the winter blog

Self-Esteem: 10 Strong Steps To Self-Esteem With A Mental Illness

Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.

Thomas Carlyle

Over the last year, give or take, my self-esteem and self-confidence have sky-rocketed. I feel better about myself and my abilities than I have in a long time, maybe ever. The best part is, I feel stronger than ever before; ready to face whatever life throws at me. I went through hell and somehow I came out loving myself, respecting myself, and believing in myself.

It’s really got me thinking lately…how? How did I do it? What parts of my life helped with this new-found self-esteem? Was it the blog? Therapy? My spiritual journey? The knowledge that I’ve gained about my disorders? The camaraderie and validation that I’ve found in the communities dedicated to those disorders? All of the above? Was I just at a point in life where you become “ready” to love yourself?

Then, as always, I started wondering how I could translate that process to you. How can I help other people find what I have found? How can I help other people love themselves and see their own value? Naturally, I’m going to write about it. I’m also…going to be offering a course on it in the very near future so stay tuned! But first, we blog!


Self-esteem is your subjective opinion of yourself, your value, and your worth. Basically, it’s how you feel about your beliefs and yourself as a person. Do you like yourself? Do you feel comfortable in your own skin?

There are 4 important components of self-esteem. They are:

  • self-confidence
  • identity
  • a feeling of belonging
  • a feeling of competance

It’s important to note that self-esteem and self-confidence are not the same thing. While self-esteem is your sense of self, self-confidence is your faith your abilities

There are innumerable things that can play a factor in a person’s self-esteem. Among them:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Life experience
  • Age
  • Health
  • Thought patterns
  • Social circumstances
  • The way others see and treat you
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Your childhood
  • Trauma
  • Society

So, what does healthy self-esteem look like? A person with healthy self-esteem is going to be assertive in expressing their needs and wants and in enforcing their boundaries. They will also be confident in the decision making process. The are better able to form the healthy relationships and are much more likely to leave an unhealthy one.

woman, hug, self hug

Often, people with healthy self-esteem are more resilient and better able to handle stress. They stay realistic in their expectations of themselves, always remember that they are an imperfect human being. Overall, they are confident in their own thoughts, beliefs, and interests.

Low Self-Esteem

When we have low self-esteem, we are lacking confidence about who we are what we do. We often have prioritizing our own needs, wants, and feelings, have difficulty making choices and setting/enforcing boundaries, and have poor confidence. Those with poor self-esteem often have a poor overall outlook on life.

Some causes of of low self-esteem can be:

  • Disapproving authority figures – If you were raised by a parent or guardian who was overly disapproving and critical, it’s likely that it impacted your self-esteem, even as an adult.
  • Uninvolved/emotionally distant caregivers – If your parent or guardian was unavailable, physically or emotionally, your self-esteem may have been affected.
  • Bullying – Being that victim of bullying at the hands of peers or adults can affect you well into adulthood.
  • Trauma – Certain kinds of trauma can have a severe impact on your self-esteem.
  • Society/media – Not only does the media set unrealistic beauty standards, society also sets other unrealistic standards that we are expected to live up to. These standards often change depending on your station in life. For example, in most cultures, women are expected to cook, clean, and take care of the children. This can be a real issue for women with brain disorders.
  • Mental/physical abuse – Any type of abuse deeply affects a person’s view of themselves.
  • Unrealistic goal setting – If you are constantly setting goals that are impossible to achieve, you are setting yourself up for failure. Those perceived failures will eventually start to impact your view of yourself.

Low Self-Esteem and Mental Illness

There seems to be a direct correlation between low self-esteem and mental illness. It’s a chicken/egg situation because science really isn’t sure which comes first, the mental illness or the negative view of yourself. They do know, however, that they feed off of each other, no matter the order. Low self-love makes us more susceptible to mental illness, but it also exacerbates existing mental illnesses.

Take ADHD, for example. Science has show that a person with ADHD also sees their self-esteem tank over time. This is because people with ADHD often hear much more personal criticism than their peers; the criticism often internalized resulting in a negative view of themselves. They also encounter more life challenges which can change their view of their situation.

A low overall opinion of yourself has direct links to depression and anxiety. It is imperative that you work hard to have a health sense of self when you also have brain disorders. It’s easy to lose yourself in the struggle that it brings and with a health amount of self-love, you are much more capable of fighting the good fight.

Learning To Love Yourself

heartache, heart, love

Self-love is one of the most important parts of boosting your self-esteem. Scrap everything you’ve ever hear about, “No one will love you until you love yourself.” Fuck ALL of that. We’re not here to love ourselves so someone else will love us. We’re here to love ourselves because we’re worth it. We need to love ourselves because we are lovable…we deserve to be loved.

So what is self-love? It’s our ability to accept ourselves for everything that we are, accepting our emotions, and putting our own well-being first. You can start practicing self-love now by talking to and about yourself with kindness and compassion, limiting how often and how harshly you judge yourself, and prioritizing yourself. Loving and trusting yourself if also very important.

