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Picture of a red haired woman displaying healthy esteem for John R Miles blog

Cultivating Healthy Esteem: What Are the Ten Keys?


Famous Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “It is not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.”

At some point in our lives, we’ve all had times when we felt inadequate and imperfect about ourselves, whether due to a physical flaw, how we perceive ourselves, not reaching our goals or a negative comment someone made about us. However, by recognizing that we always have the freedom and power to choose how situations in life will affect us, we can rise above challenges and build healthy esteem for ourselves.

In this article, I will tell Lizzie Velásquez‘s inspiring story. I will use her account to illustrate lessons we all can learn from her on how to build healthy esteem in our own lives.

This article is based on an episode I did for Passion Struck with John R. Miles.

The inspiring story of Lizzie Velásquez

It was another evening in the lovely city of Austin where 17-year old Elizabeth Anne Velásquez, known affectionally as “Lizzie,” lived with her parents and siblings. She had had quite a day at school and decided to relax by watching YouTube videos.

She grabbed a sachet of potato chips, picked up her laptop, and logged on to the YouTube app. As she began scrolling through available videos, she came across a particular one that had her face on its thumbnail and had over 4 million views. It was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman.”

Eager to know what people were saying about the video, she headed to the comments section. To her utter dismay, Lizzie came across comments like “Ewww what a monster,” “just put a gun to your head and shoot yourself,” “Kill it with fire,” “why didn’t her parents just abort her?” and so many other mean comments. Some referred to Lizzie as “it” and “monster.” In addition, she received emails with demeaning statements like, “I was just looking at your picture, and you are very ugly. How are you a cheerleader?” Seeing these, Lizzie was devastated and overcome with negative emotions.

Lizzie Velasquez was born with an extremely rare condition called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome. She calls it “skinny bones” and only two other people in the world have been diagnosed with it. But over the years, Lizzie has been through a long, uneven journey because she cannot gain weight or accumulate body fat. Born four weeks prematurely, weighing just two pounds 11 ounces, Lizzie has never weighed more than 60 pounds. This condition makes her always look frail and aged. It also caused the loss of sight in her right eye and diminished sight in her left eye.

Growing up, Lizzie was blessed by having parents who purposely raised her just as a normal kid and who always felt proud of her. They tried their best to make her feel loved and accepted. However, with the disclosure of the YouTube video, she was exposed to the cruelty and meanness of others. The self-esteem her parents had tried to build all came crashing down.

On different occasions, people would point, giggle and look at her in disgust, making her feel unworthy of being loved. Then she would get bullied and teased for being different by some of her peers at school. All these situations adversely affected her and caused tremendous negative self-esteem.

Lizzie Velasquez quote about discovering our own uniqueness and creating self-esteem

As time went by, Lizzie became a sad, self-conscious, miserable young lady who just lived every day dejected and frustrated. Initially, all she could think about was making those cyberbullies feel as low as she did, but she finally decided against it. Then one day that a deeper sense of self-worth was awakened. She emerged from the ashes and realized that her purpose in life was to “become a messenger of hope and comfort.” She thought about all that life had thrown at her and decided to take charge of her life rather than allow it to be determined by people’s negative actions towards her.

Lizzie recorded a video called Courage and Determination, where she shared her objectives with the world.

“Every day is a struggle,” the video begins. “Being judged by strangers is not easy.” She reveals how she read every single comment posted to the ‘Ugliest Woman in the World’ video. After letting the pain of that experience go, she set four objectives for herself:

  • Engaging others as a motivational speaker
  • Becoming an author
  • Graduating from college
  • Having a family and creating her own career

Not bad for someone who doctors said would never amount to anything.

Lizzie graduated from college, became a renowned motivational speaker, authored three books so far, and is an activist against bullying. In fact, she has appeared at more than 200 workshops. In January 2014, she gave a TEDx Talk titled “How Do YOU Define Yourself,” which has over 12.5 million views, and her YouTube channel has over 71 million views. In 2015, a documentary was released titled “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” which chronicles her story.

Building Healthy Esteem

Let us now take a look at the steps Lizzie took to rise above the negativity around her and build enough healthy esteem to help her become the accomplished lady she is today.

For a long time, Lizzie allowed her outer appearance to define her. She thought her tiny arms, legs, and face were ugly and disgusting. She hated the image of herself in the mirror and felt her life would be much better if she could just ‘scrub off’ the syndrome. But nothing changed. Then she realized that the body she has is what she was given to live life through.

She became aware she couldn’t physically change herself but could control how she lived her life, regardless of her condition. She realized she didn’t have to give in to the negativity but could even use them to fuel her desire to prove she could achieve what anyone else could. Then she decided to allow only her goals, her success, and her accomplishments to define her.

The following are lessons from her story and tips on how you also can rise above negativity and build healthy esteem for yourself.

