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Sense of Self: What It Is, 36 Signs, Tips & Steps to Raise It and Feel Great

It can be hard to raise a strong sense of self, but it’s life-changing once you know how. Follow this guide and you’ll flourish!

sense of self

Life is a very challenging, ever-changing journey, but getting to know yourself is the toughest test of all. It can take you years to figure out your own sense of self. But trust us, when you do, you’ll truly feel comfortable in your own skin.

Improving your sense of self won’t be easy, especially if you’ve carried a low sense of self around for your whole life. It can take a lot of heartbreak, tough lessons, successes, failed attempts, broken friendships, and enlightening experiences to get there as you come to grips with what you deserve from other people and what you don’t. And it can be very hard to break through all the layers of who you are to get to the core. But once you’re there, you become unstoppable.

This feature will show you how to build up your own sense of self. We’ll show you why a sense of self is so important for your future happiness, and how to become the most complete version of yourself.

[Read: How to build self-confidence and realize you’re worth it]

What is a sense of self?

Your sense of self is the essence of who you are as a truly unique human being. It combines your most prominent attributes, morals, needs, ethics, and emotions, to give you your own distinctive personality.

Even if you don’t think that much about your sense of self, you’ve probably spent a lot of time forming it. Knowing who you are is the basis of forming strong relationships and a healthy mental state.

So, try and think right now: what are the main features of yourself? People who can list their different features of themselves have a strong sense of self. If you can’t make a list of all the things that make up you, you have a less developed sense of self.

Self-love and acceptance are incredibly powerful tools. Once you wield them, you can take on nearly anything that is thrown at you. But without that strong grounding, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the pressures and tribulations of life.

[Read: How your self-respect in a relationship affects you and your love life]

Why is having a sense of self important?

If you couldn’t list your characteristics, you might be asking, “why do I need a sense of self? I’ve been getting along just fine up to now. Does it actually make a difference?” Of course, it does!

Having a solid sense of self is the bedrock of a happy life. Every little thing you do – from which music you listen to, to what job you do – is decided based on your sense of yourself.

If you don’t have a strong sense of self, you can’t live authentically. And living authentically is essential to happiness.

You might think that self-esteem and sense of self are the same things. But they’re actually totally different!

[Read: How to respect yourself – 37 secrets of self-respect, self-belief, and self-love]

A sense of self is your perception of yourself as an individual. However, self-esteem is your perception of yourself as a valuable individual. How can you perceive yourself as valuable if you don’t have a sense of yourself at all? So, your sense of self is also crucial to your self-worth.

Also, if you understand yourself, you know your strengths and weaknesses. You understand what you want from life, and that informs your choices. So, if you have a good sense of self, you’re more likely to achieve your dreams and find true happiness.

Signs of a poor sense of self

But how do you know if you have a poor sense of self? Maybe you feel you can understand yourself without it. Yet as we’ve just discussed, you need a strong sense of self to be truly happy.

Most of the signs of a poor sense of self will make it much harder to move through the world. If you don’t have a strong idea of who you are, it’s impossible to make decisions that are right for you.

Let’s look through the signs of a poor sense of self, so you know how much work you have ahead.

1. Difficulty making decisions

You find it hard to make decisions that work for you. Whenever you’re in a situation where you have to make a choice, you end up choosing something that makes your life worse – not better. And that’s if you can come to a decision at all!

This difficulty with making decisions can affect your relationships, career, and family life. Anything from who you should date, to which flavor of ice cream you want.

Worst of all, if you ever get into a relationship that’s actively harming you, you’ll seriously struggle to make the decision to leave.

2. People-pleasing behavior

How often do you do things you don’t want to do, just to make somebody else happy? Of course, it’s great to do stuff for other people. But if you have a poor sense of self, people-pleasing behavior can become a big problem.

