Counseling Services - Self-Esteem


What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the belief we have about ourselves. Healthy self-esteem exists when we believe we are valued, competent, worthy, admired, and accepted.  Unhealthy self-esteem exists when we believe ourselves to be incompetent, unworthy, unloved, rejected, and lacking in value to others.

Prime Directives

When things happen as a child, we see them through a child's eyes, with a child's understanding of ourselves, events and the would.  All memories that are similar in some way are hooked together like a long chain.  The chain can be modified, but the early links, the prime directives, determine how the chain will develop.  You may wish you could go back and change things knowing what you know now.  You can't remake the past, but you can rethink it and change how your past affects your present.  Some children made strong decisions about how to handle certain situations based on too little information.  As similar events occur throughout a lifetime, they are handled in ways similar to the original event.  For example, a child watches his/her parents argue and yell a lot.  S/he draws the conclusion that married couples fight and argue and make each other miserable and s/he wants no part of it.  It becomes his/her prime directive.  It is not conscious, but it is there, guiding his/her life.  S/he grows up and has a series of stormy love affairs, but refuses to commit to a long term relationship.  These early decisions become "prime directives" and last a lifetime.  When you have a troublesome event in the present, you can go back in your memory to see how you handled similar events.. Look at the chain and how it developed, then think back to the first time that a similar event occurred. Trace the development of how you handle this type of event.  Take note of what happened, how you felt, what you thought, how you reacted, and how others reacted to you.  Is there a pattern?  Share this with a trusted friend or counselor.
Do you want to change the pattern?  Think back to a similar situation that you handled well.  Draw upon your strengths gained in handling that situation to solve new problems.  The events where you have displayed mastery and confidence are the answer to conquering new problems.  These mastery events can be connected in chain fashion.  As you add each new link to the chain, it becomes stronger.  Apply the chain of strengths to your new problem or dilemma.  Changes will begin to happen.  Now look forward in time to how things will be when you solve the problem.  Mentally visualize the problem solved in this way.  You have now set the stage for new patterns to emerge.

Healthy Self-Esteem 

Self-esteem is thinking favorably of yourself and believing as much in yourself as you do other people.  It is important to children and adults alike.   Some care more for themselves than others.  That is not self-esteem; it is self-adsorption.  It is good to have a balance between the needs of the self, the needs of the community and the needs of other individuals. 
The way in which a person was raised can affect self-esteem.  If discipline was harsh or shaming, a person might have learned to not believe in him/herself.  S/he may find it difficult to express needs and opinions easily.   This leads to low self-esteem.
Our childhood memories were seen and are remembered throughout our "child's eyes."  We did not know as much as children as we do as adults.   What we know as adults can reorganize memories into more appropriate patterns.  Revisiting the memories through adult eyes can reframe them so that we no longer take responsibility for actions and events over which we had no control. 
There are many ways to raise self-esteem.

  1. Use positive affirmations or positive self-talk every day.  Make a list of your positive traits and put it on the refrigerator.  Read them several times a day.   Put a post-it note on your mirror that says "I like me." or "I'm a good person" or some similar phrase.  Say the phrase out loud several times a day.
  2. Remind yourself that you are a good person and that you have a lot to offer. Cherish yourself and your positive relationships and activities.
  3. Take good care of yourself.  Do nice things for yourself that bring you pleasure.  Do as much for yourself as you would a good friend.
  4. Every time you criticize yourself, replace automatic negative self-evaluations with positive ones.
  5. Learn to say "no" when saying "yes" is not in your best interest.  Balance what you do for others and what you do for yourself.  Realize that you are just as important as others are.  Let others take care of their own needs more often.  Life involves give and take.  Both are important.
  6. Be active in a civic or social organization in your community.  This gives you opportunities to help your community and to realize the valuable skills that you have to offer.
  7. Take what you have learned about life and "pass it on."


High self-esteem comes from: 

  • Acceptance, respect, love
  • Safety, security
  • A feeling of belonging
  • Encouragement, support, appreciation
  • Being listened to, being taken seriously
  • Having meaning in life, a sense of purpose
  • High and attainable expectations
  • A sense of personal power, having choices
  • Personal and social responsibility
  • Being trustworthy, trusting others
  • Authentic expression of feelings
  • Honesty [with tact and sensitivity], integrity
  • Honoring uniqueness
  • Forgiveness, allowing for and learning from mistakes 


Low self-esteem comes from: 

  • Rejection
  • Conditional love or no love at all
  • Comparison, perfectionism
  • Emotional abuse such as ridicule, criticism, sarcasm, blaming, humiliation
  • Not being listened to or taken seriously
  • Lack of attention, being ignored
  • Physical and sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Focusing on externals (appearances, behavior, performance)
  • Guilt, shame, resentment
  • Prejudice 


Characteristics of healthy self-esteem: 

  • Does not compare self to others
  • Does not feel he/she has to be good at everything
  • Tolerates frustration well and is flexible
  • Feels valuable
  • Likes oneself, makes positive comments about self
  • Accepts challenges and takes calculated risks
  • Gives genuine compliments easily
  • Cares how others feel
  • Accepting of others
  • Listens well 


Ten ways to enhance your self-esteem: 

  1. Keep rejection in perspective.  Rejections are part of life.  Everyone gets rejected in life.  If you take rejection too personally you may avoid taking the risks necessary for your growth.
  2. Surround yourself with positive people.  Just as "misery loves company" so does productivity.  Positive and productive people gain energy and motivation from each other.  When you are around positive people, you will learn how they can find the bright side of a situation rather than having the tendency to view things negatively.
  3. Energize yourself with positive self-talk.  You are what you think you are.  Our bodies will respond with more energy and strength when our thought and actions are positive. 
  4. Identify and assert your strengths. Take stock of your strong points.  These are the special traits that your foundation of success must be built on.
  5. Identify and eliminate weakness.   Make the most of your weak points.  Make a commitment to work on improving these areas rather than hoarding over how weak you think you are.  Tackle them one at a time by setting goals and implementing an action plan for their improvement.
  6. Put you past in perspective.  We cannot undo the past; however, we can look back and draw strength from our past victories and obstacles that we were able to overcome.  Making good use of the present is an effective way to prepare for a successful future.
  7. Vitalize your vision.  Take time to ask yourself, "What do I really want?"  As you get a clear vision of what you want in any area of your life, you will also become more aware of the resources and opportunities available to help you turn your vision into reality.
  8. Set realistic goals.  Aim high and be realistic.  Set short and long-term goals.
  9. Take action.  In order to achieve your goals, you must move towards them.  You must take action.  Taking action also means taking risk.  However, if you don't risk anything, you won't gain anything.
  10. Be persistent and consistent.  We may not always get what we want when we want it, but it does not mean we can not get it.   When we fall short of our goal, re-think it.  Then set a new time-frame and keep moving towards it. 
And don't forget to celebrate your successes each day!