Self-esteem: Start showing up for yourself

When you last messed up (and you did, you aren’t fooling anyone) how did you treat yourself? Did you give yourself a nurturing and encouraging message or were you critical and scathing?


They say speaking to yourself is the first sign of madness, however, we all have an internal voice in our head and sometimes it comes out as spoken words to allows us to coach ourselves through situations. In light of this, let's sit comfortably in the acceptance that we must all be “mad” and therefore that is the norm!

In this exploration of the messages you tell yourself and how you coach yourself through life, what kind of a coach do you think you are? And what kind of qualities would a coach have to get the best out of you? Sure, sometimes we respond well to a proverbial arse-kicking, but if that was a constant thing, it would be targeted abuse!

Think back to when a parent figure or teacher pulled you up on something when you were younger and was critical of your efforts. How did you feel about that? I am going to take a guess that it didn’t feel great. I know when I was criticised as a child I would feel dis-empowered and stupid, leading me to sulk and crumble on the inside, outwards.


One of the keys to building self-esteem is to understand that this differs from general esteem or “other esteem”.

Esteem is about respect and admiration, and whilst it can be deemed important to be liked and admired by others, the responsibility and duty that you hold to yourself is to reference how you respect and admire yourself.

There are so many different factors that can alter your other esteem, but only you can influence your self-esteem. Self-esteem is determined by what’s internal to you - thoughts, feelings, emotions, interpretations and beliefs. Other esteem is determined by everything external to you – how others treat you, your living and societal position etc.

There are correlations in your other esteem growing once you work on your self-esteem. In this article, I will give you a starter kit of just seven add-ins to your life which comes at no cost to you other than to commit to doing them. The result is that your self-esteem will increase gradually as will your confidence.

Exercise: taking stock 

So let's take stock of you for now with this exercise:

  • For a moment take a breath and clear your mind - cut out everyone else’s thoughts about you and everything that has ever happened to you:
  • Ask yourself: do you respect and admire yourself? Put it on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 means you are the worst person on this earth. 5 means you are okay and would like to think more of yourself and 10 is that nobody comes close to how amazing you are!
  • What evidence have you got, internal to you, to support your score?

In one month's time after practising these seven add-in’s to your life, take stock again to see where you have got to.

Seven tips for building self-esteem

1. Bite back at the critical voice in your head
When we have an awareness that we are doing something then we can change it. Now it's time to be aware every time you do something, to listen to what you are telling yourself. Any time you hear something like, “You f**king idiot, what did you do that for?” or “You are being pathetic” or “You can't do anything right”, in your head shout “Stop!” very loudly. What you need to hear in that moment is something encouraging and compassionate so think of a new message to tell yourself. Something like “Good effort, let's do something different this time” or “We can learn from this - let's go again” or “You made a mistake and that’s okay, we will come through this”.

2. Focus on today
Take on challenges from day-to-day. You can only influence today, tomorrow will come around and you can influence that then, so break down what you are doing into days and realise what you can influence in this day alone. Want to stop doing something? Commit to stop it today, then tomorrow commit to maintaining it for that day and so on. Make a list of things you want to achieve for the day, and at the end of the day before you go to bed tick them off. Anything missed will roll over to tomorrow. It's impossible to resolve a situation through laying in bed worrying about it all night long.

3. Be compassionate towards yourself in your mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, some of them big, some of them small and everybody is imperfect. Being critical of yourself when you make a mistake only makes you feel worse about it. What you need to hear in that moment is the coach saying “that’s alright, it's not ideal, let's sort this out” – you are your coach.

4. Set boundaries for yourself and enforce them – however scary that may be at first! 

Boundaries are there to protect us, and people with low self-esteem do lack boundaries so set some, take the action and let the consequence follow. Sometimes ensuring that we are surrounded by the right people who are healthy for our mindset is good for us. If you have people in your life who you feel frustrated by every time you see them, then work on limiting your contact with them. Your head is full - it's not available for bad tenants to rent out space in there.

5. Do at least two things every day that are just for you
This can be as little as two 5-minute things that you enjoy (or more if you can find the time) but make sure that you know you are investing some time into you. You are worthy within a 24 hour day to do two things for you. If you are low on self-esteem, this can evoke feelings of guilt to start with, however, you are not taking anything away from anyone else, only giving something well overdue back to you.

6. Be honest with yourself about things that are bothering you
Facing up to the honest truths is not always comfortable, but with honesty you can move forwards. If you are in a situation that you don’t like then be honest with yourself about that and work through the awareness of it. Living in a state of denial just because it is easier won't get you anywhere. This is a time to start realising that when bad things happen to you that you don’t deserve to just accept them. Acknowledge your own discontent with it; you are entitled to emotion.

7. Do not commit to trying – commit to doing! 
This is a big message in any therapy or coaching session that you go to where you set yourself goals. Trying is not enough! Say you will do something that is achievable and do it. Write it down to be ticked off or put it out into the world, whatever it takes to commit to doing it! Once it is done you have proven to yourself that you can achieve things.

These seven add-ins are just the start and so necessary in building the necessary bravery, compassion loyalty and honesty that you require to achieving a more fulfilling life.

By silencing that critical voice in your head, you are working towards a greater potential for you and those around you.

You can only feel fulfilled when you are full on the inside, the outside will follow course naturally. You wouldn’t watch someone else being constantly criticised and think that’s okay, you’d have reservations about it. When you regularly criticise yourself you play the role of both the abuser and the victim. Your inner resentment grows for the abuser and the victim feels powerless in their position. It's time for you to start showing up for yourself. 

If you feel you need some support with issues of low self-esteem, a counsellor or therapist can help you find ways to move forward. Counselling Directory offers a database of professional therapists where you can view therapist's profiles and contact them confidentially.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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