Self-Esteem Feed

Self-Esteem: What it Is, What it Isn't, and Where to Go to Get Some

Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me
I recently had the pleasure of presenting three workshops at the National Conference on Student Leadership in Washington, DC. The title of one of those talks was The Psychology of Leadership Qualities. As I prepared for this talk, I realized that a good, healthy, solid self-esteem was an essential component to most of the qualities typically associated with successful leadership. I then adapted this talk and presented it during the faculty training week for Southwestern Illinois Community College in Belleville, Illinois.  

For today's post, I am sharing a simple bullet list of some of the major points that I made during those presentations. They aren't in any particular order. I look forward to hearing what you think.

  • Low self-esteem is at the core of the proverbial peeled onion. Regardless of the stated presenting problem of all the clients who ever came through my therapy office door, when you peeled the onion and said, “and what would that mean? and what would that mean?” fears and insecurities related to low self-esteem were the true core issues 99% of the time.


  • The fear, self-doubt, insecurities, negative beliefs, need for social approval and fear of conflict that stem from low self-esteem will result in self-sabotage. You will manage to push good people away and delay decision making. You will become risk averse to the point of paralysis and stagnation. It will blunt your imagination, creativity, and therefore, your innovation. The good news is that you won’t have the challenges of managing change in your organization because your paralysis will cause you to fear and avoid making changes.

Challenge Hikers Up Hill Expansive Backdrop

  • You will give away your power.  You will compromise your standards in order to ensure approval from others (this is the very definition of codependency). Weeks and months and years of doing this will stockpile your anger, which, when left unrecognized and un-addressed, will morph into resentment which will turn into bitterness, which will become cynicism. Then you will become the mean old man on the block who yells at the kids and throws rocks at the birds. “Beware the wrath of the patient man.” Eventually, you will become physically ill. Self-esteem. Get some. Now.


 Self-Esteem: What it Isn't

Before we go any further, let’s stop and define our terms. What is self-esteem? It is not your self-concept. Self-concept is your concept of yourself, who you believe you are, how you would describe yourself to someone – your values, your attitudes and beliefs, and your personality traits. That’s your self-concept. You wouldn’t have a “high self-concept” or a “low self-concept.” You might have an accurate or inaccurate self-concept. Your self-esteem is how you feel about who you are. Self-esteem could be high or low.


Self-Esteem: What it Is

  • For our purposes, self-esteem refers to a healthy and balanced positive regard toward yourself. It is a belief that you are a good person with a good heart. You have gifts to share with the world, with a unique purpose and contribution to share. You are not perfect. There are things about you that you still want to improve on. You deserve to be here on the planet and you are special in the same way that everyone is special.

Children Best Girlfriends

  • Where does our self-esteem come from? As children, we are very dependent upon our parents for information about our worth. Parents, primary caregivers, teachers and other adult authority figures have a tremendous amount of power in programming our self-esteem. We innocently download messages from them about who we are and about our worth as human beings. Pretty soon, during our grade school years, we take in messages from our culture (TV is a big influence) and our peers. You compare yourself to your culture’s norms for physical attractiveness, success, intelligence, financial prowess, and approval from others.


Self-Esteem: Where to Go to Get Some

  • Ideally, in your late teens and early twenties, you will shift the source of your self-esteem from external sources to internal sources. You will reject all those external superficial measures of self-worth and you will make a choice – a deep, thoughtful, philosophical, even psycho-spiritual choice. It will be a decision to have a healthy sense of self-esteem - not because you deserve it, or because you have earned  it. It will be based on a philosophically derived personal belief that you deserve innate self-esteem simply because you are a human being. And you will extend that generosity of spirit to others. It won’t be Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky. You will still recognize hate and evil in the world, perhaps even in yourself. But you will put them within the perspective of a larger understanding about life and why people are the way they are. And your over-arching attitude about life and about people in general will tilt toward the positive. This is called maturity and it is the first step toward adulthood and eventual wisdom. Better yet, just start menopause now.

