Maybe you've been working hard to raise your self-esteem—with or without the use of my book, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself. Maybe your self-esteem has been rising naturally, thanks to other factors in your life, which may or may not include friends, family and miracles.
But how can you tell whether or not this is happening? We can't gauge our self-esteem as we can measure our temperature, with scientific tools.
Here's how to tell: Self-loathing spurs certain pervasive, pernicious, painful habits. When these habits stop happening, we've started hating ourselves less. Here are four handy examples:
You start to hear your own laughter.
Officemates start joking about their vacation plans, and you hear a strange sound. Later, reading a book in bed, you hear the same sound yet again. Suddenly you realize what it is: your own laughter. One of self-loathing's cruelest crimes is that it steals our senses of humor. We become so depressed, so disconnected, so unwilling to let ourselves experience pleasure and so suspicious and ashamed of our own responses to things that we literally forget how to laugh. Feeling less anxious about ourselves opens the laughter channels: Recognizing instantly what we find funny, we're no longer afraid—consciously or subconsciously—to reveal it. And sure: Self-deprecating humor has made superstars of such comedians as Sarah Silverman and Adam Sandler, but it's also true that succeeding in any performing art requires significant self-confidence.
Your compassion for others grows.
During a small-talky, ordinary conversation, someone whom you don't know very well—a coworker, say, or a classmate—suddenly becomes emotional and tells you about a personal crisis that he or she is undergoing. Scrambling to find the right words, yearning to ease this fellow human being's pain as quickly and helpfully as you humanly can, you realize that you're acting from a place of sheer compassion, free of the self-conscious self-censoring that would have hampered this process when you hated yourself. No longer living in fear of other people's reactions to us means no longer fixating on ourselves as the first and foremost (even if also the most loathed) figure in every encounter. Building compassion for ourselves shows us how to have compassion for others. Loathing ourselves less lets us care about others more.
You start to use the word no.
A friend tells you that he's been cheating on his partner and asks to use your apartment for assignations while you're away on business. Fueled by rage and indignation, a word forms on your lips that feels not exactly new but unfamiliar, as if remembered from a nearly-forgotten foreign language. This word is "no." Low self-esteem makes it nearly impossible for many of us to utter the word "no" or its life-saving variations—such as "won't," "can't" or "don't." This inhibition finds us forever involved—against our will, yet unable to say so—with people, situations and obligations that are wrong for us and that we despise. We resent those people, situations and obligations and hate ourselves for having no boundaries and being weak pushovers. Hating ourselves less hardens our backbones and lets us act as our own advocates.
You are surprisingly decisive.
After being handed a restaurant menu, you scan it for a few seconds then set it down, ready to order and happily anticipating a delicious meal. Startled and bemused, your dining companion asks why this time you were able to choose so quickly when during previous outings you were so daunted by menus that you made servers select your meals for you. Improved self-confidence drives decisive choice-making and, once we've chosen, lets us relish our choices without regret. Bon appetit!