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

By Ellen W. Borowka

Here is an adage to consider: “It’s not what you are that is holding you back, it’s what you think you are not.”

Many people, regardless of their background, education and such, wonder occasionally, “What is my purpose? Why am I here?” These are important questions. 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 offer. It is 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. Music legend 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?

Lose 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;” and “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. In the words of the late author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “That’s just stinkin’ thinkin’.”

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 (known as the Stanford Prison Experiment), where college students enacted a fake prison with some as prisoners and others as the guards. While this study is 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

Here are several tips for building self-esteem:

Manage the emotions – anxiety, hurt, disappointment, guilt, and anger – and don’t let them take control.  It is hard to try something new or make changes if we allow our emotions to dominate. That does not 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 do not 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.

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.

Be the best you can be to yourself and others. As “Dear Abby” advice columnist Abigail Van Buren once said, “The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” It is extremely 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?

Find a balance between work, relationships and private time and do not allow 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.

Let go and forgive resentments, anger, and betrayal because it is vital for healthy relationships and a healthy self. It can be extremely 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 do not 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.

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 must 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.

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 bottom line. 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, do not hesitate 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, here is a 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 cannot 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 cannot fly, when you really can? To quote what President Abraham Lincoln said 160 years ago: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The same can be said for self-esteem. Happy flying!

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2021 This information contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.

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Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires and staff development. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching, and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress and time management, leadership training as well as our business consulting for higher productivity. Our team of inter-disciplinary specialists are ready to help raise the effectiveness of critical functions in your organization such as sales, customer service, operations, and IT.

Ellen Borowka, MA, Senior Analyst and Co-Founder of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC, constantly remains focused on the mission statement: “To bring effective insight to your business.” Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC does this through the use of in-depth work style and personality assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching, and offer a variety of workshops such as team building, interpersonal communication, and stress management. Ellen has more than 20 years of data analysis and business consulting experience and is the co-author of the books, Cracking the Personality Code, Cracking the Business Code, and Cracking the High-Performance Team Code. To order the books, please visit