“You do not have to be a victim of your autobiography.”


  • A great way to teach children to have low self-esteem is to not give them any consequences for bad behavior. This accomplishes four things: it teaches them to lose respect for you, to feel insecure in a world where their grown-up is weak, to have to escalate their behavior in order to find a safe boundary from you, and to feel guilty and bad about themselves. They know the difference between right and wrong. When you don’t insist on right behavior from them, this sends the message that you don’t care and that they are not worth the effort. If you are this permissive parent, start the trust fund now for your child's therapy when they hit their teens.


Joy Word in Stone

There is a big difference between “feeling good about yourself” and believing in your core self-worth. Feelings are transient. They come and go hundreds of times in a day. Feelings are a dime a dozen. If you want to change your feeling, change your thought. Here’s a thought: “You just won a million dollars.” How do you feel? Elated, thrilled, relieved, happy. OK. Here’s another thought, “Hey, man, they’re towing your car outside.” How do you feel now? Angry, scared, confused. Here’s another thought. You are at the grocery store and you have the memory, “Oh, I need to buy some milk.” How do you feel? Nothing in particular. Here’s another thought. “Your evaluations are back and all your coworkers and supervisors love you!” How does that make you feel? Happy. I feel good about myself. So you feel good about yourself; you feel high self-esteem right now. Do you now have high self-esteem? “Sure, people love me, so I must deserve to like myself.” No. You don’t have high self-esteem just because you are feelin’ the love right now. By the way, feelings never ever get to be judged. You don't get to judge others' feelings and you don't get to judge your own. You can judge behavior if you like, but feelings are off-limits.


  • True self-esteem is actually more than a belief. It is a Knowing. It is a deep, unshakable Knowing that is not affected by transient moods or feelings of self-doubt or even transient feelings of self-satisfaction. It is one of your most valued possessions. You must protect it as fiercely as the mother bear would rear up and protect her little cubs. Animals Polar BearJohn Bradshaw used to lead his audiences in this group recitation, “You mess with my self-worth, and you answer to me!” I will not hand over my self-esteem on a velvet pillow to anyone. You cannot have it. You cannot take it away from me. You cannot cause me to doubt my core value as a human being. I will not give you that power.


  • Self-esteem is not the same as narcissism. In fact, it is the opposite. The person with the “superiority complex” is actually masking an “inferiority complex.” True deep, solid and healthy self-esteem does not require self-promotion. The self-promoter is telegraphing his low self-worth. Now, self-promotion is not the same thing as the person who is comfortable with their healthy self-worth. They can graciously receive a compliment with a warm “thank you” while maintaining eye contact and saying, “Thank you. That is very kind of you to say.” Can you do that? People are afraid to like themselves or they are afraid to let others know that they like themselves. They are afraid that they will be conceited or “have a big head” or that others will at least think that they do. I give you permission to like yourself today.


  • You can have wonderful self-esteem and still have humility. Humility is not about being a door mat or about being totally self-critical. Humility, for the high self-esteem person expresses itself as gratitude – gratitude for one’s blessings while also compassionately co-existing with areas that still need improvement. This whole discussion requires an ability to find and be comfortable somewhere between the extremes of self-hate on one end and conceitedness on the other end. Our American majority culture is so dualistic in how we perceive the world. We think in either/ors and all or nothings, black or white. This way of thinking is stunted at the cognitive development stage of about a six year-old. Navigating the numbers 2 – 9 is the challenge of adulthood and a sign of maturity.


  • How about your handshake? What does it say about your self-esteem? Is it a wimpy wet rag handshake that says, “Hi, I don’t deserve to be on the planet … and you probably shouldn’t hire me.” Or is it an overly tight grip that attempts to be a power play to intimidate others? This handshake says, “Hi, I am actually very insecure, but I am trying to over-compensate for that by being overbearing … and you probably shouldn’t hire me.” Or, do you use a full handed clasp that is simply firm and solid? This handshake says, “I am comfortable and confident; you can trust me with your company and … it would be wise for you to hire me.” News Alert: The current standard in American business culture is for both men and women to shake hands with both men and women using a firm, strong handshake.


