Building Self-Esteem

A local reader asked over coffee a few questions about self-esteem. Since the information is worth sharing, I present it here in Question and Answer form.

Q: “What is self-esteem? Is it another word for self-confidence?

A: No, they are different. SELF-ESTEEM deals with the image we have of ourselves. It is about how we see and FEEL about ourselves. It is about the degree to which we VALUE ourselves. Those who have a positive self-image, hold themselves in ESTEEM. (They have high self-esteem.)

Those who have a negative self-image, hold themselves in contempt, believe they have little value or are convinced they are worthless. (They have low self-esteem.)

Although self-esteem is about belief in ourselves, SELF-CONFIDENCE is about belief in our abilities. The first belief deals with how we perceive our value as a human. The second with how well equipped (skilful) we believe we are to deal with life.

Q: How important is self-esteem?

A: Extremely. In fact, of the four steps to success, it is the most important.

Q: What are the four steps to success?

A: To succeed in life, or reach our dreams, there are four requirements:

1. We need to know what we want.

2. We need to believe we deserve it.

3. We need to believe we can achieve it.

4. We need to take the action steps that will lead us to our goal.

Step number two is the most important. It can make us or break us.

Q: Why is that?

A: Well, we can use REASON, analysis, and planning to learn what we want (Step 1) and how to get it (Step 4). And if we don’t have all the skills we need to reach our goal (Step 3), reason, again, will come to our aid. For reason tells us if we lack skills, we can take a course, attend a school, or hire an instructor to bring us up to par.

Reason and logic rely on the tool of language, which belongs to the domain of the conscious mind. The subconscious has its own language, which consists mainly of IMAGES and FEELINGS. The images are similar to video clips of events in our lives (our memories). And feelings are the emotions associated with the video clips.’ We can no more use logic to change our memories than we can use logic to change the video on a DVD.

Our self-esteem resides in the subconscious, so it is out of the reach of logic. This is why it is impossible to cure an anorexic with logic. No use telling her she is starving herself to death, for her subconscious believes she is too fat. If we can’t cure an anorexic or change our self-image with logic, does that mean we are condemned to remain the same?

Not at all. It simply means we have to use the same language as the subconscious, which consists of images and feelings. We can overwrite our past video clips’ and feelings with new ones. An example of how to do so in nine steps is given in this article: On a subconscious level, those who have low self-esteem don’t believe they deserve to succeed. Once this belief is in place, the subconscious will do everything in its power to live consistent with this belief.

Occasionally, someone with low self-esteem will stumble on success, win the lottery, or have success thrust on them, but as soon as that happens, the subconscious gets busy, tearing down their success to bring them down to the level it believes they belong. That’s why Step 2 of the four steps to success is so important.

Low self-esteem can easily lead to a dead-end street. That’s why the best -selling author of The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, MD (1936 ~ 2005), wrote, Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.

Q: Since self-esteem is so important, how can I raise mine?

A: Here are some steps you can take to boost your self-esteem:

1. Low self-esteem or a poor self-image is associated with negative thinking while high self-esteem is associated with positive thinking. So, start thinking like a successful person today. That is, become a positive thinker. Here is a fact: You can raise your self-esteem as high as you wish. Granted, it may take a little work, but it is well in your power. That is a fact. That is a positive fact. That is something to be grateful for. So, start being grateful and positive today. Like Walt Whitman (1819 ~ 1892), repeat these words every day, I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.

2. Check out the article mentioned earlier to learn how to overwrite your past.

3. Choose your friends carefully. Today, with great pain, I dropped a close friend of many years. Over the years we have gone in different directions, he becoming very negative. All of us become like those we associate with. I cannot afford to hang around negative people and neither can you.

4. To understand this next fact, you will have to do more than open your mind; you’ll have to open your heart. Here is the fact: Those who are responsible for your less than satisfactory self-esteem did the best they could under the circumstances. Like yours, their upbringing was less than perfect. Because of these facts, forgive them. Once you do so, you will feel better. You will feel better because you will have become a better person. In other words, you will have added to your value, you will have become more worthy. Reworded, you will have raised your own self-esteem. The reason it is so important to learn how to forgive others is that you will be unable to forgive yourself until you can forgive others. And once you forgive yourself for your own failings, a weight will be lifted from your shoulders and your self-esteem will rise another notch.

5. Do good. Help others. Become a volunteer. Support, encourage, and uplift everyone you meet. These actions will make the world a better place. Because of your contributions, you will feel valuable and worthy (that’s another way of saying you will experience high self-esteem). Besides, as you encourage others, they will encourage you, boosting your self-esteem even further.

6. Practice visualization exercises. If you don’t know how to, borrow or buy a book or attend a workshop. Remember, the language of the subconscious is images and feelings, not logic. So, close your eyes and see yourself as the person you wish to become. How is the person you wish to become breathing and feeling? Copy those same patterns. As you grow skilful and can clearly see the person you wish to become, see yourself stand up (in your mind’s eye), walk up to the person you want to become, and step into its body, just like you are putting on new clothes. With frequent practice, the message will reach the subconscious and it will start acting consistent with the new image of yourself.

7. To reinforce the visualization exercise and carry it a step further, follow the advice of William James (1842 ~ 1910) and ACT LIKE the person you wish to become. Pretend you are an actor and the world is your stage. Pretend you are the person you wish to become and give your best possible performance. Increase your acting skills with practice, acting more each day like the person you wish to become. This powerful exercise is magical. If you practice it religiously, before long you will believe you have indeed become the new you. After all, as you act as the person you wish to become, people start treating you differently. As they treat you with more respect, you develop more self-respect. In short, they act as stage directors in your play, guiding you to becoming the person you want to be and were meant to be.

8. As Brian Tracy teaches, Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true. (After all, your subconscious is listening.) That is, even in jest, never say things like, “I’m so stupid…”

9. Stop being self-critical and focus on the positive. To change your focus, keep a journal titled “What’s Great about Me.” At the end of each day list your accomplishments, positive attributes, and what you are proud of. Do this long enough and you will experience a dramatic shift for the better in your self-image.

10. Take the 30-week “Sentence Completion” course by renowned self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. You can learn how to do this free program here: After learning how to do the exercises, copy the Sentence Completion stems here: .

Q: Can you recommend some books on self-esteem?

A: Because of the pervasiveness of self-esteem problems, many excellent books are available. You won’t have to study many books as long as you apply what you learn from one good book.

Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” (Bantam, 1995) is a classic reference. If you get the book, you won’t need to do Step 9 above because the Sentence Completion program appears in Appendix B of the book.

While Dr. Branden’s book takes a somewhat scholarly approach, Matthew McKay, Ph.D. and Patrick Fanning have written a book that is easy to read, highly practical, and based on modern psychological research. Their book is titled, “SELF-ESTEEM“.

Another excellent book is “Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice” by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D., Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., and Joyce Catlett, M.A., New Harbinger Publications, 2002

Yet another useful book is “CELEBRATE YOURSELF, Enhancing Your Own Self-Esteem,” by Dorothy Corkille Briggs, Doubleday, 1977.

In addition to books, there are also many web sites that provide valuable information about self-esteem, here’s one example.