You should do things for yourself. But if you don’t know who you are, how can you? If you often find yourself doing things for other people that you don’t enjoy, it’s because you need to work on your sense of self. [Read: Self-concept – how we create and develop it to control our happiness]

3. Feeling “directionless”

If you don’t have a good sense of self, you’ll constantly feel like you don’t know what you want. You don’t know where you want to go, what you want for the future, or what you want to achieve from your personal journey.

This feeling is called being “directionless,” and people with a poor sense of self often feel lost like this. So, if you don’t know which direction to go in life, it’s because you have a poor sense of self.

4. Constant self-criticism

You’re the most self-critical person you know. It’s hard to find a good word to say about yourself, so you’re always putting down your achievements. Even when you work hard and reap the rewards, you won’t accept that you’ve done well.

If you’re constantly critiquing your looks, skills, or achievements, it’s because you have a poor sense of self. You’re frustrated by the inner emptiness that comes from not having a clear personality. Plus, you have terrible self-esteem. [Read: The ultimate ways to have high self-esteem and start winning at life]

How to raise your sense of self

Here are some of the ways in which you can unearth your deepest sense of self. With these tips, you can learn how to make your perception and belief in yourself as unbreakable as possible.

It might take a little effort, but trust us, it’s worth it!

1. Find out what your values are

Get in touch with what you believe in and what you stand up for. After all, your morals are really important. So, once you know how you feel about things like social issues, politics, human rights, and culture, you’ll know how to define yourself.

2. Believe in yourself

This is a crucial step to creating a stronger sense of self. Believe in your abilities, your mental strength, and your instincts, and it will pay off handsomely.

Many people are too quick to dismiss how strong they actually are. But fight this feeling, and you’ll soon see how capable you can feel.

[Read: The signs of low self-esteem and ways to increase it]

3. Maintain confidence

Confidence plays a big part in how you handle certain situations, how you react to other people, and how you navigate life.

Having unflinching, high levels of confidence not only helps you feel better about yourself but also commands respect from other people.

4. Don’t fear the help of others

It’s easy to be skeptical of others if you’ve been let down before or been treated badly.

But how you interact with and learn from others is instrumental to developing a stronger sense of self. Don’t be afraid to let people in – they may show you a side of yourself you never knew you had.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no

Never fear not doing something you’re not happy or comfortable with. If you’re in a situation where you don’t feel comfortable, or you’re being asked to do something that goes against your morals, don’t do it. If something contradicts all your instincts, walk away and don’t feel bad about it.

When you stand by your own morals, your sense of self will start to sky-rocket!

[Read: How to say no – stop pleasing people and feel awesome instead]

6. Embrace the hard times

Those who have experienced the toughest times are often the strongest of people. Learning how to weather the storm and then keep going is one of the most important things you can do to determine your sense of self.

Don’t forget that diamonds are forged under pressure, so keep pushing through if you want to strengthen your character.

7. You are the best person you can be

In life we are all only given one shot, so why waste your time trying to be someone else?

Always be yourself – express yourself the way you see fit, make an impression, and show the world who you are. In most cases, people respect others who are unapologetically themselves, so be true to yourself.

[Read: What is the point of life – secrets to decode this cosmic truth]

8. Learn to rely on yourself

There will always be hard times to get through, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. We’re all only human, so it’s inevitable that people will let you down once in a while.

So, learning to take care of yourself, or to get things done with no one else’s help, is invaluable.

9. Never stop exploring

Get out there and see the world! Save up money, buy a plane ticket, and go traveling for a while.

Go and experience culture shock, try new things, meet new faces, and push your boundaries. We are all products of our environment, so make sure to change yours every so often.

Going out there and seeing the world will do wonders for your sense of self when you realize just how wonderful the world, and everyone on it, is. [Read: How to become a better person – the golden rules to evolve every day]

10. Accept your flaws

Full self-acceptance can take a while, but it gets a lot easier when you learn to embrace the little flaws that make you who you are.