  • “When you try to make an impression, that is the impression you make.” Be a person of attraction, not promotion. (One of the AA Twelve Traditions). Tell the story of Aesop’s Fables’ Mr. Wind and Mr. Sun and their competition to remove the cloak from the man walking along the road below. When Mr. Wind blew and blew, the man just held his cloak tighter. When Mr. Sun simply shone brightly, the warmth caused the man to willingly take off his cloak.

Driver Cheauffer

  • Are you “driven” to succeed? Or, do you “have drive?” There is a big difference. They look like the same behaviors, but the underlying motivation is very different. If you are “driven” to succeed, perhaps this is a compulsion, an addiction - to succeed; you are pushed from behind by a fear of inadequacy. The person who simply “has drive” is making the choice to achieve and accomplish because it is satisfying and fun. Think about it. If you are “driven,” who is in the driver’s seat?


  • The middle path between low self-worth and narcissism. Passivity on one end and aggression on the other end. Ex. El Paso Times reporter’s interest about my Assertiveness Workshop for women at the minimum security prison in Las Cruces. The reporter thought it was so strange that these women would need to learn assertiveness. He was confusing assertiveness with aggression – a common mis-understanding.


Man Tearing Hair Out

  • Anger and fear are two sides of the same coin. Explain. How many of you grew up in a home where the grown-ups modeled the healthy expression and resolution of anger? Anyone? Most of us have a very warped relationship with anger. We tend to over-express it or under-express it. “Anger is our protest over that which cannot be changed.” From The Courage to Heal . Most of the time, when you are feeling angry, this is just a defense mechanism against feeling either fear or emotional pain. The next time you get angry, ask yourself, “Hmm, what might be the fear or emotional pain about this situation that is under my anger?”

Ocean Evening

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It's Never Too Soon to Start Menopause

Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me
Yes, you read that right. I encourage everyone to commence menopause as soon as possible. Men, that includes you, too.

When I was about 35 years old, I noticed that I had a few women friends who seemed to have it together. They were confident, self-assured, comfortable in their own skin. They didn't seem preoccupied with needing everyone's approval. They weren't constrained by arbitrary cultural norms for appropriate role behavior. If the norm suited them, fine. If not, they made up their own rules for their own situation.


Self Esteem

These women had voices. And they used them to speak up - to agree, to disagree, to point out inconsistencies and injustices. They spoke up just to share their opinions, to have their vote counted as though it was a legitimate contribution. They didn't hesitate with self doubt and, I hasten to add, they didn't abuse the privilege by being overbearing. 

They carried themselves with an air of self-legitimacy, taking their rightful place among other respected men and women. They didn't seem to need to convince anyone of anything. They didn't try to earn the right to be reckoned with. They just showed up assuming they had it. Incredible!



Then I noticed that they all had something in common. They were all over 50 years Woman Power Martial Arts Moveold. I asked one of these women, "What's the deal with you? What is your secret? You seem so comfortable, so self-confident." "I'm not a people pleaser anymore," she replied, matter-of-factly. "Oh, and menopause happened." Menopause? Apparently, it has something to do with estrogen levels dropping and then that unmasks the testosterone that's been there all along, waiting to finally have its day.



So, I decided to start menopause at the age of 35. I liked what I saw and I wanted some of it. I got a jump on all that self-empowerment. I decided to start even before the hormone changes started. I figured when I hit 50, I'd get to be a gifted student for the first time in my life. I found out that parents aren't the only ones who get to use the phrase, "because I said so." It's a very freeing thing to say. Try it right now, "because I said so." Nice, huh?

