How to build self-esteem

Self Esteem(first published May 2005 as part of Self Leadership International’s monthly newsletter)

MP3 Self-esteem podcast

How’s your self-esteem today?

Are you feeling super-good about yourself?

Or do you feel like yesterday’s take-out food that has been left out in the rain?

Have you been judging or criticising yourself? Or have you been considering yourself less ‘worthy’ than someone else?

If you are not feeling super-good about yourself right now, or you know someone suffering from low self-esteem, then read on and discover the keys to building a healthy self-esteem.

When was the last time you touched your self-esteem? What colour is it? How much does it weigh? These are ridiculous questions because your self-esteem is not actually a thing, it’s a process and to understand and work with self-esteem we must remember this.

The word ‘esteem’ means ‘value’, and so we can think of this process as self-valuing or valuing self. Also by being aware of the first word ‘self’ we come to the realisation that self-esteem can only come from self valuing and not from others valuing you. Seeking our value from others is a common trap that leads to very unsatisfactory results because, by it’s very nature, self-esteem can never be achieved by seeking the approval of others. Paradoxically we get the most approval or regard from others when we are healthily self-valuing.

It’s a funny thing that we can accept a lot of things in life such as a rainy day, when we wanted it to be fine or a friend postponing an appointment, but we have difficulty accepting ourselves.

When was the last time you just accepted yourself for being you? You are unique, nobody can be you, you have nothing more to do to be you – can you accept that? What would it be like to accept yourself unconditionally? You would then be accepted at more places than Mastercard.

Now you may still feel the need to judge or measure yourself by what you do – most of us have been well conditioned to do this by our school system. Stop for a moment and consider a newborn baby. If you have actually been at the birth of your own child then this will be even more powerful. At the moment of birth, what can this new human being do? The answer is nothing, unless you count crying. Having acknowledged that a newborn can do nothing – how much do we value it? Answer – hugely. It is impossible to put a price on how much we value a new baby. Understanding that you were once a newborn and therefore came into this world with inherent value – what has happened that has caused you to devalue yourself?

I have coached many clients who have shared with me the traumatic events that have caused them to take an external criteria/measure and apply it to their sense of self and then draw the erroneous conclusion “I’m no good”. The fundamental but common error is to confuse your actions with who you are.

Healthy Self-Esteem Key #1- Valuing self over actions

In Neuro-Semantics – the cognitive behavioural science of how we make meaning and store that meaning in our mind and bodies which creates our actions – we teach that the first key to healthy self-esteeming is to identify your ‘self’ from what you do (your actions). This is the difference between human-being and human-doing. You are a human being (as yet I am not aware that my articles are read on other planets), and as such you are a member of the human race. Unlike other races, the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, there are no qualifying rounds to get in – you are a human being and you are accepted.

Healthy Self-Esteem Key #2 – We are not responsible for others

The second key is to accept that you are not responsible ‘FOR’ how others think and feel – that’s their job. We may be responsible ‘TO’ them in terms of some relationship, but we are not responsible ‘FOR’ how they think and feel.

Healthy Self-Esteem Key #3 – Letting go of the past

Everyone has said something or done something that they have later regretted but this does not decrease their value as a person, the past does not equal the future and we all contain within us the power of choice – the choice to value ourselves and to choose new thoughts, new feelings, new speech and new behaviours.

Healthy Self-Esteem Key #4 – Stop de-valuing yourself

What will stop you actualizing your potential is you de-valuing your self. Realise that if that has occurred in the past that it is within your power to stop, and begin to accept and appreciate yourself today, and everyday – warts ‘n’ all.

Self-esteeming is like showering – you have to do it everyday or you start to stink! So I invite you now to accept your self, as separate from your actions. And as you accept that you are a unique human being, perhaps you can start to appreciate the potential that you have. No one can be you like you can; you have a unique contribution to make just by being on the planet at this time.

The self-esteeming process described in this post is taught on our Self Leadership for Success program


    1. Liz says

      I am seeking the origins of Responsible to and for as I was taught it many years ago and am recently wanting to use it with my clinical work with suicide survivors however i would like to have permission from the author of this concept do you have any information as i notice you use it in your teachings
      Liz Hides MSW, RSW, CT
      Counsellor-Suicide Services
      Calgary, AB

      • says

        I learned it from L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. who said he learned about responsibility from Viktor Frankl. William Glasser and Otto Rank.

        Michael Hall said he put responsibility to/for together in the mid 1980’s and has taught it as part of Neuro Semantics and the Meta-States model.

        Trust this helps, Andrew Bryant

    2. says

      Dear Andrew,

      I have been researching articles on self esteem building and yours is the first one I have found in the past few hours that has some real common sense approaches. I like the concepts you have presented here. Thank you for posting this.

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