Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Self Esteem File

The other night when I couldn't sleep, I went to a comment party over at Crash Test Dummies. It was so much fun although eventually it turned to singing 99 bottles of milk, pete and repeat, and knock knock jokes.

But before the super silliness set in, we were talking about that fun post Crash did in my behalf. I mentioned that I need to print it all out and put it in my self esteem file.

Just what is a self esteem file, you ask? To clarify, it is not something clever I thought up, but something I stumbled upon in my online search for help with depression.

Any of you who struggle with similar challenges might want to check out It is a treasure trove of inspiring helpful ideas. One of the contributers is Therese Borchard who writes a blog titled Beyond Blue.

And so I have plagiarized her idea and post about "how to start a self esteem file" to share with all of you. Except I am giving her credit and linky love, so is that plagiarizing? Hopefully/probly not.

(this is kind of long, but Therese is funny and inspiring, so hang in there, or not, your choice)

By Therese Borchard

Three years ago I walked into my therapist's office feeling like a Krispy Kreme donut: I had no center. Everything I attempted, both professionally and personally, seemed to flop. I had no sense of self, no confidence, and no faith in myself. I found nothing of value in my DNA.

So she assigned me a project that turned out to be a meaningful, lasting tool in my mental health toolbox. I call it "The Self-Esteem File." Here are 10 steps for starting your own

Step 1: Identify 10 Strengths in Yourself

My therapist first told me to try to identify 10 of my strengths--10 positive qualities about myself--and to write them down on a piece of paper. This first step, trying to recognize your own assets, and to begin, ever so slightly, to believe in yourself again, is the most important. And the most difficult.

Think hard about what people have told you in the past: things that you do especially well, or personality traits they admire. Think about your job. Why are you good at it? Or about your hobby. What makes you enjoy it? What is that something special about you?

You might also go through old birthday cards, or report cards, or annual reviews (excerpting ONLY the positive), think back to past conversations with friends, page through photo albums and scrapbooks--anything to recall those times when people recognized your talents and assets and expressed appreciation for them.

Step 2: Come Up with Four People to List Your Strengths

If you were unable to come up with 10 positive traits about yourself, I totally understand that. Because the first time I tried to do it, I couldn't get there either. I stopped at two: I had a nice-shaped nose and thick fingernails.

And those two qualities weren't exactly making me feel whole again.

So here's the next step: come up with four people who will write that list for you. Now, I know what you're thinking: if I had four people in my life who would tell me why I am wonderful, then I wouldn't have low self-esteem...right? Of course, it's not that simple. But I'm thinking that there are four people in your life who could do this for you. Not necessarily friends, but maybe coworkers, or siblings, or teachers, or pastors, or mail carriers. Think about people who have complimented you in the past. Go there.

Step 3: Make Four Friends

If you still can't think of four people in your life who could identify and list 10 of your assets, then you need to make more friends. And I have some ideas on how to do that!

Go read my post "12 Ways to Make Friends," in which I mention a few strategies like: joining a book club, volunteering with a charity or civic association, getting involved with your church, going online and joining a group like "Group Beyond Blue," seeking a support group, taking a night class, getting a dog (pet owners stick together), "stealing" friends from other friends (my favorite), carpooling to work, attending a conference, connecting with your alumni associations, and talking to strangers (which is how I met my guardian angel, Ann).

Step 4: Ask Your Friends to Make the List

Now that you have at least four people who can ideally compile a list of positive traits for you, what do you say to them?

I know. This is not easy. Because it is admitting that you are, well, in a bit of a rut. Which is why you can make up something like the following (which isn't a lie, really!): "For a project I'm doing with an online group, I need to assign four people with the task of listing 10 positive traits about me. I thought of you since you're such a positive and complimentary person. Would you ever consider doing that for me?"

If you know the friend well, you might say something a tad more revealing: "Hey, you know, I've been feeling really down on myself, and someone suggested that I have my friends compile a list of my character strengths, because I can't really see any. Would you mind doing that for me?"

Step 5: Buy a Folder and a Label

Next comes one of the easier steps: simply drive (or walk) to the drugstore or to an office-supply shop and buy a folder. Any color. Any style. Write the words "Self-Esteem File" on the front. Make it so obvious that you would be embarrassed if anyone found it.

Why? Because if your home catches on fire, you want to be sure to grab the right file: the one with all the warm fuzzies inside.

Step 6: Start Collecting Letters

One by one, as you collect your letters of affirmation, place them in the self-esteem file. If two weeks go by and you haven't received anything, which makes you feel worse than when you started this project (my apologies), say something like this to your four people: "Um, I gave you a very important assignment that you've blown off so far. Now get your butt off the couch and start writing!" Or something like that.

