Lots of people struggle with low self-esteem and don’t even realize how they got to that point. A few months ago, I was chatting with a coworker of mine as we were getting ready to host a therapy group. (For those of you who don’t know, I am a mental health counselor by day!) As I was stuffing my face with veggies, I told my coworker friend, “I need to stop eating!”
“Want.” she said.
“You WANT to stop eating.”
A light bulb went off in my head. Who says I need to stop eating? Nobody. But I didn’t want to be miserably full, so I wanted to stop eating to save myself the pain. The way that I was talking about my behavior could have easily affected the way that I felt about myself and I didn’t even realize I was doing it!
Self-Esteem and You
How many times a day would you estimate that you see someone’s wedding photos, happy family, or bomb-looking meal on Instagram or Facebook and say to yourself , “Why can’t I have a life like that? I need to get my life together/find more friends/settle down/eat better/work out/you name it.” What about “I need to go to bed,” or “I need to go to the gym,” or “I need to clean the house?”
The way we talk to ourselves is pushy and rude. You likely wouldn’t talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself. But self-esteem is affected by more than just the obvious ways we insult ourselves! It is affected by language we use.
Okay! I’m guilty of this! I see something that I want and I say “I NEED THAT.” It seems innocent enough when you’re talking about something like an ice cream cone or a cute shirt. But our language can literally change the shape of our brains. It affects the way we think, feel, and behave. Nuts, right?
When you say “I need to ____” (Fill in the blank. Work out? Eat better? Lose weight? Meet new people?) it takes the control away from you and out into society, and feeling helpless can lower your self-esteem. Who is telling you that you need to do any of those things? Probably no one.
(As a bonus, people tend to use the word “should” instead of “need.” “Should” is a watered down version of “need,” but they both can damage self-esteem in the same way. Super famous psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis, dubbed this phenomenon “shoulding on yourself.” Pretty accurate, right?)
Instead of telling yourself that you need to do this or that, try replacing the words “need” or “should” with “want.” When I start talking about how I want to go to the gym or want to cook myself a healthy dinner, it puts me in control. This works for bigger things too. Instead of saying “I need to get caught up at work,” I can say “I want to get caught up at work.” Using the word “want” instead of “need” puts you in control. It improves your self-esteem because you suddenly feel capable of doing things!
Hold up. You mean you don’t want a cookie cutter life? For shame! (Just kidding!) It is completely okay if don’t want some of the things you feel like society is pressuring you to want! Now don’t take that to mean that you now have an excuse to do stuff that isn’t good for you or anything like that. Instead, consider your “why.” Finish your statement. “I need this because___.” Then replace it with “I want this because___” or “I don’t want this because___.” For example, let’s consider the statement, “I need to take my dog for a walk.” Why? “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you have a dog.” Is anything terrible going to happen if I stay home for a night? Instead I can say “I want to take my dog for a walk because it’s good exercise and he’ll be worn out afterward.” Or, “I don’t want to take my dog for a walk tonight because I’m tired.” Either way is okay.
Trust your Gut
When you answer the “why” to your statement, it gives you a better idea on where that instinct is coming from. Oftentimes, you’ll notice that when you say “I need to ___,” your “why” is some form of “because society tells me so.” When you answer the “why” to an “I want to” statement, you’ll find that your gut can end the war between head vs. heart. Listen to your gut rather than to what the outside world is telling you. You will eventually become more self-confident and have higher self-esteem. And when you face bigger decisions, you’ll be able to trust yourself to do what is best for you!
Did you try using “want” instead of “need?” Let me know in the comments how it worked!