Identity, Self, & Relationships

My Self-Esteem Building Blocks

Self-esteem building blocks - cartoon of alphabet blocks

Recently I was commenting on a post about self-esteem by Caz of Mental Health 360º and decided it was worth expanding on in a post of my own. I’ve always has good self-esteem, and this is what I’ve identified as the basic building blocks that support it.

Inherent worth of humanity

This is probably more of a philosophical stance rather than something that’s focused on me. I believe there is inherent good in all of us through our shared humanity. Some people may have tucked away that inherent value in an inaccessible place, but that’s a whole other discussion. I believe other humans have value, and therefore, so do I.

Something that also came up with Caz recently is that, for me, self-esteem and thoughts of suicide have always been very different things. Wanting to die isn’t about liking myself or thinking I’m good enough; it’s about not wanting to live this life, this way.


I’ve always been pretty self-aware, self-reflective, and introspective. I know myself well, both the good and the bad. I’ve spent 41 years with myself, and at this point, it’s like wearing a cozy flannel onesie with a bum flap; it’s comfortable, and there’s really no reason to get changed, ever.

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but accepting myself isn’t about that. I’m here, and I can’t escape from myself or fundamentally change who I am, so why fight it? And the opposite of accepting oneself seems like it would be absolutely exhausting. After all, no matter how hard you might try to fight it, you’re still you, and that’s never going to change.

Being able to laugh at myself and my mistakes

I can be a complete doofus sometimes. Not only am I okay with that, I firmly believe that I have the right to laugh at my doofusness. I think a lot of that I picked up from Grandma, who’s always willing to laugh at herself. Part of why I think Seinfeld is the best TV show ever is that it celebrates the ridiculousness of humankind.

I used to play on a beer league softball team. I sucked. Catching, throwing, and hitting are not a part of my skill set. I owned it, and it was totally fine. Had I tried to take myself seriously, my teammates probably would have felt like they had to pretend to take me seriously, and why bother?

External attribution

When things go wrong, unless there’s clearly something I’ve done to bring about the situation, I tend to attribute the cause to external factors. That pattern of attribution leaves my self-esteem intact, as I’m not needlessly blaming myself. I’m sure there have been times when I’ve attributed things to others’ actions and failed to recognize my own role, but I’m okay with that. I’d much rather erroneously attribute some uncomfortable things to others than to myself, as long as that stays inside my head and I’m prepared to recognize when it really is all on me.

External attribution doesn’t prevent pain from whatever might be going on, but it can keep self-esteem from getting involved.

Compartmentalization rather than over-generalization

While I sometimes overgeneralize external things, when it comes to myself, my tendency is to compartmentalize. If I try to do something and I’m completely lousy at it, that sense of being lousy is limited to that specific thing; it doesn’t diffuse across other areas of my life.

The beer-league softball team I mentioned earlier involved several people I worked with. Nursing and softball were separate compartments, so in my mind, the lousiness at softball didn’t have anything to do with work; therefore, it wasn’t a connection I worried about other people making.

There are probably a few other things that have gone into the self-esteem mix, but I think these are the most important. This is certainly not the only way to build up self-esteem, but it’s what’s worked for me.

What have been some of the key building blocks for your own self-esteem?

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33 thoughts on “My Self-Esteem Building Blocks”

  1. Great blog post!! I can relate to all of it!!

    I need to compartmentalize more often! Like, if my love life (or lack thereof) goes disastrously awry, I need to remind myself that I’m not a complete failure at anything else at the moment. I’m not saying that to justify my bad behavior, and it’s probably great that I have a therapist now!! 😮 But when I lash out at people, it causes extreme (temporary) self-hatred. Not all the time. I believe Stevil deserved the letter I wrote him. But there are other times when I lose my grip on Large Flatulent Marge and come to feel bad about it or regret it to some extent. Like with the mailman. I have no idea what I ever saw in him, ya know? Other than that, my self-esteem is quite solid, as is yours!

    I wonder what causes low self-esteem? That could make for an interesting blog post!! I mean, I know what contributes to it in me, but some people seem to be constantly down on themselves, and I don’t understand what’s behind that!! It’s sad!!

  2. I feel that self-esteem starts during our formative years. I truly think it is nurture not nature.
    My self-esteem took off when I won the battle of teaching myself the piano. Then I had my dream job happen. I was asked to travel as an organist for an itinerant preacher. I saw as much of Canada and the United States.

  3. I enjoyed this part of your book a lot too! Yes, I have solid self-esteem, but also there have been times I have felt continuing to trudge on isn’t worth the bother (I don’t feel like this now). When I get down, I remind myself that I survived a stressful childhood and two bad marriages. Okay, I chose poorly, as many do, even smart people. None of my closest friends in real life have had success with LTRs and they are all smart too. I’ve raised two great children who are kind and loving. They make better choices than I do, thank goodness. I’ve had the same good job for a long time and am a reliable, responsible person. I’m funny and creative and keep a nice home. I can also see the good in most people, even when I prefer to be alone 💕

  4. I agree with so much of this, and I wish I had several of these skills. I have begun to learn to laugh at myself, most of all. Having a sense of humor about my screw ups really helps, I find. I am learning to compartmentalize as well, and that is helping. These are great!

  5. I really like the first one, it is something that I have recently discovered to be true for me too! What a revelation that was. I’m working on self-acceptance and compartmentalization which proves to be the most difficult one for me.
    I don’t mind to laugh with myself, I know I can react weird or can do weird things. The older I get the less I care about being ‘weird’.
    What I also try is not to compare myself to others nor to my former ‘self’, before the illness that is but that is a pitfall sometimes.
    I do believe that looking at self-esteem in building blocks it is easier to grasp and to work on. I like you hands on approach!

    1. Thanks! That part about not comparing to the self before illness is tough. I’ve gotten better about that, but it still comes up sometimes.

  6. My mental health is very connected to my self esteem … I don’t know which one is the case and which the effect. It’s a chicken and egg scenario I think. But when my self esteem dips, I engage in thought processes and interactions that are completely unhelpful which then send my self esteem plummeting. The attributing blame to external factors is an interesting one. I am the queen of self blame and apologies. It’s not only fruitless but also incredibly irritating for others. I’m improving but my default is to focus on what I did wrong. Not great for self esteem.

  7. Thank you for the mention Ashley and it’s been great reading about your building blocks to self-esteem. I think self-acceptance is a biggie for many people, including me, but once I managed that I felt able to move forward and achieved improved self-esteem.

    Laughing at myself was a defence mechanism when I was younger but I think I did that before anyone else could laugh at me. Now I can laugh at myself without wondering if others are going to laugh – I don’t care any more.

  8. Every item on your list are among the things I’m working on in therapy, since I’ve negative self esteem / self worth. I’ve gotten much better at looking at myself with some friendly, not mocking, humour. Life’s too short to be so very serious all the time… I’m reclaiming a childhood lost with adult worries! Being able to laugh good naturedly at myself has, I hope, made me a more pleasant colleague and friend.

    There’s supposedly a distinction between self esteem and self worth but I basically don’t remember.

  9. Mine were changing with time passing by. I guess now it is my insight. I am sharp. I need to learn to keep what I see to myself tho. ; ) I do most of the time, but it is frustrating, I need someone to share it with.

  10. I am the cause of my own bad self esteem. I am the hardest on myself. If something goes wrong in my life, I blame myself in the harshest way possible. I wish I had the ability to blame myself in a better way. I do laugh at myself if I make mistakes that I find laughable. I tend to forget things and laugh at myself for being forgetful.

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