By: Anum Ali via Productive Muslim
Self-Esteem is the value that we give ourselves and the opinion we have of ourselves. Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) blessed us with an all-encompassing way of life called Islam over 1400 years ago, and it advocates the rights of all creation (men, women, elderly, children, animals, and our own ‘self’).
Levels of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem issues arise on two levels.
The Personal Level:
On a personal level, low self-esteem could actually drive a Muslim over the edge and directly into the fire of Hell! A person might change according to what an imperfect society or culture sees fit. These changes happen to a person’s philosophy, opinions, and values. A sister in hijab might end up taking it off her head because she feels “ugly”, because that’s what the media tells her. But we shouldn’t bow down to an imperfect system, when we have a perfect way of life sent to us and a perfect example to follow.
The Social Level
The social jungle has beastly menaces as well that intimidate a person and if he doesn’t bring his ‘spiritual defense’ with him, then he is bound to suffer feelings of worthlessness. Peer groups or family members may bring about gatherings where a person is harassed or mocked for who he or she is. A person’s lifestyle, and at times his entire existence, can be criticized. A self-esteem deficit here might lead a person into depression or social anxiety.
Steps to Developing Self-Esteem
Self-esteem does not just appear out of nowhere; it takes conscious determination, spiritual connection with Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala), and emotional balance. You should take one step at a time and build gradually on the quota of your worth.
#1 – Personal Evaluation
Perform a personal ‘Strengths’ and ‘Weaknesses’ analysis. There are always 2 sides to a coin; you cannot be 100% good or 100% bad. So jot down all your worthy habits and characteristics, and also the negative ones. If you’re running really low in valuing the good bits about you, have a trusted friend or relative help to point out the good things about you. You can also ask them to point out your faults and flaws. The best references for evaluating yourself are the Quran and Sunnah because they are the manual for right and wrong. Once you’ve reviewed your weaknesses, cross out the word and rename it ‘Challenges’ – these are the areas to work on to transform.
#2 – Develop a Muslim Psychology
When you are made to feel low about yourself, you can keep your guard up by boosting your faith (Imaan). Islam, our deen, is a manifestation of truth, optimism, striving for perfection, and is the secret of personal and community success and happiness. Therefore, you should not pay heed to the worldly standards of beauty and glamor and feel down because you do not look a certain way. Know that you are a creation of The Majestic Creator; and secondly, you are of the Ummah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
#3 – Develop Positive Skills and Habits
Positive self-development and activities can give a major boost in self-esteem. Activities like the recitation of the Quran with translation and exegesis (Tafsir) are especially positive because by learning you feel that you are enriching your mind. Establishing punctual, dedicated prayers (Salaah) 5 times a day also ensures a sense of worthiness because you know that you are a slave of The Most High, and that honour and dignity are achieved through Islam. Thereafter, insha’Allah you can also find what you are good at and what you love to do, and initiate your own project (like a fundraiser, for example) or join appropriate extracurricular activities.
#4 – Personal Grooming
Modest dressing and etiquette is sometimes misinterpreted and people end up appearing unkempt or unclean. Our deen enjoins modest Islamic attire, as well as cleanliness and tidiness.
#5 – Find Birds of a Feather
Since “birds of a feather flock together”, find a supportive peer group. If your gatherings are full of folks that ridicule your beliefs and values, then you are bound to feel worthless. Mingle with the righteous who acknowledge your worth, help you identify your weaknesses, and are indulged in productive and wholesome habits. You can evaluate your gatherings by the kind of activities that happen. If your company spends their time at parties with activities such as music blaring, backbiting, smoking, and adultery, then it’s about time you realize that as a Muslim you are not in the right company. However, if you have good friends who relax and enjoy themselves within the wise bounds that Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) has set, and your productive activities include attending halaqas, praying in congregation at the mosque, discussing spirituality, understanding and memorization of the Quran, and similar positive topics, then you are bound to feel secure and benefit from the gathering.
#6 – Grow From Your Experience
It would all be useless if you learn to value yourself and then forget it at the end of the year! Make a note of how you increased your feeling of self-worth, record the names and resources you sought and benefited from. Observe and record the changes in your attitude towards others and towards your life, and also the attitude of others towards you. Your achievements and the changes bi’ithnillah would keep you motivated.
#7 – Develop Your Defense
Once you have mastered the above steps, you can test yourself by performing a simple self-check: test your response to wrongful criticism. You should speak calmly and articulately, assertively and firmly, with the Quran and Sunnah as reference. Remember being assertive and firm does not mean speaking harshly or rudely.
#8 – Defend Your Brother or Sister
It takes courage to stand up for yourself, but also to stand up for a brother or sister. When you see somebody being demeaned for something personal, politely support and defend them because they are your brother or sister in Islam. In fact, regardless of who is being unfairly accused or oppressed, we should strive to stand up for the truth and for justice.
These steps are just the basics. It is up to you to treat yourself well and discover what uplifts your morale and rebuilds your self-esteem. An important point to remember is that very low self-esteem is corrosive to one’s existence because it robs you of happiness and a sense of self-worth. At the same time, too much self-esteem is extremely destructive as it leads to pride, arrogance, and narcissism. Islam distinguishes the most successful living strategies; if you measure your self-worth by Islam and not by society, and synchronize your life with your faith, you can overcome the self-esteem deficit soon.