Those of you who are in your twenties, I am so sorry. That is such a tough time, always being simultaneously anxious about and devastated by what everyone thinks of you. How exhausting! I totally understand why you feel that way; our culture does that to you. I remember. But take heart. You, too, can choose to start menopause anytime you want. Imagine the gifted student you will be by the time you arrive at your 50th birthday!


 Stop Being the Jailer and the Jailed

Puzzle Missing PieceJust decide today that you want to be free. You want to figure out who YOU are and what YOU want. Take back your Life. Silence the noise of your family, the culture, the advertising and the myths you unwittingly bought into. You are plenty. You deserve to be here. In fact, you have a responsibility to be here to share your particular gifts. I am meant to be gifted by you. So show up! Let's hear that voice! Start menopause!


Because I said so! 

  Wisdom Owl

What are your thoughts?I would love to hear from you! Really! Please take a moment and submit a comment.You all write such nice emails to me and I would love for them to be published for all to read. Thanks!


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"Being Driven" or "Having Drive:" Are You Being Taken for a Ride?

Overwhelmed Woman Behind Stack of 3 Ring Binders

The Difference Between "Being Driven" and "Having Drive"

I am sure you have heard the enthusiastic compliment, "Oh, yes, she is really driven to succeed!" to describe that up and coming employee scrambling up the corporate ladder. We admire and trust the person who works hard to accomplish goals. Perseverence is an admirable trait and it is essential for success. Who could argue with the person who reaches for the stars and then follows through with passion and tenacity? No one. Although, their behavior does look suspiciously like that of the movers and shakers in the world, but we will forgive them for that. Sorry, I just couldn't resist.    :)

My concern is that sometimes, that drive to succeed is not a choice. It can be a compulsion - a compulsion that is fueled by inadequacy. In this case, these people are indeed, compulsively driven by a fear of being inadequate, or a fear of being exposed as a fraud, sometimes called the Imposter Syndrome. They are distinguished from people who are truly secure and self-confident, who simply enjoy "the thrill of the hunt," and the satisfaction of achieving a grand goal. For these people, self worth is not what is on the line. Failure to achieve the goal is a disappointment and only serves as a challenge to assess the difficulties, make some changes, and do better next time. For people who are driven to achieve by some nameless fear pushing them from behind, failure is experienced as a direct assault upon their core value as human beings. It is devastating and only serves to further entrench them in their compulsive need to prove their value through more accomplishment.

Overwhelmed Woman With Sticky Notes

When Choice Gets Thrown Out the Window, We Call That Addiction

When a person chooses to drink alcohol, we call that person a social drinker. When a person chooses to drink way too much alcohol, we call that person a social drinker who is making a bad choice, but it is still a choice, nonetheless.  When a person chooses to have one drink, but then that drink compels the person to have many, many more, we call that a compulsion to drink, which is addiction.

"First, the man takes a drink.

Then the drink takes a drink.

         Then the drink takes the man."        

                                                                  Chinese Proverb

Just as people can become addicted to alcohol, they can also become addicted to achievement. It is fine to be blessed with the personality trait of being ambitious. However, when that desirable personality trait turns into addiction because it is now fueled by inadequacy, the choice, the joy, the expansiveness of accomplishment is now deadened and no amount of success will be enough to fill that hole in the soul. What is also challenging about this situation is that it can be difficult to tell the difference between the person who is acting from choice and the person who is acting from compulsion. From afar, their behaviors are virtually identical. A closer inspection, though, reveals a distinct difference between their emotional states such as spontaneity, resilience level, optimism, patience, and off-the-clock happiness.

Road Sign Dead End

So Sorry About This Schmaltzy Analogy....            

So, who is in your driver's seat? Are you driving your car from a place of joyful choice? Or has your inadequacy taken over the steering wheel and started driving you erratically into desperate attempts to prove your worth? Do you have drive or are you being driven? Take a quiet and honest look inside yourself and ask, "What is my motivation?"  How would I feel, who would I be if I didn't accomplish these goals?

