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The Foundations of Building Self-Esteem

Updated on November 5, 2011

Self- Esteem is a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. Realistic means accurate and honest. Appreciative implies positive feelings and liking. The National Association of Self Esteem (NASE) believes self-esteem is "The experience of being capable of meeting life's challenges and being worthy of happiness." They also believe in personal responsibility and accountability.

Building self-esteem or changing self esteem is possible. It is important to first understand the factors that build self-esteem first. Self-esteem is much more than feeling good or showing others you see yourself in a positive way. Self-esteem is based on three sequential factors:

  1. Unconditional Worth
  2. Love
  3. Growing

the foundations of Self esteem
the foundations of Self esteem

While all three factors are necessary to build and change self-esteem, the order in which this foundation is laid is critical. Self-esteem is based on unconditional worth FIRST, then love and then growing. Growing refers to moving in the desired direction. Too many people become frustrated because they try to start with growth and neglect the first two important and crucial factors of unconditional wroth and love. Without a secure foundation and base, the self-esteem tips over (see diagram). There are not short-cuts to this process.

1. Unconditional Worth

Letting circumstances or others determine worth gives them inappropriate control and power" - Anonymous

Unconditional human worth means that you are important and valuable as a person because your essential, core self is unique, precious, of infinite, eternal, unchanging value and good. This concept implies that you are as precious as any other person.

Unconditional human worth can be described by 5 principles based on the work of Claudia A. Howard (1992)

  1. All have infinite, internal, external, and unconditional worth as persons.
  2. All have equal worth as people. Worth is not comparative or competitive. Although you might be better at sports, academics, or business, and I might be better at social skills, we both have equal worth as human beings.
  3. Externals neither add to nor diminish worth. Externals include things like money, looks, performance and achievements. These only increase on's market or social worth. Worth as a person, however, is infinite and unchanging.
  4. Worth is stable and never in jeopardy (even if someone rejects you).
  5. Worth doesn't have to be earned or proved. It already exists. Just recognize, accept and appreciate it.

A Summary of Skills Necessary to develop unconditional worth

  1. Replace negative, core-attacking thoughts (an example would be distortions and beliefs of who you really are). This involves targeting harmful automatic thoughts and distortions. We all have automatic thoughts that run through our head unconsciously. it is important to slow down and acknowledge what we are saying to ourselves. Some examples of these automatic thoughts are: "I know I can't do it," "I should have known better," "Why does this ALWAYS happen to me?" "If I'm not perfect, I'm a loser," "I always ruin everything," "I'm stupid," dwelling and highlighting the negative, rejecting the positive, minimizing your strengths and magnifying another's strengths as you compare yourself to them, etc.
  2. Using the "even though... nevertheless" skill. This is a skill in which you capture the negative thought and answer it back. Ex: If the negative thought is "I'm so stupid!" you would answer the thought with- even though I behave in stupid ways sometimes, nevertheless I am still a worthwhile person, I can correct my mistakes, I capable of doing XYZ, etc.
  3. Regarding your core worth. "Thinking of what you have rather than what you lack. Of the things you have, select the best and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them." -Marcus Aurelius
  4. Create the habit of core-affirming thoughts. The involves disciplining yourself to not only remove the negative thoughts that undermine self-esteem but replacing them with uplifting and self-affirming thoughts that build and preserve self-esteem. Although this may feel silly, allowing yourself to read and say allowed a list of self-affirming thoughts daily will begin to correct your automatic thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones.


2. Love

A human being's first responsibility is to shake hands with himself. -Henry Winkler

  • Love for one's core self is a wholesome feeling. it is also the attitude of wanting what is best for oneself and a decision that is made daily.
  • Psychological health and growth deepen on love for the core.
  • Love is learned and acquired through practice.
  • One is responsible for cultivating love for the core self. One can count on this love, even if one cannot count on love from others.

Ways to work on this step:

  1. Find, Love and Heal the Core Self. Embrace your lost inner child: If you didn't have loving parents, then you had better learn to be a loving parent to yourself. - Anonymous
  2. Kind Descriptions and Changing Channels (see picture)
  3. Acknowledge and Accept Positive Qualities (write down as many positive qualities about yourself.)
  4. Cultivate Body Appreciation: Learn biology. Your body is magnificent! From conception to maturity, how the circulatory system works, the amazing skeletal system, how we sense the world with our senses, our defenses, and other wonders of the body. An appreciation for your body influences the way you feel about your core self.
  5. Liking the Face in the Mirror: During a week, seek out a mirror several times during the course of each day. Look into your eyes in the mirror with eyes of love. As you look, you might first notice that there is stress in your eyes. Look with real understanding and emotion. Try to understand what is behind the stress and let it subside. As you look deeply with love you will notice a change in your eyes and your entire facial expression. Repeat this exercise often!


3. Growing

  • Growing is an ongoing process, never fully completed.
  • The growth process is a way of loving. It is satisfying because it starts from the secure inner base of worth and love.
  • Emotionally, the process says, "I'm glad inside and unafraid to be Growing-- becoming even better."
  • Ascent is difficult. Expect hard work.
  • Growing is not competitive or comparative. You can select your course and pace. As with weight plans and exercise, it is wise to pick a pace that can be maintained throughout life.
  • Growing means elevating others along with self.
  • Growing results from applying principles and pleasures that elevate.
  • Because Growing is climbing the staircase, not arriving, you need not to arrive to experience self-esteem. You need only to know in your heard that you're on track and moving ahead.

Ways we can grow:

  1. Accepting we are not perfect.
  2. Doing things just for fun, staying active and contemplating the possibilities- grab onto the enthusiasm for new experiences and new learning you once had as a small child!
  3. Take stock of your character. (Make a list of your moral strengths, assess all areas of your life- behavior, emotions, sensations, imagery, thoughts, moral contact and character, interpersonal or social and drugs/biology).
  4. Allow yourself to experience pleasure. The greatest challenge of life is how to enjoy it.- Nathaniel Branden
  5. Prepare for setbacks.


The National Association for Self Esteem

Schiraldi, Glenn R. The Self Esteem Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2001. .


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