Summary: Developing a strong sense of self is the best thing you can do if you want to have high self-worth that lasts and to like the person you are. It will also help you have authenticity, deep connection, and intimacy in your relationships. Here’s how to develop a strong sense of self & what to look for in yourself to know that you need to do this work. 

When I was a kid, probably 8 or 9 or so, I remember climbing on the edge of my bathtub so that I could peer at myself in the bathroom mirror and get a full-body shot.

I remember loving the “jams” I was wearing (basically Bermuda shorts with a wild, colorful pattern) or the jeans with big holes in the knees (what do you know, it’s the style again). 

Strong sense of selfI had so much confidence in myself at that point. So much acceptance of who I was. I felt great

Fast forward just a couple of years, and that confidence starts to slip, not just for me, but likely for all of us.

The confidence of childhood, the full self-acceptance that often happens when we are young, starts to fade away as we enter those middle school years. 

What is it that changes? (Other than mean kids in the hallway and bodies that start to hit puberty? Because both of those things can be rough!) 

If you think back on it, it’s likely that around that time, you started to be hyper-aware of what other people think of you

In fact, I have distinct memories of sitting in my middle school math class with my hand positioned just so on my chin so that no one would catch a glimpse of the unsightly zit on my face. I was worried about what they would think about me if they got a peek at that bad boy. 

Where did the confident girl standing on the edge of her bathtub go and why was she feeling so uncomfortable now?

Self-Confidence (or Not) Today

Most of us probably still cringe when thinking back on those middle school days. It’s hard to constantly worry about what everyone else thinks of you. 

And you’ve probably moved away from that at least a little bit. 

But have you moved away from it entirely?

You may not feel quite as vulnerable to the stares of other humans, the judgment you think they’ve got for you. You’re probably not as fragile as you were in middle school. 

But the unfortunate truth is that most of us are still very much living in a place of worrying a lot about what other people think, even when we don’t realize that this is the case. 

If you think about it though, with the way the world is today, it makes sense that we still feel a little exposed and judged.

Everything around us tells us who to be, what to look like, how to act. Comparison with others becomes almost second nature to us.

And if you fall short of those things, there’s plenty of opportunity to be slammed by others.

Just like walking down the halls of middle school may have left you at least figuratively hanging your head a bit in defense against others’ judgments, just existing in this world may be doing that to you today.

You might not feel the level of confidence in yourself that you wish you had. 

Today this might manifest as people-pleasing, perfectionism, or poor body image.

It might look like trying to garner others’ approval or avoid their disapproval (sometimes in ways you don’t even see happening).

It might look like basing your self-worth around how much you get done in a day, how valued you feel by others, how well you live up to “shoulds” or expectations that others put on you. 

This all ties back to worrying about what other people think and then basing your sense of self around that. Want better for yourself? Read on!

Developing a Strong Sense of Self

How to Develop a Strong Sense of SelfThe very best thing that you can do for yourself, the thing that will leave you feeling stand-on-the-bathtub confident in who you are AND help you develop amazing relationships with people you love, is to develop a strong sense of self.

Let’s talk about what that is and how to get it. (And why it’s better than self-esteem.) 

Having a strong sense of self means that you are able to maintain your identity without expecting others to validate you or to make you feel good about yourself.

It also means that you have a clear idea of what makes you you (a clear self-concept) and that you feel comfortable and confident with that person.

People with a strong sense of self are more authentic, have better relationships, and are happier overall.

But what IS a strong sense of self? And how do you get a stronger sense of self? 

There are 3 key aspects of a strong sense of self: 

1. Having a clear idea of who you are (What do I like to do when I’ve got downtime? Where do I want to go to dinner?)

2. Feeling good about yourself. Valuing who you are. (OK, but if you’re reading this article, this might be hard to come by for you. Never fear, we’re going to talk about how to get to this point.) 

3. The clincher: Being able to maintain a sense of who you are and confidence in yourself even when other people invalidate you

    The long and short of it is this: 

    You’ve GOT to free yourself from relying on other people to call the shots on how you feel about yourself.

    As long as you let others dictate your feelings about yourself, you’ll never develop the kind of lasting confidence and connection you crave. 

    But that’s not easy. If you fall prey to this, you are normal. But let’s see if we can do better. 

    The Opposite: A Reflected or Weak Sense of Self

    One of the easiest ways to understand having a strong sense of self is to consider what the opposite looks like.

    What is a reflected sense of self

    Somebody with a weak or reflected sense of self looks to others for validation of their choices and of who they are. This person does things because it’s what others want.

    She does what she does to earn praise from others or to avoid disapproval, not because it’s what feels right, interesting, or good to her.

    Essentially, this person is saying, I am who I am through your eyes.” 

    She’s trying to see herself the way other people see her rather than just being herself.

    People with a reflected sense of self rely on others to determine their self-worth and their self-image.

    In other words, it’s that same mindset that we all had in middle school—trying to get people to like us by trying to avoid looking dumb or changing who we are to meet the approval of others. 

