Self-Esteem in the Workplace

By Suzanne E. Harrill            

The group you work with has a level of self-esteem based on the composite self-esteem levels of the individuals in the group. We each take to the workplace (works the same in families) our level of awareness, which includes such things as our understanding of ourselves and others, our communication skills, our ability to have realistic expectations for ourselves and others, our degree of maintaining a positive attitude, and our ability to stay in present-time and not let past hurts be projected onto others. It also depends on taking responsibility for our own life, managing our feelings, our biases, and prejudices, and our ability to release and forgive immature behavior and responses in others. One of the most important things we do is model and reflect to others how we value ourselves. To positively impact your work (or home) environment take a look your own self-esteem awareness level and see where you might make some improvements. It will improve your own life, as well as that of the workplace. Let us define self-esteem, look at characteristics of high and low self-esteem, and learn ways to build and maintain self-esteem.

            What is self-esteem? Very simply it is how you feel about yourself. It includes your opinions, thoughts, beliefs, and images you have about yourself. These messages are sent to yourself from your own self and many exist at the unconscious level. That is why it can be confusing to see our own degree of self acceptance and love.

Let us look at two lists of qualities, those defining high self-esteem and those defining low self-esteem. Notice that the characteristics of a person suffering from low self-esteem are extremes in feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. A person enjoying higher self-esteem lives a more balanced life with their feeling, thoughts, and behaviors. It does not mean there are no problems or imbalances, but there is the ability to move out of extremes because the self-awareness is there to make a correction when out of balance.


Signs of High Self-Esteem

  • Having an internal locus of control, getting okayness from within, not from others.

  • Taking care of yourself – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

  • Maintaining a balance between extremes of thought, feeling, and behavior.  When out-of-balance, taking action to correct. 

  • Learning from mistakes and being able to say, “I made a mistake.” If it involves another person, being able to make amends or say, “I’m sorry.” Able to forgive self and others.

  • Managing your life responsibly.

  • Honoring individual differences among people.

  • Listening to other points of view.

  • Taking responsibility for your own perceptions and reactions; not projecting onto others.

  • Having the ability to listen to your wise inner self (your intuition), and to act on this guidance.

  • Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Choosing continuous self-improvement and taking positive risks.

  • Balancing being and doing.

  • Feeling warm and loving towards self.

  • Giving and receiving love easily, with no strings attached.

  • Demonstrating self-respect, self-confidence, and self-acceptance.


Signs of Low Self-Esteem


  • Self-blame, self-criticism, or constantly putting others down through guilt, blame, shame, or faultfinding.  Finding forgiveness difficult.

  • Over- or under-achieving, -eating, -working, -doing, etc.

  • Playing the victim, rationalizing that outside circumstances are the causes of your problems.

  • Not taking responsibility for your own life; turning power over to another to make decisions for you, then feeling victimized if the results are not to your liking.

  • Taking too much responsibility for the lives of others, dominating and making decisions for them.

  • Fear of change and reluctance to take risks.  Or too much change, taking dangerous, unwise risks.

  • Constant negativity or being so optimistic that reality is denied.

  • Reacting to others with extreme emotion or no emotion.

  • Boastfulness, lying, embellishing, exaggerating, and overbearing behavior around others.

  • Inability to maintain integrity during interactions with others.

  • Demanding to be “right,” needing to have agreement or have your own way most of the time, or constantly acquiescing to the will and opinions of others.

  • Constantly comparing yourself to others, thereby feeling inferior or superior.

  • Black/white, either/or thinking; e.g., believing that a person is either good or bad based on rigid standards of behavior.

  • Having pervasive deep-seated feelings of fear, terror, or panic.

  • Speaking with lots of shoulds, oughts, could haves, and yes ,buts.

  • Interpreting the hurtful words or actions of others as proof of your unworthiness.

Now look at the following ways we can improve our own self-esteem. As we grow and change in positive ways we mirror these changes to others, which in turn helps to improve the work or family environment. As we experience more self-acceptance, respect, and awareness we subtly encourage others to see this in themselves as well, at least while in your presence.