Once you’ve mastered the art of appreciating your imperfections, it’ll make you realize that it’s okay not to be perfect. This will make you much more comfortable with yourself.

11. Be forgiving of yourself

Don’t beat yourself up too much about anything. We all mess up, but that doesn’t make us any less deserving of success and self-acceptance.

Life doesn’t need to be taken super seriously, so relax into your mistakes and appreciate your ability to recover from failure.

12. Mentally declutter

Get rid of the useless things floating around in your head that hold you back from realizing who you truly are.

Things like bad memories, regrets, and self-inflicted negative opinions will do nothing but weigh you down. Stop overthinking things that don’t matter in the long run. [Read: How to stop overthinking – smart strategies for instant peace]

13. Pick the right people

Only spend time around positive people who bring out the best version of you. If you surround yourself with encouraging people who care about you, it can only build you up.

Never waste time with people who suck the joy or positivity out of you – they’re poisonous, and will only drag you down or hold you back.

14. Enjoy your own company

Being alone is not a bad thing; it actually means that you’re more comfortable in your own skin than most people.

Practice solitude, and realize that you don’t need anyone else to prop you up or make you happy – you are good all by yourself. [Read: Fear of being alone – how to let go and start living]

15. Step out of your comfort zone

Don´t be afraid to shake it up a bit from time to time! Get a new haircut, or try a new hobby, or take up a different form of exercise.

Essentially, take some time to figure out what you like and don’t like. Try something new, because you never know if you’ll like it until you give it a go.

16. Be attentive to what you can learn

Spend less time talking, and more time listening. Use your mind like a sponge, by staying observant and patient, and absorb all the knowledge that you can from your experiences.

Learning as much as we can is so important because it helps us to learn about ourselves.

17. Stop living up to other people´s expectations

How many times have you looked for validation from your peers, friends, or family?

Even though these people are very important, they’re not on the same journey as you and they haven’t been through the same things that you have. Don’t spend your time trying to keep them happy – do what makes you happy. [Read: These unrealistic expectations WILL ruin your life]

18. Do some meditation

Refocus your mind from time to time – not all meditation involves yoga poses and crashing ocean waves.

It is a way of deeply re-focusing your mind and bringing mental and emotional clarity to yourself. Try something therapeutic that focuses all of your energies, like knitting, running, or a calming activity. Calming your mind will make it easier for you to accept who you are, thus improving your sense of self.

19. Learn to walk away

There’s no point in fighting things you can’t control. So, start walking away from petty arguments or negative attitudes that dull your fire.

Pick your battles wisely, and realize that not every fight has to be won in order to achieve peace of mind.

20. Always be open to new experiences

The world is ready and waiting for you, you just need to be prepared to welcome it. Allow yourself to be open to growth, change, and personal progress if you truly want to become more certain of who you are. [Read: How to live in the moment – 20 positive ways to live in the now]

21. Live your own story

This is possibly the most important thing you can learn in your life. You are the main character in your own storyline, so stop worrying about how you fit into other people’s narratives.

Live like you’re the star of your own show, and never allow yourself to be a supporting character in someone else’s plot line.

When the curtain eventually falls, all that matters is that you created the best story you could, so never compromise that for anything.

22. Heal from past trauma

Sometimes, it can be trauma from your past that leads to a poor sense of self. Perhaps your parents weren’t supportive of you when you were growing up, or you never had the space to explore your identity. Or, you’ve been in abusive relationships with controlling partners in your later years.

If you want to build a stronger sense of self, you need to heal from past trauma. Remember, you’re stronger now. You’re free to explore yourself and grow into something greater.

[Read: How to love yourself – 15 ways to discover self-love and happiness]

23. Try therapy for self-esteem

Of course, it’s not always possible to heal on your own. You might need some professional help to build your sense of self.

For those who suffer from extremely low self-esteem, it’s a good idea to look for a therapist. A trained therapist will be able to show you strategies to develop a greater sense of self.

