Regardless of where life takes us, we must always face ourselves. So, we might as well make our self-relationship our absolute best relationship.
As Oscar Wilde wrote:
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
He had a point, and in this article, we will guide readers in developing self-esteem, which is defined as “a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself” (Schiraldi, 2016, p. 24). We will include various research-supported therapies, activities, and tips designed to improve self-esteem and related constructs.
By employing these resources, individuals will be empowered to face today’s tough challenges with a healthy dose of confidence and courage!
Before you continue, you might like to download these three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself, but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
This Article Contains:
Types of Therapies for Self-Esteem
While self-esteem-focused approaches may be included with most types of mental health treatment, they are particularly suited to those outlined below.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a proven therapeutic approach that addresses the impact of thoughts and behaviors on a person’s feelings in a given situation. CBT enables nonadaptive learning processes to be replaced by those that are positive and in line with the client’s objectives (Hofmann & Smits, 2008).
Because self-esteem is maintained by cognitive factors, CBT is especially suited to self-esteem enhancement. CBT, which is often combined with a variety of approaches such as cognitive restructuring and meditation, has been found to be effective for treating a wide range of psychological issues (Hofmann & Smits, 2008; Stewart & Chambless, 2009).
Initially developed by Carl Rogers, who later founded Client-Centered Therapy, this approach is based on the philosophy that individuals already possess the qualities needed to flourish.
By encouraging curiosity, creativity, empathy, and intuition (Giorgi, 2005), Humanistic/Client-Centered counseling supports clients in reaching their full potential. Humanistic Therapy has been shown to produce large and stable improvements in psychological functioning (Elliott, 2002).
Rational Emotive Therapy
Cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis & Powers, 1975) to treat distress by addressing irrational or faulty thinking. The focus of such therapy is not the situation per se, but the client’s belief about the situation.
The clinician helps the client to examine their cognitive appraisals of how an event may have created an outcome (Gonzalez et al., 2004). It is an active and directive approach that has been found to be effective for the treatment of a range of issues (David, Cotet, Matu, Mogoase, & Stefan, 2018), as well as specifically for the enhancement of self-esteem (Valizadeh & Emamipoor, 2007).
Mindfulness-Based counseling is designed to increase relaxation while removing negative judgments. It is grounded in Buddhist philosophy and a mental process “characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment” (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010, p. 169).
This approach, which incorporates various meditation practices, has been found to be effective for treating numerous emotional and psychological problems (Khoury et al., 2013).
Narrative Therapy counselors work collaboratively with clients to address how the stories we tell about ourselves affect our perceptions and behaviors. When a person’s narrative becomes damaging, the therapist supports the client in re-authoring their story (Madigan, 2011).
Narrative counseling has been found to be efficacious for reducing self-stigma associated with mental illness, as well as for increasing self-esteem (Chadwick, Smyth, & Liao, 2014; Roe et al., 2013).
7 Activities for Your Sessions
Whether practicing CBT or another therapeutic approach, therapists have many self-esteem-promoting activities from which to choose.
Self-Esteem Sentence Stems
The Self-Esteem Sentence Stems worksheet aids clients in revealing feelings and other personal issues that may be impacting their self-esteem. It is recommended that clients spend 5–10 minutes on this activity each week over an extended period.
Clients complete the provided sentences, which may then be shared with their counselor as a way of enhancing self-awareness and monitoring for positive change. The worksheet contains 19 sentences; here are four examples:
- “This week, I would enjoy doing…”
- “It made me feel great when…”
- “Something I deeply desire is…”
- “Something I do secretly is…”
The Self-Esteem Survey
The Self-Esteem Survey is an instrument designed to help clinicians assess their client’s strengths and needs in terms of self-esteem. Individuals read 15 self-esteem statements and then indicate how true each item is for them. Here are four examples:
- It is easy for me to be myself.
- I am lovable.
- I am deserving of respect.
- I am good at what I do.
Once the self-esteem questionnaire is scored, the therapist will be in a better position to develop an individualized, self-esteem-boosting treatment plan.
Habit Tracker is a Toolkit worksheet that guides individuals in monitoring and recording their regular involvement in healthy habits. When desirable behaviors are tracked, they are more likely to become automatic aspects of a person’s daily routine.