                             Ways to Improve Your Self-Esteem

1. Change your negative self-talk. Everyone has a voice inside her/his mind that is continually commenting. The negative, critical, hurtful comments need to be changed. Begin listening to what you say to yourself and then talk back to your negative self-talk with the truth. Speed up the process by saying positive statements or affirmations; such as, “I like myself and am a worthwhile person, I forgive myself for not knowing/being/doing…, I deserve love, inner peace, and fulfillment.”

Make a cassette tape, in your voice, of affirmations and listen to it daily or make a list of affirmations and read out loud to yourself daily.

2. Visualize what you want to create in your life.  Picture what you want to create, whether it is a new dress or feeling confident in new situations. When you combine an affirmation, with deep feeling, and with a positive mental picture you add power to what you want to create. Look for pictures in magazines that picture what you want to create and glue them into your journal.

3. Nurture yourself.  Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Enjoy the times when others are able to nurture you or meet your needs; watch the tendency to set yourself up for disappointment with unreal expectations.

4. Build a support system. You deserve to have at least one person to talk to who accepts you without judging you. Consider joining a group to meet new people.

5. Take time to be alone daily. Spending quality time alone allows you to listen to your inner self. It is time to think, read, write, pray, meditate, or listen to your intuition.


6. Use your talents. Develop your interests. Take classes, find a teacher to begin. Volunteer to share your talents with others.


7. Keep a journal. Writing is a good way to get to know yourself, solve your problems, lower your stress level, and balance yourself emotionally. If you have never written before, begin by writing for 20 minutes a day. Include your thoughts, feelings, and emotional reactions to people and situations that have upset or hurt you. Eventually, insights and wisdom, that under normal circumstances are hidden from you, flow onto the paper. Do not worry about spelling or grammar. Consider using different colored inks. Writing clarifies your thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, visions, values, goals, and priorities and helps you communicate better with others. Following are questions to get you started.


Journal Questions to Get You Started

  1. Write about the people and situations that influenced your self-esteem, both positively and negatively, in your early life, as an adolescent, and as an adult? What would you like to say to them or about them right now?

  2. Write about the things you are grateful for in your life? Update this often.

  3. List your needs. Think about needs in five different areas: physical (healthy food, regular exercise), emotional (affection, one person to share intimately with that does not judge you), social (belong to a group, people to play with), mental (stimulating ideas to keep you growing, explore an interest), and spiritual (quiet time to be alone¾being instead of doing).

  4. Write about significant emotional events that have affected you positively and negatively.

  5. What does forgiveness mean to you? Where might you practice forgiveness?

  6. Discuss three short-range goals you have for yourself? List the steps you see as necessary to achieve them. How will these goals affect others in your life?

  7. What gives your life meaning? List your values (quality time with family, being debt-free and saving money, integrity, kindness).  What do you like about your life? What do you want to change?

  8. Write about a close friend and/or mentor in your life. Describe their impact on your life. Is it easy or difficult to accept help from another? Write about this.  How might you go about finding a friend or mentor if you do not have this in your life. 

  9. Discuss your experience with conditional and unconditional love.

  10. Write about your wishes, hopes, and dreams.

  11. Record your nighttime dreams. Write about your feelings, insights, and messages.

  12. List things you are proud of and things you like about yourself.

  13. Discuss your greatest fear and its effect? What do you want to do about it?

  14. Write letters to people with whom you are angry, feel have hurt or neglected

  15.  you, or anyone you feel you treated unjustly. These letters are not to send.

  16. What are the major themes in your life? What lessons do you feel you have learned thus far within these themes? What do you still have to learn?

  17. What did you learn about expressing your creativity from your mother? your father?

  18. Write your autobiography, then how your past can positively impact your future.


In conclusion, enjoy new levels of success at work or in your family when you improve your own self-esteem. As you work on yourself notice your positive effect on those around you. Be ready for at least one person to notice something is different about you. Then you can share your secret. A handful of people practicing solid self-esteem-building skills impacts the workplace or family positively.






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