How to Boost Your Self Esteem in 4 Steps with DBT Skills

Low self esteem seems to be almost an epidemic in our society, yet we play the part of feeling strong and acting confident by what I call "putting on the face". This is also referred to as "Imposter Syndrome". With Imposter Syndrome you present yourself as the perfect employee, spouse, parent, friend, etc but inside you feel like a fraud, weak and falling apart at the seams. It takes tremendous energy to keep up appearances when you are in emotional pain, so the growing weariness burdens you even more and you end up in a repeating cycle: perform - berate yourself collapse - suck it up - perform. Building self esteem takes time and it occurs in little steps, little wins. Every time you follow one of the steps below (pay attention to number 3!) your self esteem grows a little bit more, and every time you do the opposite your self esteem takes a step backward.

How to Boost Your Self Esteem in 4 Steps with DBT Skills

Building self esteem is all about living in congruence with your values and treating yourself and others fairly.  You might be asking yourself what that means? We have opportunities to build self esteem each and every day. It takes awareness of our actions, followed by making conscious and intentional choices.

You can use the acronym "FAIR" (from Marsha Linehan's DBT Therapy approach) to help you remember steps you can take when making daily choices to build self esteem and get past Imposter Syndrome.

1. Be Fair: Be fair in your interactions with others. Don't blame them and don't take on all the responsibility. Be fair with yourself too! Remember to validate yourself by giving yourself cheerleading messages such as "I'm doing the right thing", "it's OK to take care of myself", or "my needs are important too". Come up with a few of your own cheerleading statements. They should speak to you and feel right but also be a bit challenging.
 

2. No excessive Apologies: Don't over apologize. Don't apologize for making a request or saying "no". Don't apologize for something that you didn't do, or something that you don't feel badly about. It can be tempting to try to "soften" the blow by apologizing to someone, but it doesn't really help them and it just makes you feel worse. For example if a neighbor is always asking for favors and never gives consideration in return, consider replying to their 50th request to watch their dog, for example, in the following 2 ways: Option 1 - "I'm so sorry but I can't watch your dog next weekend, maybe next time" versus Option 2 - "I'm not available to watch your dog next weekend". Are you really sorry? Which statement feels more empowering to you?


3. Stick to your values: Every time you make a choice that is in congruence (matching) your values your self esteem goes up a little bit. Every time you ignore your values your self esteem goes down a little bit. Over time, by making choices and doing things that match your values, you build your self esteem. Your values are important, don't sell yourself short. But first, you have to sit down and really think about what your core values are.

Here is a list of possible values you may hold close to your heart. Please add your own if you don't see it included - the possibilities are endless. Pick out your top 5 values and write them down somewhere you will see them and be reminded of them everyday. Your bathroom mirror or the fridge are good places. It's usually hard to select only 5. You might need to select more than 5 and then keep paring down the list by considering what you can live without. Now, every time you make a choice consider your 5 top values and ask yourself:

  • Does this reflect my values?

  • Does this get me closer to my goal?

  • Will I feel better or worse after I do this?

  • What does my gut tell me to do?

Acceptance

Achievement

Activity

Adaptability

Adventurousness   

Affectionateness

Altruism

Ambition

Assertiveness

Attentiveness

Availability

Awareness

Belongingness

Bravery

Calm

Capability

Caring

Challenge

Charity

Cleanliness

Closeness

Comfort

Committment

Compassion

Confidence

Connection

Consistency

Contentment

Contribution

Cooperation

Courage

Courteousness

Creativity

Credibility

Decisiveness

Dependability

Determination

Devotion

Dignity

Discipline

Discretion

Diversity

Drive

Duty

Education

Effectiveness

Empathy

Encouragement   

Endurance

Energy

Enjoyment

Excellence

Exploration

Expressiveness

Fairness

Faith

Family

Fidelity

Financial Independence  

Firmness

Fitness

Freedom

Friendship

Fun

Generousity

Giving

Grace

Gratitude

Happiness

Harmony

Health

Honesty

Honor

Hopefulness

Humility

Humor

Hygiene

Independence   

Integrity

Intelligence

Intensity

Intimacy

Joy

Kindness

Knowledge

Leadership

Learning

Love

Loyalty

Mindfulness

Modesty

Motivation

Neatness

Openess

Optimism

Order

Passion

Peace

Persistence 

Playfulness

Pleasantness   

Pleasure

Popularity

Practicality

Pragmatism

Privacy

Professionalism  

Prosperity

Relaxation

Reliability

Religion

Resilience

Resoluteness

Respect

Restraint

Sacrifice

Security

Self Compassion   

Self Control

Self Reliance

Sensivity

Service 

Sharing

Simplicity

Sincerity 

Spirituality

Spontaneity

Stability

Strength

Structure

Success 

Support

Teamwork  

Thankfulness

Thoughtfulness

Trust

Truth

Usefulness

Warmth

Willingness

Wisdom

Other Values?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Tell the truth: Be truthful in all your interactions, both with yourself and with the other person. It may be tempting to tell a white lie or make up excuses to get out of saying something uncomfortable but it has a negative impact on your sense of self. It is so much more empowering just to say your truth. You can be kind and still be honest. When my mother reflects on difficult times in her life she always says that what got her through was the word TRUTH and staying true to herself. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills such as the ones outlined here can help you build your overall happiness and daily satisfaction with life. We aren't born knowing these skills and there are no classes on them in school (yet) but it's never too late to learn.