Readers are instructed to first consider how habit tracking helps to build positive habits and identify five specific habits they would like to track. Importantly, such habits should be manageable; foster play or creativity; be important for physical health, emotional wellness, finances, or relationships; and be capable of being performed on a regular basis.
Examples of habits include:
- Practice yoga for two minutes
- Drink eight glasses of water
- Save money
- Stretch for five minutes
Once habits have been identified, individuals begin tracking by completing the habit tracker graph each day. This exercise boosts self-esteem by keeping clients on track in terms of key health behaviors that impact self-esteem.
An initial 14-day commitment
Similar to the Habit Tracker, the 14-Day Commitment worksheet enables clients to monitor their behaviors over two weeks. By first charting behaviors, healthy goals can be identified and may be adjusted until they are both realistic and appropriately challenging.
This example of the 14-Day Commitment worksheet includes an empty second page for personal use.
Befriending Your Inner Critic
This worksheet helps clients to identify and work with, rather than fight against, their internal judge.
Individuals are first instructed to quietly reflect on times when their judging mindset negatively affected their lives, such as by influencing self-blame. They then respond to a series of questions pertaining to their inner voice, such as:
- What was your inner voice telling you about yourself, others, and the situation?
- What was the risk to yourself if the worst thing happened?
- What were the risks to other people?
- What were the risks to the situation if the worst thing happened?
Individuals are then asked to reflect on their responses, noting how their judging mindset was actually trying to keep them safe. The next step is to write a letter of gratitude to their inner judge, which is followed by a mental hug.
By making friends with their inner critic in this way, individuals are better able to appreciate the valuable information it offers.
This role-playing exercise helps individuals experiment with accepting compliments while identifying emotional issues that get in the way.
Once the practitioner explains the exercise and why people sometimes have trouble accepting compliments, the practitioner gives the client a compliment. The client is asked to accept the compliment, followed by feedback from the practitioner about how the compliment felt.
After reflecting on the role-play, the client is encouraged to accept compliments over the following week by saying, “thank you, that is really kind of you.” Ultimately, this exercise enables individuals to experience the emotional benefits that come from accepting praise.
Exploring Domains of Self-Worth
Individuals are asked to respond to five questions from a list of 14 choices, such as:
- “What is the thing you fear the most that people would say of you?”
- “When do you feel most insecure?”
- “When do you feel like your sense of self-worth increases?”
By understanding frames of reference for establishing self-worth, clients are better able to experience unconditional self-acceptance.
6 Brilliant Techniques
According to former American First Lady Michelle Obama:
“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”
It’s true that many of us create ‘to do’ lists for all sorts of household and work-related tasks. So, why not also create such lists for our emotional wellbeing? The following techniques provide some brilliant examples of how to make our psychological health a top priority.
Savor the Moment
This activity helps individuals to relish the present moment and ultimately build micro-moments of positivity. The exercise involves setting aside two to three minutes each day to get into the habit of reflecting on the moment.
Individuals are recommended to set up a daily reminder to engage in their savoring habit, as well as to consider giving themselves a small reward each time they do so.
The next steps are as follows:
- Trigger the savoring moment
This involves noticing the moment when one’s attention is triggered by a cue. At this time, individuals are instructed to take a deep breath and savor the present moment while considering the sights, sounds, and smells around them. This is followed by a sense of gratitude and pride in accomplishments.
- After savoring reflections
After engaging in moment-savoring activities for one week, individuals then reflect upon various aspects of the experience, considering questions such as:
- What positive emotions did you experience during the intervention?
- How did the intervention affect your mood, attention, and behavior afterward?
- Did this week feel different compared to a normal week?
By getting into the habit of savoring moments, individuals will benefit from a greater sense of gratitude, serenity, and overall wellbeing.
Building Self-Efficacy by Taking Small Steps
This worksheet is designed to help clients increase their self-esteem by taking a graduated approach toward meeting their goals.
Individuals are first instructed to use a provided flowchart to do the following:
- Describe something you would like to change.
- Identify the smallest step in the right direction. This involves considering small steps that will bring you closer to achieving this goal. It should be specific and not too difficult.
- Plan the step. Here, you plan a date over the next week to begin taking steps toward change.
