Building Self-Esteem

Self-esteem reflects a person's perception of her value, worth, and competence. A person with healthy self-esteem believes she is capable of coping with life's challenges. She sees herself as worthy of being loved, worthy of happiness, and worthy of good things happening to her. She is aware of her life and how she lives it, and she accurately judges that she is competent and worthy - based in reality. 

Self-esteem is not about "feeling good" about yourself because self-esteem involves more than feelings. Self-esteem is about thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Everyone has an "ideal self" in her mind. She is the only person who knows what that person looks and sounds like. The thought process involved in your self-esteem has to do with whether what you do in real life matches your internal image of who you want to be - your ideal self. 

The feeling part of self-esteem is your emotional reaction to the reality of your life. It is how you feel about your "real self" - what you do and say, your motivation and your choices - and your "ideal self" - your internal image of who you want to be. This is where guilt, shame, self-disappointment, self-hatred, and other strong negative emotions may be directly at the self. When these are present, healthy self-esteem cannot be maintained. 

The behavioral aspect of self-esteem is what you do, how you behave, and your choices. Self-esteem is demonstrated in such behaviors as assertiveness, resilience, ability to make decisions, and respect towards other people. 
Self-esteem is not a stable commodity. In other words, you may have a higher self-esteem at certain times than at others. For instance when you graduate from college or complete a special project at work or make a spectacular special dinner for someone you love. This is situational self-esteem. At other times, your self-esteem may be negatively affected by an event or situation over which you did not have control. The event, however, may still compromise your sense of competence, responsibility, and integrity. Discovering your child has been sexually abused is one of those times.

Just saying positive statements to yourself (affirmations) will not build your self-esteem. However, it can help you change the destructive self-talk that is a barrier to your courage - a barrier to your follow-through in positive life decisions. It is the follow-through, the positive choices and behaviors, that increase your sense of competence, increasing your self-esteem.

Your self-evaluation is based on thoughts, words, and feelings. Demonstrating behaviors is necessary to match up your "ideal" and "real self." Your ability to meet your current challenges, get through them, bounce back (resilience), and assume responsibility for your life - these are the measures of healthy self-esteem.    

Nathaniel Branden in Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994) identified 1) living consciously, 2) self-acceptance, 3) self-responsibility, 4) self-assertiveness, 5) living purposefully, and 6) the practice of personal integrity as the stuff of which self-esteem is made. Each of these is demonstrated in behaviors. Each of them builds a sense of competence. In your work to build or rebuild your self esteem, pay special attention to these areas. 
  • Living consciously. Living mindfully. Staying present to the here and now. Experiencing your life. Living with awareness. Aware of your senses. Aware of your thoughts, feelings, behaviors. Aware of others.  
  • Self-acceptance. Accepting yourself as you are, with your imperfections. Accepting your past, your present, your future, your thoughts, your feelings, and your behaviors. Rejecting no part of yourself.
  • Self-responsibility. Living with responsibility - responsibility for all the things you are responsible for. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, taking care of your child, taking care of other children in your care. You may be responsible for employment, financial obligations, other child care, and other commitments. Whatever those are - when you do them, you feel competent - like you are taking care of business.
  • Self-assertiveness. Assertiveness is about speaking your thoughts, feelings, and opinions appropriately, respectfully, with self-confidence. It is standing up for yourself - standing tall - speaking up, speaking out as you need to. Assertiveness is the opposite of passivity. It is the opposite of being a victim, of being a doormat in a relationship. It is not allowing others to walk over you. But you stand up in a non-aggressive manner, without hostility, without anger, without aggression.
  • Living purposefully. This is about finding meaning in your life. What is your purpose, your destiny, what do you want to accomplish this day, this week, this year, this lifetime? Moving toward that goal is to honor the purpose of your life as you see it and feel it.  
  • Personal integrity. Integrity has to do with honesty. When you act with integrity, your behaviors match your words. What you say you will do, you do. What you say you will not do, you do not do. You are honest with yourself and with others.

If the abuser of your child is your partner or husband, your self-esteem has taken a beating. Wiklund in Sleeping with a Stranger (1995) talks about behaviors that show a person has positive self-esteem. When you demonstrate these characteristics, you also build your self-esteem.

  • Confidence. Confidence is shown by your posture, your eye contact, your strong, level voice, your calm, your relaxed body. When you are confident, you show it in your actions. 
  • Self-respect. Respecting yourself shows you value yourself. You know who you are and accept yourself. You respect others. You do not sell yourself short or take as fact someone else's negative perception of you. You believe in yourself, take care of yourself, value yourself, and treat yourself as you believe others should be treated. You treat yourself as you would treat someone else.
  • Self-trust. You keep your word and follow through on your commitments. You set goals and meet the targe. You are dependable and know it. You trust yourself to do what you need to. If your reality has been invalidated, it is difficult to rebuild self-trust. It is critical, however, that you learn to trust your intuition and trust your ability to make wise decisions in order to protect your child from further abuse.
  • Resilience. Resilience is your ability to bounce back from trauma, grief, and negative life events. You are able to meet challenges and not be defeated by adversity.

Wiklund (1995) discusses actions and behaviors that build positive self-esteem:

  • Purposeful self-talk. Paying attention to your self-statements and purposefully changing them so they are positive and strength-based. Incorporating affirmations into your lifestyle.
  • Focusing on your strengths. Acknowledging the positives in your life, your talents, skills, and abilities. Acknowledging your progress, not your limitation.
  • Giving yourself credit. Paying attention and noting when a positive event occurs  because of you. You make a difference in the lives of other people. Luck did not make the different. You are influential.
  • Treating yourself as your own best friend. A best friend is someone you care about. You look forward to talking to her, treat her with respect, and you do not shame, embarrass, humiliate, or verbally abuse her. If you did, you would not be your best friend anymore.
  • Putting your best foot forward. How you present yourself influences how others perceive you. It also influences your self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-assertivenss. Your clothes, hair, home, and desk are examples of areas in your life that may present to others how you view yourself.

Self-esteem busters:

  • Codependence is finding your value and meaning in someone else's life. It is taking care of others, not yourself. When you are codependent, you pay attention and take care of their feelings, not your own. You are so attached that you no longer see yourself, your needs, and your goals.
  • Inability to say no. This happens when you always put someone else's needs ahead of your own. You accommodate their needs even though you may be inwardly angry at their taking advantage of you. You may be resentful. It requires assertiveness to say no.
  • Inability to say yes. Sometimes you do not say yes to activities, events, urges to do self care, even though you want to. These choices are not impulsive, addictive, or self-destructive. For example, getting a massage (if you have money in the bank, going to dinner and a movie with a friend ( and getting a babysitter), taking a long walk on the beach, going on a vacation and leaving the children with your sister, buying a new pair of shoes (that you need) instead of buying the toy or game your child has been begging for. When making choices to counteract stress, you will need to take time to tak care of yourself. If you do not take care of you, no one else will. If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your child. 



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