Building Self-Esteem: Taking it one day at a time

By Ellen W. Borowka

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]M[/dropcaps]any people, regardless of their background, education and such, wonder occasionally, “What is my purpose? Why am I here?” It’s an important question. We all want to feel needed and that we bring vital qualities and talents to the world. Yet, it is also hard when we don’t feel we have much to Hikersoffer. It’s easy to think of life as a daily struggle, and the world as just a place to survive. We can get to the point where we just try to get through the day, and we forget to fully live life. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. So, what plans are we allowing to get in the way of life? And how do we want to change so we can enjoy life more?

All that excess baggage!

Many times, what gets in the way of enjoying life is a lack of trust in ourselves as well as a poor self-image. As we go through life, we usually pick up some baggage and that can really weigh us down. We can start to carry a great deal of anger, disappointment and false beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Some of those false beliefs can include: “I’m not good – smart – pretty/handsome – special – perfect enough”; “There’s something wrong with me”; “I don’t deserve good things or people”; “I’ll always fail at what I do”; “I’m just lucky when I succeed”; “I need something or someone to be ok”; “I have to be right – perfect – good … always”; “It’s someone else’s fault for my problems”; “It’s hopeless”; “I can’t trust anyone”; “I have to save/help others at my own expense”; “I must always come first”. Of course, this is only a partial list of some of the ghosts that can haunt us through each day.

What gets in the way

What obstacles get in the way of making changes and growing through our issues? I recently saw a segment on 60 Minutes that looked at an old psychological study on prison life, where college students enacted a fake prison with some as prisoners and others as the guards. While this study is pretty controversial, what was interesting was that both the prisoners and guards forgot who they truly were. They almost immediately embodied the roles they were given. The guards became abusive and cruel, while the prisoners felt trapped and hopeless. In fact, the college students never realized that they could or should stop the abusive interactions during the study. They forgot they had an option to refuse to continue their roles. While there may have been some personality tendencies for the students involved to be abusive or submissive, this example shows how we can easily take on the characteristics and beliefs of the environment. We can get conditioned to give up, feel trapped and stop trying. We can even forget who we truly are and embody qualities from the situations we grow up and live in. Yet, we usually have choices, even when those choices are hard. As someone once told me, when a door slams shut, look around for an open window – another open possibility. So, what are some steps to making changes? What can we do to break out of that prison?

Tips for building self-esteem, one day at a time:

  1. Manage the emotions – anxiety, hurt, disappointment, guilt and anger – and don’t let them take control. It’s hard to try something new or make changes if we allow our emotions to dominate. That doesn’t mean we ignore the emotions, but to work through them. For example, if you have a hot temper then be sure to take timeouts and don’t allow yourself to say something in anger. Better to say nothing then to destroy, once again, a relationship you care about. If you struggle with high anxiety then get support to face difficult situations and take small steps to making changes. Writing, drawing, making collages or discussing problems with others are good ways to managing emotions. There are also many good self-help books on this subject, so choose what feels right for you.
  2. Be honest with yourself about flaws in yourself and others. Look at your part in those problem situations and what you could do differently. Chip away at the old behaviors and find small ways to change. An example could be pleasing others to control them. You could learn to be more direct for what you want or need. Or rationalizing one’s moodiness where instead you could develop guidelines for minimizing the moods and how they impact others.
  3. Being the best you can be to yourself and others. As Abigail Van Buren once said, “The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him gardenerany good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” It’s very easy to be loving and kind to those who are loving back or can give us something we want or need. A good way to be our best is to look at our motives – what do we want out of the situation. What is driving us?
  4. Finding a balance between work, relationships and private time and not allowing just one to dominate. Many people depend so heavily upon their work or relationships to define who they are. It is important to expand our horizons by nurturing all aspects of our lives, whether developing a hobby, going to a play or taking a community college class. We need to be able to feel more comfortable with ourselves when we are alone, with others or at work.
  5. Letting go and forgiving resentments, anger and betrayal is vital for healthy relationships and a healthy self. It can be very hard to forgive, but carrying hate and sorrow is pretty damaging to the soul and body. Many people keep score on what others do or don’t do in their personal and business relationships. This is very destructive and only deepens the wounds. Regardless of the offense, eventually it is necessary to let go and forgive.
  6. Forgiving and accepting yourself with all your perceived imperfections. Constantly beating yourself up for your weaknesses is not going to help you to become a better person. It sounds like an old cliché to say to love yourself more, however that is exactly what we have to strive to do every day. Some people have not grown up in homes where we have learned to love ourselves. Quite to the contrary, we learn how to obsess on our flaws. That needs to be changed and there are ways to show love to ourselves. One way is to take one weakness a week and make it ok to have that weakness. Strive to replace each self-criticism with a loving positive statement to yourself. For example, if you are overweight – learn to be more supportive to yourself. If a friend had a similar problem, how would you talk to that friend? Probably more caring and loving then how you talk to yourself. Strive to balance out the obsessions of the negatives with accepting statements.
  7. Explore and discover why you do what you do. Ask yourself questions to gain more insight. For example, after an upsetting situation, ask yourself what really upset you about what happened and keep asking until you get to the bottomline. You may be surprised why something or someone really bothered you. Seeking support may be needed to help gain new perspectives and ideas.

These are just a few ideas to help with the healing process so we can learn to trust in ourselves more and improve our relationships. If you get stuck working on an issue, don’t blue birdhesitate to turn to others to work through the problem. Support from friends, family, clergy and counselors is very helpful in overcoming our obstacles.

Learning to fly

Finally, I have a cute story that expresses how we forget to trust our natural talents and qualities. We have a sweet cockatoo that struggles with the need to fly and her lack of trust in her natural flying abilities. She seems to both like and dislike this activity. When we pick her up, she tries to avoid this subject by running up to our shoulders. That way we can’t hold her up to see if she would like to fly. However, many times she will take off suddenly and fly quite gracefully. Afterwards, she always sternly squawks at us as if to say, “How could you let me do that? You know I can’t really fly!” So, I leave you with this thought: How often do you convince yourself that you can’t fly, when you really can?! Happy flying!

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014 This information contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.

Ellen Borowka, MA, Senior Analyst of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and her organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. Ellen has over 15 years of data analysis and business consulting experience and is the co-author of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”. To order the books, please visit

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consultin.g Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.


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