Boosting Your Self-Esteem

Okay, now for the good stuff. So we know what self-esteem is and we know why keeping it healthy is important. So how do you get there? Well, I’ll tell you there is no linear path. It looks different for every person under every circumstance. The reasons for low self-esteem are many and can be different for all of us because trauma is gauged differently to all of us. What might have been extremely traumatic to me might have been no big deal to you.

Just like the reasons for poor sense of self, the ways to improvement are varied. We’ll each have our own walk down the line. However, I tried to look at my own experience, as a person with mental health issues, and quantify some more universal themes on my path to finding healthy self-esteem with several severe mental disorders.

I separated them into 2 groups: things that will work for people who do and do not have mental illness and things that people with brain disorders need to focus on. Let’s take a look.

1. Forgive Yourself

Look, I know this is easier said than done. I spent a lot of my life being angry and disappointed in myself. No amount of self-help advice or positive affirmations were changing my mind about myself and about my life. But listen. If I can do it, anyone can do. Forgive yourself. Let it all go. You’ve made mistakes; we all do. Now it’s time to learn from them and move on.

You have to forgive yourself to love yourself. The more you love yourself, the more you’ll forgive yourself. And so it goes, round and round. It’s whatever the opposite of a vicious cycle is. Learn from the mistakes that you’ve made so you can do better next time. Evolve and grow from them.

You should also acknowledge that you are a human being and that we are all imperfect. It’s okay to feel guilty when we’ve messed up, but show yourself kindness and compassion.

2. Focus On Your Needs

Your main focus should be on what you need in life. Obviously, we have physical needs that we should be attending to; eating and hydrating, sleeping, and exercising. But we have other fundamental needs as well.

We need things like live, intimacy, and companionship; self-care, alone time, and boundaries. We are complex beings and, in order to function at optimum capacity, we need much more than just the few things that keep us physically alive.

You should examine your core values to determine what your needs are and how they should be met. Look deep inside yourself and decide what it is you need to feel safe, fulfilled, and loved.

3. Chase Your Passion

I cannot put into words what chasing my passion has done for me. For those of you who are wondering, my passion is this blog; this brand. My passion is advocating and helping people like myself. In chasing my passion, my confidence has soared. I believe in myself in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I have found a worthy purpose in this life and it has changed me forever.

It doesn’t have to be ambitious passion; not everything has to be turned into a capitalistic money game. Maybe you love knitting and have decided to start making scarves for the homeless. Maybe your passion lies in helping young people learn how to read. No matter what, just do whatever makes your heart sing. Find the time. Make the time. But chase your dreams.

body positivity, woman, yoga

When you have a passion in your life, your creative process gets a boost (I can attest to that! Hello, 3 posts a week!) and having purpose makes you more resilient in the face of life’s challenges. It’s invigorating, refreshing, and science says that it will make your happiness levels rise and stay there!

4. Protect Yourself

Unfortunately, it is imperative that we protect ourselves in this life. This means setting and enforcing physical and emotional boundaries with the people in your life. I recently posted about how to set boundaries (and enforce them) and I know that it’s a lot easier said than done.

Enforcing boundaries, especially with the ones you love, can be uncomfortable and difficult. You are often made to feel guilty for drawing a line, even if it is for your own well-being. We have to push past the discomfort and be assertive. The more assertive you are and the more you enforce your boundaries, the better your self-esteem will get.

When people who you who they are, believe them and act accordingly. There may be people in your life who don’t have the best of intentions, but you have to have them in your life for whatever reason. Make sure your boundaries are strong with these folks. They will suck your energy dry if you let them walk all over you.

5. Live With Integrity

Living with integrity is important. Of course, integrity is subjective and will look different from person to person. I live the phrase, “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.” Living within your morals and staying true to your moral boundaries is important. You want to be the kind of person that you can live with; be a person that other people can trust.

Always stand by your core values. It can help to make a list of these values and keep them somewhere where you will see them often so you can be reminded. Your core values are your guiding principles in life and will always lead you in the right direction.

Remember to be your authentic self. Don’t compromise your integrity by trying to be someone or something that you aren’t. If you live with integrity and morals, you’re respect and love for yourself will grow exponentially.

Boosting Your Self-Esteem With Mental Illness

As I mentioned before, tips and advice for boosting your self-esteem can look different for people with brain disorders. Things like, “Stop worrying so much,” “Don’t ruminate,” and “*insert any activity that seems impossible with executive dysfunction*.” They don’t work for people who don’t always have control over their thoughts and feelings.

I started wondering what things helped me boost my self-esteem, even though I was struggling with mental illness at the same time that my sense of self was going up. Here’s what I came up with:

6. Come to terms with your mental health status

Learn as much as you can about your disorders because, in this case at least, knowledge really is power. I cannot express to you what “knowing” has done for my self-esteem. Understanding why I do the things I do and feel the things I feel was the first step in getting my disorders under control. Also the first steps toward me feeling better about myself as a person.