    But often we can’t see these behaviors in ourselves very clearly.

    Here are some signs that you might have a weak sense of self:

          • I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells around someone to avoid conflict
          • When I do have conflict, I tend to get super emotional and say things I later regret. I also tend to dwell on it and can’t move past it. (The opposite of this would also indicate a weak sense of self: disengaging from the conflict entirely, like walking away or giving the silent treatment.)
          • I need reassurance after a fight that the other person still cares about me
          • I say yes to things that I don’t really want to do

          • I hate when someone wants me to pick where we go to dinner or to choose something. I have a hard time making decisions

          • I’ve given so much of myself in doing things for other people that I don’t really feel a sense of purpose in my own life right now
          • I don’t have very many hobbies

          • I feel awful when someone gives me honest feedback about something I am doing

          • I don’t really like who I am 

          • I need other people to say nice things or give me compliments in order to feel good about myself

          • I feel like some of my relationships are codependent 
          • I shy away from doing things that are scary or hard 
          • I’ve got a lot of anxiety
          • I worry about what other people think about me
          • I do a lot of things because I think I “should”
          • I don’t feel like I can be my true self around most people
          • Social media often makes me feel worse about myself 

    Ok my friend, if you see yourself in some of those things, just know that you are not alone. Most people are doing these types of things and just aren’t recognizing it. 

    So, gold star for you because you’ve just taken the first step in strengthening your own sense of self—and that’s seeing where your weak spots are! 

    3 Things to Do to Develop a Strong Sense of Self

    Having a strong sense of self means:

    • Not allowing others to define you
    • Being comfortable and confident in who you are
    • Being willing to challenge yourself and grow because you aren’t threatened by others’ disapproval
    • Being willing to let others truly see you at an intimate level.

    But how do you get that? 

    So how do you strengthen your sense of self?

    Step 1:

    The very best thing that you can do to kick off this process of strengthening your sense of self is to catch yourself in the act of using a reflected sense of self. 

    How to feel good about myself

      • Watch yourself today and notice times that you’re making choices not because they are what you want, but because you don’t want the invalidation of being disagreed with
    • Spot times when you are saying yes to things that you don’t actually want to do because you think it’s what you should do 
    • Find a few examples of ways that you are letting comparison with others make you feel good or bad about yourself 

    When you start to spot these things in yourself, don’t beat yourself up. That’s what middle school you might do.

    Instead, pay attention to them and see if you can flip the script, just this once, to be more in line with your own internal feelings. To be more in line with who you are instead of who others want you to be. 

    Step 2:

    One of the biggest things that can happen when you’ve got a weakened sense of self is that you can start to lose some of your sense of personal identity. You might have lost track of your own hobbies and talents. You might be self-silencing

    So, one of the most meaningful tasks you can do is to start to reclaim yourself. Actively choose something that makes you happy. Do something that matters to you. Say something that is important to you. Start to take more ownership of who you are.

    Taking active initiative in your life, doing things for yourself because they are what you want, might feel strange to you at this point. That’s OK. It’s great to have a unique identity that you are comfortable with. Baby step in that direction.

    Step 3:

    Be ok with discomfort.

    Part of this process is going to be taking a close look at yourself and challenging the things that need to change. It’s going to be seeing places where you are weak or letting others see your weaknesses (because you’re not worrying about how they might judge you). This can be a really difficult task. Be OK with that process and know that your own growth is worth it.

    It’s fine to feel anxious about it or challenged by it. I love what Dr. David Schnarch taught—sometimes we need to tolerate discomfort in order to grow.

    Do you think it was easy when you learned to walk?

    Nope. I bet you fell down a lot.

    But you kept trying. Do the same now to reach your goals now. Work for the things you want and be ok with it when it feels hard. Keep going. 

    Acknowledge that it might be challenging to change your mindset and your way of living…then do it anyway. Treat yourself with self-compassion, which means being gentle with yourself but also caring enough about yourself that you push yourself to do things that matter. 

    A Sense of Self Is Not

    Sometimes people learn about strengthening their sense of self and mistakenly believe it means kicking other people’s input to the curb entirely. They think they’ve got to start bulldozing their way through life without regard for the people in their path.

    That is not what having a strong sense of self is about.

    What having a strong sense of self does mean is deciding for yourself who you want to be…and sometimes that means taking input from trusted others about things that need improvement.

    And not feeling threatened by that.

    Someone with a strong sense of self is willing to self-confront a bit, to see areas of weakness and challenge them because they can tolerate that kind of invalidation.

    That allows them to develop strong relationships with family members and friends because good relationships involve a lot of self-reflection and willingness to confront personal shortcomings. 

    It also means they can be their authentic self, which means they see both positive aspects of who they are and negative ones and are willing to work on them. 

    Strengthening your sense of self is such a crucial step to thriving in your relationships, having higher levels of connection with your people, and feeling lasting self-love in who you are. It can also help you combat mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. If you’ll work at this you’ll be amazed by the changes.

      Amber A. Price Author Signature

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