Signs you have a strong sense of self

Once you’ve followed these steps, you should be on your way to developing a strong sense of self. There are lots of signs that your self-esteem is blossoming, and you’re developing a clear sense of who you are. Let’s go through them and hopefully, you’ll recognize yourself in this list!

1. You make decisions that are best for you independently

No more wavering or dithering, and no more asking your friends before you make every tiny decision. When you have a strong sense of self, it’s easy to make the best decisions for you.

You make them independently too; no more people-pleasing, because you know what you need and want.

2. You hold yourself in high regard

You’ll never talk yourself down. This is because you have high self-esteem, and truly love yourself for who you are. There’s none of the negative self-talk you usually hear from people with a poor sense of self.

3. You are your own best advocate

As you know what you need to flourish, you’re always your own best advocate. You speak up about the things that matter to you and aren’t ashamed to shake things up if it means you’ll have a better life.

[Read: The most helpful ways to stop being a self-centered person]

It’s incredibly hard to walk over somebody who has a strong sense of self. It’s only possible to control somebody if they feel inferior to you. So, if you know you’re the best version of yourself, nobody can knock you down.

4. You feel good about your development as a person

You’re proud of how far you come. Even though you know you can never achieve perfection, you’re proud of every step you’ve taken to get there.

If people have noticed a big difference in the way you behave and present yourself, it’s because you’ve built up your sense of self.

5. You can deal with adversity

There will always be bad times. Things won’t always go your way, and sometimes life will get difficult. But if you have a strong sense of self, you’ll be able to deal with adversity.

When you get knocked back, you can dust yourself off and get back up again. Hard times are just opportunities to grow into an even stronger version of yourself. With a good sense of self, you can see disadvantages for what they really are: advantages in disguise.

6. You are emotionally intelligent

If you have a strong sense of self, you’ll be emotionally intelligent. This just doesn’t mean you’re good at telling when people are secretly mad at you! It means you know how to tune into what’s happening internally and understand your deepest feelings.

[Read: The signs of low self-esteem and ways to improve it]

Factors that can impact your sense of self

You’re going to have some ups and downs in life. Sure, having a strong sense of self will make you more receptive to the ebbs and flows of living. But there will still be some scenarios that could test your sense of self.

There are some factors that could impact your self-esteem, and drag you back into a dark state of mind – if you’re not careful. So, what factors should you watch out for? How can you stop yourself from being waylaid on your self-improvement journey?

The best thing you can do is understand the factors that can impact your sense of self. Then, you’ll be prepared.

1. Unsupportive people

Is there somebody in your life who’s constantly trying to tear you apart? Maybe they’re jealous of your life and want to make you feel bad about it. Or maybe they try to lift themselves up by pushing you down.

Either way, they’re bad news. Unsupportive people are one of the biggest factors that can impact your sense of self. So, avoid them, or cut them out if you can. You never needed them anyway.

[Read: Achieving self-acceptance – the little steps for one big change]

2. Past trauma

If you have trauma from your past, you need to be freed from it. It’s impossible to achieve a strong sense of self when your self-perception is warped by trauma. Avoid situations that take you back to a time when you were powerless.

Also, seek professional help if you haven’t already. This can’t be said often enough! There are some things you’ll never get through on your own – persistent trauma is one of them.

3. Negative energy

Negative energy is the reason why unsupportive people are so harmful to your self-image. It’s the reason why lingering trauma is so dangerous, too. If you have negative thoughts in your mind, you will never be able to see yourself positively.

Try and keep to a positive way of thinking. Don’t think about things you can’t do; think about things you can! Moving through life with a can-do attitude will help you be fearless, which is essential to discovering your sense of self.

Strengthening your sense of self can be a long journey, but with time, it gets easier. One day, you’ll wake up and be so sure of yourself that you won’t ever want to be like anyone else. We are all unique, and it’s a beautiful thing! So embrace it and enjoy the ride.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...