If your disorders are chronic (meaning they will present over and over again, never fully going away), then you will need to come to terms with that. I’ve struggled with the “chronic” part of my illnesses for years and years. It can feel like a jail sentence for a crime you didn’t commit. You have to learn to be okay with the fact that this is a lifetime and it will always be hard. You will always have to work harder than other people at being functional, but you’ve got this.

You want to make sure that you keep your focus on relationships that promote acceptance of you mental health status. Say goodbye to fair-weather friends and people who want to love you conditionally. You’ll be better for it in the end and your self-esteem will take a boost when you stand up for yourself.

7. Stop apologizing for your mental health

Hear me when I say this: Your mental health is not your fault. You did not ask for this and you did nothing to deserve it. So stop apologizing for it all of the time! I know that our disorders can sometimes have troublesome presentations, making us feel like terrible friends, family members, and people. But apologize for any actions that may have hurt anyone and move on.

You don’t have to carry that guilt and shame around all the time and you certainly don’t owe anyone an apology for having a mental illness. If the people in your life think your mental illness is rough on them, they should walk a day in your shoes. I think that they would soon find that it’s much harder for you.

Lastly, it’s okay to put yourself first. Cancel the plans that you no longer feel like entertaining. Ignore phone calls and texts if you don’t have the spoons to talk. Stop over-apologizing for not feel good. The people who really love and understand you will get it. The rest of them can kick rocks.

computer, silhouette, a

8. Connect with the mental health community

For something that has such a stigma attached, there is a huge mental health community out there. You can find them online and in real life. The people that I have encountered in this community are kind and compassionate; shared experiences bring a kinship that only we can understand. It changes everything when you spend the majority of your life being misunderstood and then you finally find a community of kindred spirits.

There are many opportunities to volunteer or get involved in person. You can contact your local colleges to see if they have outreach programs. With the appropriate training, you can volunteer on crisis hotlines or at your local crisis center. You can also reach out to organizations like NAMI and CHADD to see if they have any opportunities in your area.

There is also a robust online mental health community. You can find untold numbers of groups on Facebook dedicated to mental illness in general, as well as support for individual disorders. Twitter has communities like #ADHDTwitter and #mentalhealth Twitter which can really be a good source of information and a source of constant support. There are also a plethora of bloggers, YouTubers, and TikTokers who are dedicated to spreading the word and fighting the good fight.

9. Embrace you disorders

I know this probably seems counterintuitive, but you have to acknowledge and accept their presence in your life. They are there and they aren’t going away, it’s just a fact. Don’t fight against them; find ways to lean into them. Work with your disorders, not against them. If you do this, your life will get infinitely easier. Always remember that your mental disorders were a roll of the dice…now you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it.

Make sure to face your fears about having a mental illness. It’s okay to have fears; they’re a normal part of the process. For me, I fear major relapse again. I worry about it often. Discuss these fears with your trusted support network. Give them a voice. You can also journal about them as a way to work through the fear.

Lastly, you want to participate in your recovery in a meaningful way. Take ownership of your behaviors. Take an active role in the decisions being made about your treatment. WORK THE THERAPY. Therapy doesn’t work unless you work it, y’all. Allow yourself room to grow and to change.

10. Accept that you are imperfect

We all know, logically, that perfection is not possible. Yet, we often hold ourselves to unreasonable standards. Stop setting conditions on the way that you feel about yourself. The love that you have for yourself should be unconditional and not dependent on some unattainable set of standards that you have laid out before yourself. You need to learn to love yourself all of the time; even in your worst moments.

Making mistakes is a learning experience and every mistake is a possibility for growth. Allow yourself to vulnerable and be as forgiving to yourself as you are to other people. You wouldn’t berate your best friend for the next 20 years because she made a mistake? You would huge her and tell that everything would be okay and that she’ll make it through this. Next time, hug yourself.

Allow yourself to enjoy the process. Being imperfect is just part of the human condition. Once again, allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes, to learn and grow from them, and to forgive yourself when you make them.

self care, umbrella, protection

Once you have reached a health place with your self -esteem and mental illness, you want to make sure that you are maintaining them, along with your boundaries. Take care of yourself by following good health guidelines. Be appreciative and spend time doing things that you enjoy. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions of you. Make times for yourself; don’t over-commit.

Lastly, just a reminder, make sure you always have a mental health back-up plan, just in case things get out of your control. Make sure the people closest to you know the plan and their roles to play in it.

Alright, that’s my tome on self-esteem. We deserve to feel good about ourselves and I hope this helps you in some way, to that end. Make sure to stay tuned for the self-esteem course that I’ve already started building…it will be an expansion on the things that we’ve discussed here.

Love and light! Keep fighting the good fight!💜💜

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Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight! 💜💜

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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  1. Amber this is a great post. Thanks for sharing your perspective this way. I appreciate how clear it is, and how practical.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

  2. It’s an excellent post, Amber! Your view point towards self esteem and the things which holds them back are truly inspiring! Definitely, I would say it’s a worthy read for many around us! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

    1. Thank you, Biren!

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