Step 7: Find More Friends

Most of the time, one, two, three, or four of your friends won't follow through on their promise, which is why you need a list of four additional people to serve as alternatives in case your lazy so-called friends bail on this task. So, review Step 3 on the different ways you can meet friends, and say to your additional four people something like this:

"As you may or may not be aware, I need some affirmations. Lots of them. Could you please list 10 positive qualities about me? Why are you my friend? Why do you return my calls?" (If they don't, skip that one.) "What would you say at my funeral?" (But reassure them that you have no plans to die right now.) "You see, I am starting a self-esteem file, and I'd love for your positive words to be among the first pieces to fill it."

Step 8: Propose an Affirmation Exchange

If asking friends for a list of 10 positive traits still has you a bit freaked out, because it is asking something of someone, and I know how hard that can be, here's an idea: propose an exchange of affirmations.

I'll rub your back if you rub mine. I tell you 10 positive things about you, and you tell me 10 about me. A little collaboration. That's not so scary, right?

Step 9: Continue to Collect Affirmations

Become an affirmation hoarder. That's right. Whenever anyone says anything remotely positive ("You smell interesting today"), record it: on a Post-It, legal pad, receipt, or on anything that you can shove into your self-esteem file. Pretend you are a New York Times reporter with the assignment of breaking the story that you are a precious, lovable, wonderful human being that so many people in this world appreciate, respect, and admire.

Put into your file all those letters, cards, notes, emails that are complimentary in any way. Look also for "proof" in the past that you are worthy and lovable: professional feedback, birthday cards, thank-you notes, Mother's Day presents (if they are made of paper), Valentines.

Step 10: Read It!

As you watch your self-esteem file widen, fatten, thicken, and grow, a curious thing might might not depend on it so much. You'll graduate to what David Burns, M.D., author of "10 Days to Self-Esteem" calls "unconditional self-esteem." Explains Burns: "You realize that self-esteem is a gift that you and all human beings receive at birth. Your worthwhileness is already there and you don't have to earn it."

That hasn't happened to me yet, and it's been three years since I started my file. I still read it fairly often, and continue to stock it full of affirmations whenever I get one. This is true, though: because of my self-esteem file, I no longer feel like a donut. I have a center, and I am loved.

Ok I am back. Isn't that a great idea? And if you are not in the depths of despair right now, you could prepare one of these things for a rainy day. Because I have learned that no matter who you are, we all get a turn in the refiners fire. Just saying.

And wasn't that so cute how she felt like a Krispy Kreme donut? She may have felt dead inside, but at least her taste buds were still alive. I know just how she felt.

In all honesty, I have not actually done every step of this great idea. Perhaps now that my life is calming down, I could actually put it together. The good news for me is that I have way more than 4 friends so half of this assignment is done. Several of them have already written me such a letter, thanks to some of my posts on here. And their letters have helped. In addition, I have joined an online support group called the blogosphere. Which by the way is a great record of postitive affirmations.

I think for those of us who have one, you would have to include your patriarchal blessing. I can't think of a better friend who knows and believes in each of our strengths than our Heavenly Father. So don't forget about that Heavenly High Five when you are feeling low.

Arighty then people get those post it notes ready and start recording those affirmations.

Ready. Begin.


April said...

You are my hero!

Even when you are hurting you still have humor. That is half of the battle. But, humor is only good when shared. That's why friends are so important. Thank the heavens for old friends and new friends. I know I am right now.

Nutty Hamster Chick said...

Yes April, laughter is the key. With laughter and friends anything is possible.

Sandi said...

I have 4 daughters and the thing I want to give them the most is self esteem- it is SO very important! So just in case nobody told you how wonderful you are today...let me be the first!

Nutty Hamster Chick said...

Thanks Sandi, no one has said. My son threw an egg nog milkshake at me and my daughter complained that I never take her to eat by herself, even though we just went to panda on Monday.

So I need to hear that I am wonderful, because I am feeling less than.

Kris said...

What A great idea. I will write one when I can think about your best 10 qualities.
I wish that I understood why these punks we give our lives for have so little gratitude. I know no one at your house is happy about Jared's leg and all that has ment, but they should not take it out on you!

Mariko said...

Anyone who throws an eggnog milkshake must think you are special enough to waste it on.
4 friends?! FOUR?! Ya gotta be kidding me. I think I make .4 friends a year. I guess I need to read that other post.

Nutty Hamster Chick said...

I should clarify that I accidentally poked jared almost in the eye, and that is why he tossed the milkshake, not totally malicious. And this time I am being serious.

SEBishop said...

I love the self-esteem file. I am trying to help my Carson and Jessie with being PROUD. Carson has tourette's syndrome-uncontrollable tics--and said to me once, I wonder what it would be like to live in a body without tourettes and ADD?" I vowed then and there to NEVER to do anything to hurt his self-esteem so he can make it through with this trial. It takes a lot of effort on my part, but when I succeed, I feel PROUD. One of the few moments I am proud of myself.