s right for you personally. Without this awareness, you may end up living in a way that’s not aligned with your true self and that may even lead to negative experiences and poor mental health outcomes. It could result in being overly self-critical, tending toward people-pleasing, or defaulting to letting others make decisions for you.
Why is it good to have a sense of self?
Having a sense of self can help you make decisions that are best for you. Without it, you may not be able to set healthy boundaries, choose supportive friends and partners, or pursue careers or hobbies that are right for you. You could end up in stressful or ill-fitting situations that don’t align with who you are on a fundamental level and what you want for your life.
How do you get a strong sense of self?
Part of the process of developing a strong sense of self is getting to know yourself. Practicing mindful awareness can help you get in touch with what you like and don’t like and what feels right to you. Spending time with different types of people and engaging in different types of activities can help you learn about what you do and don’t gravitate toward. Working toward the healing of any past traumas can also help you uncover the most authentic version of yourself. Consulting with a therapist can be helpful in this pursuit.
Do all humans have a sense of self?
It seems that virtually all humans and even some animals appear to have a sense of self, but the mechanisms of this sense are complex and remain relatively mysterious.
Is sense of self the same as identity?
Identity is often considered to be just one part of someone’s overall sense of self. It usually refers to how we describe or present ourselves to others, whereas our sense of self is also composed of our deepest feelings, dreams, desires, and values.
How can you find your true self?
To discover and then accept your true self often takes time, effort, patience, and a sense of curiosity. Common steps in this process can include learning about what you like and don’t like, identifying your dreams and desires, discovering where your personal boundaries lie, and acknowledging and working toward the healing of past trauma, for example. Working with a therapist can be a helpful part of this development process in many cases.
How can self-acceptance change your life?
Self-acceptance can free up mental energy to allow you to focus on what you can do with what you have and who you are at the present instead of wasting time wishing to be different. It can give you the opportunity to make the most of your real skills, talents, and feelings and make choices that align with your most authentic self.
What does it mean to have a weak sense of self?
A weak sense of self could refer to not being in tune with your own personal desires and needs, which could manifest as people-pleasing and indecision. It could also be tied to low self-esteem. Building one’s sense of self generally consists of getting to know one’s authentic self, addressing past trauma, and learning to make decisions that align with who you really are.
How can I love myself more?
Building self-esteem and self-love is a process. Some strategies you might find useful along the way could include saying positive affirmations, making lists of your good qualities, setting boundaries with others, and surrounding yourself with supportive people. Many people also find working with a therapist to be helpful in this endeavor.
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