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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 9
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 9. Make eye contact and smile.

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Many people with low self-esteem try not to make eye contact and smile at others they pass in the hall at work or at the grocery store or out for a walk. One of the reasons people avoid eye contact is fear of rejection. Making eye contact, and especially smiling, feels vulnerable because the other person can respond with negative non-verbals or ignore you. For people with low self-esteem such a reaction can feel like rejection.

However, similar to the previous step of holding your head up, making eye contact is a critical part of human interaction. It expresses self-confidence and interest in others. It allows other people to connect with you and to approach you. Certainly, sometimes we avoid eye contact deliberately so as not to be approached by strangers. But it is not beneficial to always avoid eye contact and ignore others especially those you see on a regular basis such as at work or school or in the neighborhood.

Even though it may feel emotionally safer to avoid eye contact, you will have more acceptance and positive responses from others when you make eye contact and smile. Such responses will lead to a more positive cycle and help you feel more confident and better about yourself.

However, it is possible that someone might ignore you or respond negatively so you also need to reframe in your mind the meaning of their reaction. For instance, you can refrain from personalizing others' reactions to you by recognizing that most of the time other people's reactions are not about you. Especially if all you are doing is smiling at them! If they ignore you it could be due to not noticing you because they are caught up in their own thoughts or they are paying attention to something else or a number of other reasons. If they respond in some negative way it could be because they are having a bad day or some other reason that has nothing to do with you. Therefore, do not take it personally.

Make eye contact with others and smile even if it doesn't feel natural for you. Eventually it will become more comfortable. And you will learn that much of the time you will get a smile in return.

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