If you think you recognize yourself as "being driven"  by inadequacy, then this would be a good time for more psychospiritual reflection and some attention given to improving your self worth.  If you keep trying to fill the hole in your soul with mere accomplishment, your satisfaction will be shallow and temporary, and pretty soon you will be singing along with Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" (OK, so you have to be over 50 to get that; the rest of you just go Google it).

This whole "What is my motivation?" question is what underlies identifying codependency. I will be writing a new post about that in the near future, so watch for that one.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about this "being driven/having drive" distinction. Please leave a comment with your input! Thanks!

Car with Man Driving


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Increase Your Self Esteem in 23 Seconds Flat!

Weekend Self Esteem Workshop Simplified Down to 23 Seconds Flat

  Happiness Woman Making Snow Angel


Fill in the blanks of the following statements, and then read out loud.

1) My ____________ is too big, but that's OK,

 I'm still a Child of God.

2) My ___________  is too small, but that's OK,

I'm still a Child of God

 3) With other people, I am not ___________ enough; but that's OK, 

I'm still a Child of God.

Believe it.

You are a real find,

A joy in someone's heart.

You are a jewel,

Unique and priceless.

Believe it.

God don't make no junk.

                                           Herb Barks

  Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me



The "secret" to increased self esteem is not about generating a Personality Trait "Pro" list that is longer than your Personality Trait "Con" list. It is not about deciding that you have enough good qualities so that you deserve to have self love.

Your self esteem is a psychological concept with roots in spirituality. It is a precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and you exist on the planet. That's it.  Sure, you have things about you that could use some attention. Have some personal integrity and gently attend to those things. That's all. Have the gentle intention to be a better person.

If atheism or agnosticism is your thing, no problem. Making a "precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and exist on the planet" still works.

Beyond that and in the meantime, love yourself warts and all!  Don't try to believe that you don't have any warts or that your warts don't matter. Accept that you have some just like the rest of us and love yourself warts and all! God does. And if you're good enough for God, well then, who are you to disagree with God? There is a picture of you in God's wallet.

Remember, "God don't make no junk!"


Joy Man in Street Silhouette



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Why Do We All Identify With Susan Boyle? Because We're ALL Moved and Shaken!

I just left a comment on another blogger's site - - about self-esteem, and it reminded me of the amazing singer,Susan Boyle.  SheMoved and Shaken Images exploded onto the scene in 2009 when she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables on the Britain's Got Talent show. She was an overnight sensation because of her beautiful singing voice. What seemed to really endear her to the rest of the world, though, was her rather plain physical appearance, which seemed such a contrast to that marvelous voice.  Everyone was shocked that such a thing of beauty could come out of that rather plain package.

And then I wondered, who were the people who were so moved by her? Everyone was! Not just the majority of us "plain janes" who could readily identify with Ms. Boyle's underdog status.  Even "the beautiful people" among us, the rich, high status physically gorgeous celebrities among us wept with appreciation for this shy, scared, and sweetly meek middle-aged lady. Who did they see when they looked at Susan? Who did they "connect" with?

I believe that there is a Susan Boyle in each of us, even "the beautiful people" of the world. Yes, even those powerful "movers and shakers" (if you'll excuse the expression!), those captains of industry, those famous movie stars, the runway models and even the high school cheerleaders - all have a place inside them that is scared, that is afraid of rejection, that just wants to be liked and to belong somewhere. Susan Boyle mirrored that place in all of us and that's why we love her. We cheer her on and it gives us hope that maybe we can be seen and appreciated for who we are deep down inside. That little child in us, that part of us that is insecure, "unattractive," and lonely that just wants to be loved and reassured. 

So, maybe stop for a moment and go inside and give that little one a hug and some reassurance that you are fine and that you are lovable- just the way you are. Homework Assignment: Give yourself a hug. Then, go find some runway models and hug them!