self esteem photo
It sounds good. We teach it to our children. We worry about it for ourselves. And many of us work very hard on improving it. But self-esteem is a bit of a challenging animal. And there are many things we are still learning about just what self-esteem is, and what it takes to feel good.


Here are just five:


It’s not just about feeling good – it’s about doing good. When we think about self-esteem, most of think about how we feel. We evaluate how happy we have been, whether or not we’ve been having those anxious thoughts, been thinking negatively, and been feeling like life has somehow centered a dark cloud right over our head. What we often don’t consider is what we have been doing. The acts we have been performing. What we don’t ask is, Have I been doing good deeds? Have I been doing things that make me feel good? Because the truth is, feeling good is pretty tough if you don’t do good. Doing good is the evidence that supports the feeling. It might also be why when we feel bad, we should write that gratitude letter, help a friend, volunteer, or just offer our presence. Because feeling good, starts with doing good.


It’s not about trying – it’s about doing. There are a lot of things we try to do. We are all trying to get better in one way or another. But there is also a problem with trying. And when it comes to self-esteem, it’s a big problem. Because what self-esteem needs is completion. It’s the difference between knowing with certainty that you accomplished something, and wondering if you could have. One way builds self-esteem, and the other might just diminish it. And what separates the two is the determination to complete the task. It is the accountability and the standard we hold ourselves to. And if the standard is flexible, we don’t know what we are capable of, and we also don’t know how to feel about ourselves. But perhaps more importantly, we might not make a commitment to ourselves – one that says I will do these things for myself because I need to.


When we save face now, we pay later. Saving face is about trying to look okay. It’s about trying to avoid recrimination, criticism, self-doubt, and having to answer all those questions. What happened? Why did you fail? Why didn’t it work out? And we probably all do it. We probably all say, I’m too busy to take this on right now. It’s not the right time. But the problem is, while we might avoid our fears – whatever they are – what we also avoid is our strengths. Because strengths are not bestowed upon us. Strengths are earned. The strengths we are most proud of are the ones that we earned in the toughest battles. The ones we probably didn’t even know we had.


There are four types of self-esteem. If self-esteem is a combination of how we feel about ourselves – self-regard – and doing good – worthiness – then there are four possible outcomes. If we only feel good about ourselves and avoid doing anything good for others, we have a self-centered self-esteem – which is a bit like narcissism. And if we only do good for others but have low self-regard, we have anxious self-esteem – meaning we are very worried about how others feel about us. And if we don’t feel good about ourselves and we don’t do good for others, we have depressed self-esteem. Genuine self-esteem only comes when we do both. We feel good about who we are and what we do for others (Hartwell-Walker, 2015).


Self-esteem isn’t just about the self. When we think about self-esteem, it’s so easy to just focus on ourselves – who we are and what we do. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and self-esteem isn’t just about what we think about ourselves. It is also about the response we receive from others. It’s about whether or not the acts we perform are received well, whether or not we feel validated, appreciated, valued. To get there, we have to surround ourselves with those who are capable of recognizing our strengths, who are capable of validation, and those who have our best interests in mind. And sometimes these means changing the company we keep.



Hartwell-Walker (2015). Unlocking The Secrets of Self-Esteem: A Guide to Building Confidence and Connection One Step at a Time. New Harbinger Publications, 2015


Photo by Key Foster ]