Strategies to Strengthen Self-Esteem

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The other night before dinner my "almost six" year old daughter wanted to pray. After thanking God for her family and the food she exclaimed, "And thank you for me! And for my birthday coming up and that I was born. Amen!" Now, thatís what self-esteem sounds like! Self-esteem is so important. We all need it. Itís at the core of sound mental health; it helps us to be happy, healthy, productive, and to have good relationships.

If youíre like myself and most people I know, then at times youíve struggled with your self-esteem. For some, low self-esteem is a continual heartache, for others low self-esteem is just a momentary episode now and again. In either case, whether for first aid of for daily nourishment, we all need to be esteemed for who we are. This was true for the Cracked Pot in the old Indian fairy tale. The story goes like this: A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on opposite ends of a pole which he carried across his neck on his long walk from the stream to the masterís house. One pot always arrived full of water, but the other always arrived half empty, because it had a crack. So every day for two years this went on and the water bearer delivered just one and half pots of water to his masterís house. The perfect pot was proud of his accomplishments, but the poor cracked pot was miserable, ashamed that it only accomplished half of what it had been made to do.

Finally, the cracked pot spoke out of its bitter failure and cried to the water bearer, "I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"For two years I have delivered only half of my load of water because my terrible crack caused water to leak out all the way back to your masterís house. You do all this work and because of my flaw you donít get the full value from your efforts and the master doesnít get all his water."

With compassion the water bearer replied, "As we return to the masterís house this time I want you to look down and notice all the beautiful flowers that are growing along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful water flowers along that side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer replied to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other potís side? Thatís because I have always known about your flaw, and used it for good. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, youíve watered the flowers. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masterís table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Like the Cracked Pot, we donít have to be perfect to have high self-esteem. We simply need to open our eyes to understand who God made us to be and to appreciate the beauty in ourselves and in our lives. How do we do this? What can we do to strengthen our self-esteem?

First, we need to get a few things straight. Commonly, people make the mistake of trying to increase self-esteem without paying attention to their "self." Itís so obvious, but many miss the point. To have self-esteem, you first need to have a sense of "self." You need to develop an awareness of who you are inside, to understand your needs, feelings, personality traits, gifts, and limitations. And you need to accept that just as you need food, water, and shelter, so also you need to be in relationship with God and with other people. Then, with those you trust, you need to be honest about who you really are so that itís your true self ó not an ideal self ó that is esteemed. (See the New Hope Notes article, "Do you Have Self-Esteem? True or False?")

Assess Your Self-Esteem Levels

Part of increasing your self-awareness is to understand where your self-esteem has been injured or neglected. To help you do this Iíve developed a short quiz you can give yourself. Simply ask yourself each of the following eleven questions. Any questions that you canít answer with, "Yes, thatís true of me most of the time," indicate an example of where your self-esteem needs strengthening.

  1. Can you maintain good feelings about yourself even if someone criticizes you?
  2. When you fail or do something wrong can you say youíre sorry and accept forgiveness or do you persist in feeling bad about yourself?
  3. Can you offer a dissenting opinion to people you respect?
  4. If you talked to one of your children or to your best friend the way you talk to yourself would they feel esteemed?
  5. Do you say thank you when youíre complemented?
  6. Do you avoid comparing yourself to others, thinking that youíre better than or less than they are?
  7. When youíve been hurt do you receive comfort from yourself and others instead of hiding your pain?
  8. If your spouse, roommate, or someone youíre close to is in a bad mood do you maintain your own feelings of well-being anyway (without matching their mood)?
  9. Do you know what your gifts and talents are and are you confident using them?
  10. Can you say "good enough" about a project youíre working on instead of being perfectionistic?
  11. Do you appreciate your strengths and work to improve your weaknesses instead of overlooking your strengths and feeling bad about your weaknesses?

Pick your Strategy and Start Today!

How did you score? Can your self-esteem use some strengthening? If you had at least 8 "yes" responses then your self-esteem is in good shape today and you simply need to maintain it with daily nourishment. If you had less than 8 "yes" answers then your self-esteem needs some first aid and youíd do well to talk with someone about this and get help. Whatever your self-esteem need is, youíd do well to implement the following strategies to strengthen your self-esteem:

  1. Connect to God with your Self. God is powerful, present, all-knowing, and thoroughly loving. And He is on your side! (If you have any doubts read Romans 8.) So strive to connect with Him and His esteem for you by practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation on Scripture, worship, writing a Psalm to express your feelings to Him, confessing your sins and struggles to someone you trust.
  2. Take Care of your Self. Remember the "little things" because they add up in a big way. Exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, look your best, and take vacations and youíll feel better about yourself. Make a big difference in how you feel about yourself.
  3. Enjoy your Self. Have fun. It makes you smile inside and out. Doing things you enjoy and going places you enjoy with people you will help you enjoy you!
  4. Know your Self. Pay attention to what you feel and what you need. Evaluate your strengths and weakness, your capacities and your limitations, by making a list of strengths to appreciate and weaknesses to accept and work on. If you havenít already, take a personality survey and a spiritual gifts inventory. The more you know your self, the more you can disclose your self, the more you can be esteemed.
  5. Disclose your Self to Safe People. The way to fill up your self-esteem tank is to be vulnerable and reliant only upon trustworthy people. Be direct with these few people, asking for what you need. Donít depend too much on other people and donít worry too much about what they think about you.
  6. Receive for your Self. Say thank you to complements and appreciate the support and help that others give to you.
  7. Talk Positively to your Self. A simple exercise can help you to improve your self-talk. Draw a line down the middle of a blank piece of paper. On the left write any negative statements about you that you think to yourself. On the right side write down the positive statements that you need to hear. For instance, instead of "Iím ugly" say "I like my smile." Change "Iím a failure" to "I learn from my mistakes." "People donít like me" can be replaced with "My best friend enjoys me." Practice repeating these positive statements to yourself, especially in the midst of low self-esteem episodes. (For a list of some self-esteem building promises from the Bible see the New Hope Notes article, "Godís Love, Our Christmas Gift.")
  8. Work for your Self. Make work something you want to do by using your gifts, enjoying daily little blessings, and trying to make a difference for people around you. Youíre too valuable to work just for a paycheck or to make someone else happy.
  9. Live with Integrity of Self. Respect the 10 commandments and youíll respect yourself (Exodus 20:1-17).
  10. Give of your Self. If you have good self-esteem then you canít help but share it with others. And, if you donít have good self-esteem then help others anyway and your self-esteem will improve. Give a smile to a stranger or a word of encouragement to a friend. Listen with your heart to other peopleís hurts or volunteer a helping hand in your church or community. Helping others will help you feel better about yourself (Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38).

By Dr. Bill Gaultiere

© 2001 Used by permission.