  • Be self-aware and use positive affirmations. 

Ensure that you are constantly aware of the thoughts going on within your mind to detect when negative self-doubt thoughts are popping up. When you notice these negative thoughts, shut them off by positively affirming good things about yourself.

According to new brain-imaging studies published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal, when people practice positive self-affirmations, the brain’s self-processing and valuation cortex, which include the medial prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum, are both activated.

This leads to an increase in the ability to broaden a person’s overall perspective and reduce the effect of negative emotions, thereby enhancing positive mental processes.

  • Stop being a perfectionist.

“A lot of perfectionistic tendencies are rooted in fear and insecurity,” says Matt Plummer, who founded Zarvana, which is an online productivity coaching service. He further states, “Many perfectionists worry that if they let go of their [meticulousness and conscientiousness], it will hurt their performance and standing.”

Trying to do things perfectly at the expense of making constant progress is one major reason why many people find themselves with low and unhealthy esteem. They just don’t seem to get anything done because they keep worrying they’ll make mistakes or are not good enough.

Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit and a former clinical psychologist, says, “It’s about rechanneling a strength of yours rather than aiming for a lower goal.” Your goal is to take “some of the pressure off yourself.

You need to acknowledge your accomplishments and be open to making and learning from your mistakes. This is the way to grow.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” This is true, as constantly comparing yourself to others will only cause you to feel unnecessarily pressured and discontented with your own life. Remember that we are all running different races and have our unique goals. Your only competition is with yourself, so focus on yourself and celebrate yourself for the stage you’re at while aiming for more.

  • Take proper care of your health.

Our physical bodies are the vessels through which we carry out life’s everyday activities. When they fail due to stress or illness, we simply will be unable to function at our best, and this will cause a downward spiral into the abyss of low esteem. So, do yourself a favor by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest to keep your body as healthy as it can be.

  • Find the purpose in your pain.

Instead of trying to hide herself from the world, Lizzie decided to turn things around and own her flaw, making it her signature trait. She was able to see her condition as something she could use to inspire others and went on to use it to achieve many great things. Likewise, you need to see beyond your challenging situations and find the purpose in them to live a meaningful and impactful life.

  • Improve your mind

Take conscious steps to invest in your mind by reading positive books, listening to other people’s inspiring stories (from platforms like TED Talks or podcasts), watching educational and inspiring videos, and spending your time on activities that can add value to you. This will help fortify your mind against unhealthy thoughts and equip you to be better able to maximize opportunities for growth and success.

  • Seek support

Lizzie acknowledges that she has a lot of support from her parents, siblings, and friends, which helps her get by when things are quite tough. Likewise, we all need as much support as we can get to build healthy esteem. In some cases, you might require the help of a professional therapist or psychologist. Whatever the case may be, make sure that you’re not all alone but getting all the assistance you can.

  • Be kind to others.

Being kind to others is one of the fastest ways to build up healthy esteem. By showing kindness, your empathy level will increase, and you will be able to understand people better. This will create a virtuous cycle wherein you are also receiving love and kindness from others. Through this, you will help others feel better about themselves while feeling really good about your own self and inevitably build healthy esteem.

  • Strengthen your spiritual health.

Lizzie, who is a Roman Catholic, has said of her faith, “It’s been my rock through everything, just having the time to be alone and pray and talk to God and know that He’s there for me.” In the same way, we all need a higher power to whom we can entrust all our worries and receive grace and strength for growth. Find your place of faith and stand firm in it.

  • Choose to live with gratitude.

This point might sound cliché, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. We all have been given the free will to make our choices, and so, you can make your choice to live each day with an attitude of gratitude, and you will begin to see situations around you brighten up because you’re now looking at things through the positive lens of gratitude.

Conclusion and synthesis

Today, we live in a world where beauty is defined by supermodels, success is defined by how much money you have, and accomplishment is defined by the number of social media followers you have. In this kind of world, you need to ask yourself, ‘what is going to define my life?’

Are you going to allow your outer appearance and looks to define you? Will you let what other people say, where you come from, or your peers give the definition of your life?

The choice is yours. Choose wisely like Lizzie, who worked hard at changing her perspective and made the conscious decision to turn things around and create her own definition of beauty, success, and happiness.

Remember, you’re your greatest cheerleader. So, work hard, encourage yourself, celebrate your wins no matter how little they may seem, and go on to build that healthy esteem you’ve always hoped to have.

As written by Buddha, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

You’ve got this now go out and live life Passion Struck!

Listen to the Passion Struck Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts online.

Are you suffering from the hustle culture grind and is it causing you to feel miserable? Read my article on how to break free.

Check out John’s past episode on stop being a visionary arsonist. Catch up with Episode 9.

Are you having trouble prioritizing your time? John discusses the I Don’t Have Time Syndrome in Episode 2.



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