- Place a checkmark on the flowchart indicating that preparation is completed.
- Following the chart, indicate each step and corresponding date.
- Continue to move through the chart, repeating the same process for each step on the pathway to change.
- Here, you reflect on your journey, considering several questions such as: What have I learned about myself? How much do I believe in myself?
By completing these small steps, individuals are on track for greater self-efficacy and a sense of accomplishment.
This activity guides individuals in adding confidence-boosting activities to their lives. Individuals select five boosters from a provided list or identify their own. They then capture information on the chart, including a one-week period for practicing the booster, related goals, results, and associated feelings.
Examples of self-confidence boosters include:
- Engage in a creative activity.
- Help someone else.
- Go on a fun outing.
- Practice mindfulness meditation.
Once they have added boosters to their routines, individuals must reflect on the exercise and repeat it after modifying boosters and/or goals as needed. Eventually, engaging in these simple but powerful confidence enhancers will become second nature.
Self-Care Vision Board
Vision boards are an effective and fun way to craft a motivating pictorial representation of one’s goals and visions. This Self-Care Vision Board activity is designed to use creativity to increase self-care and self-compassion. Individuals need only to collect some basic supplies while determining the images and words that will most inspire them to practice greater self-care.
The activity involves the following steps:
- Step 1: Brainstorming
This involves creating a list of as many self-care activities as possible. Individuals are suggested to be bold and creative and only choose enjoyable activities consistent with their lifestyle.
- Step 2. Collecting images
This involves gathering positive images (e.g., photos, images from magazines or the internet, etc.) of self-care activities.
- Step 3. Collecting words
This involves creating words or phrases that are both inspiring and related to the above self-care activities.
- Step 4: Put it all together
This final step simply involves consolidating all of the images and words in a creative way.
The vision board also contains a number of examples of self-care activities within the domains of emotional, physical, social, and spiritual self-care. Ultimately, by using a self-care vision board, individuals will have a visual reminder of self-care activities that promote a healthy body and mindset.
A mantra is a motivating phrase that has been found to promote both physical and emotional health (Deekshitulu, 2015). For example, a mantra might be “I am talented in my field.” The mantra may be displayed in a visible location, or it may be taken with a person and used whenever encouragement is needed.
Mindfulness exercises are excellent ways to incorporate positive mantras into meditation. A great deal of information and resources for engaging in gratitude meditation is available in the following article: Guided Gratitude Meditation Scripts & Mantras.
Use an app
With today’s technological advances, there are innovative ways to increase confidence and/or break undesirable habits.
For example, the HelloMind app is a popular tool that was created by a leading hypnotherapist.
It contains numerous treatments aimed at decreasing problematic symptoms or behaviors, as well as boosters designed to promote positive constructs like self-esteem.
Similarly, the Build Confidence with AJ app by Andrew Johnson employs mindfulness techniques intended to promote healthy
habits, relaxation, confidence, and resilience.
Exercises for Group Therapy
Clinical research has shown that group therapy is an effective approach for treating a variety of issues such as depression, addiction, and anxiety (Novotney, 2019).
Group therapy reduces feelings of isolation by promoting bonding with others experiencing similar problems. It also enables individuals to benefit from multiple perspectives. Various exercises may be used to maximize group effectiveness. Here are seven examples:
Ice breakers are great for easing awkwardness and getting people talking. There are many types of ice-breaking techniques, such as having everyone share something unexpected or humorous about themselves.
Another way to break the ice is to have each person state four self-descriptive adjectives that begin with the first letter of their name, such as “My name is Beth, and I’m blue eyed, bossy, brave, and big hearted.”
This approach involves having individuals act out a role in a particular scenario, typically switching roles with a partner. It is especially helpful for promoting empathy or for practicing a challenging situation, such as asking for a raise.
Role-play may also be used to practice resisting temptations. Self-care group therapy provides an excellent context for role-play. If the group is too large, it may be broken down into smaller groups of two to three individuals.
For this activity, group members discuss what gratitude means to them, as well as the specific things for which they are grateful. Doing so creates a climate of gratitude while reminding individuals of the good things in their own lives.
Hypnotism is an effective way to influence cognitive and emotional processes such as self-esteem by inducing a highly suggestive state of consciousness. It may be employed in a group setting, which has the benefit of reaching more people at once.
