The 15 Spiritual Practices That Helped Me Overcome Low Self-Esteem
As a teenager, my family moved from Brazil to a town in Florida, and my new high school didn't have any role models that looked like me. My skin was a little darker than most, I had cystic acne, I didn't speak English fluently, I was wearing clothes from a totally different culture, and at some point, I was even wearing blue eye contacts thinking that this would help me to fit it. I based my self-esteem on external circumstances and held on to the belief that if I looked like other people, I would finally feel confident. I would belong.
This sort of thinking continued into my 20s, when I would beat myself up over the smallest mistake. I blamed other people for my emotions and would react to criticism with rage, pointing out other people's flaws as a way to hide my own insecurities. Whenever I accomplished something, the nagging, paralyzing voice would show up again to tell me, "You could do better."
I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted—until I realized that I was unintentionally watering the seeds of insecurity, doubt, guilt, shame, fear, and anger each time I believed them to be the truth of who I was.
Being confident in yourself is one of the hardest things to do in a society that cherishes sameness. If you, too, are struggling with low self-esteem, these are the 15 spiritual principles that eventually helped me set the stage for my confidence to grow and blossom:
1. I realized that confident people are self-compassionate.
Forgiveness used to be a foreign language to me. I would be caught in a downward spiral for days, weeks, or even months for small mistakes that I had made. Learning to forgive was such an important step on the path to confidence.
2. I mastered my inner critic.
To remove myself from my inner critic, I gave her a name (Bianka, in case you were wondering). She is vicious and critical, and her words can be paralyzing. Being able to master and befriend Bianka has been one of the most transforming experiences of my life. When she shows up, I do my best to counter her criticism with loving, positive self-talk. I make my best effort to call in the opposite of what she is offering.
3. I learned to be vulnerable.
I used to think that vulnerability was a weakness. I was scared that if I was vulnerable, people would use it against me. If I needed help, I never asked for it because I was too afraid of looking silly. I would wear armor and pretend that everything was always OK. In my process of recovery, I have been able to laugh at myself and not be so afraid of making mistakes.
4. I practiced integrity.
In the past, it was hard for me to hold eye contact. When people would look me in the eyes, I would try to distract them and close off connection. I realized later that I was uncomfortable because I felt like I was hiding something. My intentions didn't match my words or actions, and this lack of congruency created more internal chaos, which reinforced this feeling of inadequacy. Nowadays, I catch myself if I notice this cognitive dissonance, and I realign to match my speech and my actions with my intentions—regardless of what others might think of me.
5. I tried to be an inspiration.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that empowering others is a way to empower myself. I began to find authentic ways to compliment other people daily.
6. I started to recognize my self-worth.
I used to spend so much time imagining what other people thought about me, which led me down a rabbit hole of insecurity, doubt, and shame. I decided I was going to commit to no longer spending time fabricating what other people might think about me. As a support to this practice throughout the day, I whisper to myself, "I approve of me."
7. I turned comparison into sympathetic joy.
Comparison and competition used to be major coping mechanisms for me. Everything I did was based on someone else's achievements. I realized that I could shift comparison to sympathetic joy by wishing other people well and being happy for other people's success. In the past when I would see an attractive person, I immediately started thinking about how bad I looked. I began to notice this internal dialogue, and as a way to pivot this, I say in my mind, "I rejoice in your success and your beauty."
8. I became a mindful talker and listener.
I used to talk about anything and everything as a way to distract myself from my internal chaos. I would interrupt conversations all the time and try to one-up the other person. Nowadays, any time I notice this dynamic playing out, I pause, breathe—and reflect back to who I'm talking to what I have heard as a way to genuinely build a sustainable connection. Remember: Insecurities are loud while confidence and power are quiet.
9. I took risks.
Naturally, as I became more confident, I started to take more risks. I used to just walk the path that was already paved, and I would then judge myself for not having the courage to make a left when everyone else went right. Slowly, I started to step out of my comfort zone and into the growth zone by taking one simple risk a day.
10. I realized that it's OK to live a life that other people might not understand.
Doing things that people could criticize me for used to be out of the question. As I began to feel safe within myself and my confidence grew, I had the courage to live a life that others might not understand and be totally OK with it.
11. I tried to be effortlessly fabulous, not ostentatious.
During times of insecurity, I put a lot of effort into how I looked. I would wear clothes with expensive labels as a way to mask my insecurities. Back then, I wasn't being fabulous; I was being ostentatious! On my healing journey, I completely redefined my relationship to fashion. Now, fashion has become an extension of my courage and bravery. I use fashion as a creative expression rather than a way to mask my insecurities.
12. I surrounded myself with other confident people.
Insecure people attract insecure people. Looking back, my friends and I were in a constant downward spiral. Drama was a default style of conversation. I was so discouraged, but I continued to surround myself with toxic people because I thought my brokenness connected to their brokenness. The more I did internal work, the more I stepped away from toxic relationships and toward people who were living in their power.
13. I mastered the art of the humblebrag.
I used to think that talking about myself was selfish. Later, I realized that not sharing my success was a disservice to the world.
14. I took inventory often.
I quickly learned that just because things are going well doesn't mean that I can abandon my spiritual practice. I always need to take self-inventory and check if I am using old strategies to achieve new goals. The more you practice checking in and "self-editing," as I like to call it, the more it becomes a natural habit.
15. I became a magnet.
When I exercise these 15 spiritual principles, I find that people are drawn to me. When you exert confidence and live in integrity, people begin to trust you. Trust is a great feeling, and maintaining it is a huge responsibility. To hold the trust of others, I must use my power wisely and make sure that I am living to my highest potential.
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