Compliments are an easy way to brighten someone’s day and promote self-esteem. One way to use compliments in group therapy is to have each person say something positive about everyone in the group.
After each compliment, the recipient is asked to repeat the phrase with an “I” statement such as “I have pretty eyes.”
When group members share their successes, they enable others to see that positive outcomes are indeed possible. Moreover, hearing positive group feedback is a powerful self-esteem booster.
Mindfulness activities such as relaxation and deep-breathing exercises are easily implemented in group settings and help group members feel calmer during sessions. Along with relaxation exercises, yoga is another great option for mindfulness-focused group therapy.
A Look at Art Therapy for Self-Esteem
Artistic expression is not only fun, but it promotes the cathartic release of positive feelings (Curl, 2008).
Examples of creative therapy activities include healthy image posters, collages, clay modeling, and painting.
Scientific research supports the efficacy of art therapy for the promotion of positive qualities such as self-worth, self-esteem, resilience, and self-confidence (Hartz & Thick, 2011; Roghanchi, Mohamad, Ching Mey, Momeni, & Golmohamadian, 2013).
4 Ideas for CBT Sessions
There are many excellent add-ons when it comes to self-esteem-focused CBT. Here are four ideas:
Meditation involves relaxing the mind in a way that promotes calmness and serenity. For those who battle negative ruminations, meditation facilitates the ability to allow triggering thoughts to simply float on by with no emotional reaction.
This technique involves identifying dysfunctional automatic thoughts and cognitive distortion (for example, thinking, “I’m a loser because I didn’t get the part.”). Automatic thoughts are then disputed, and rational rebuttals that are more conducive to positive wellbeing are constructed (for example, “I’m a talented actor and will get plenty more parts.”).
Regardless of a person’s writing skills, getting into the habit of writing down thoughts, feelings, and reflections is a terrific way to inspire self-discovery. Read more on the benefits of journaling.
This approach involves having clients keep track of their goals, as well as any associated challenges or feelings.
Along with being a practical tool for charting progress, it also has therapeutic value because the mere act of self-monitoring is associated with greater adherence to behavioral objectives (Burke, Wang, & Sevick, 2011).
The Science of Self-Acceptance Resources
Self-actualization is considered the highest level of purpose and fulfillment. However, getting there requires a good degree of self-acceptance. Fortunately, there are some effective and readily available self-acceptance tools. For example, PositivePsychology.com offers the Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©.
This innovative program provides practitioners with a research-based approach that helps clients feel that they are good enough – even in the face of past failures or a lack of approval from others.
17 Self-Compassion Exercises – If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, this collection contains 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.
Along with the masterclass, many useful self-acceptance books are also available. Here are three examples:
1. There Is Nothing to Fix: Becoming Whole Through Radical Self-Acceptance – Suzanne Jones, 2019
This book supports readers in gaining self-acceptance by providing a step-by-step way to build the emotional
tools needed to become more self-confident, self-compassionate, and self-accepting.
In doing so, Jones empowers readers by supporting them in discovering their most authentic selves.
Available on Amazon.
2. The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive – Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, 2018
This science-based workbook is designed to enhance emotional wellbeing by enabling readers to break free of negative self-judgments and unrealistic standards.
It contains many tips and exercises, including guided meditations and compelling stories.
Available on Amazon.
3. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha – Tara Brach, 2004
This book is designed to reduce suffering by offering Buddhist-based teachings, case histories, and guided meditations.
The author encourages readers to live more full and meaningful lives by stopping the emotional wars within themselves and embracing their innate goodness.
Available on Amazon.
A Take-Home Message
If you wish to experience a joyful life with meaningful relationships, you must first look inward. How you feel about yourself affects everything you do.
Psychologists know this, which is why promoting self-esteem is a top priority among mental health clinicians. Luckily, they have numerous effective tools at their disposal.
For anyone grappling with a poor self-concept, it is important to remember that self-esteem is neither indulgent nor selfish. Rather, it is essential for positive emotional health, as well as for making a significant difference in society. You could even say that self-esteem is emotional armor that helps us weather the highs and lows of life with strength, confidence, and resilience.
“Self-esteem isn’t everything; it’s just that there’s nothing without it.”
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download these three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
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