self esteem bish

Self Esteem – How Do You Feel About You?

How we can learn from our bodies, emotions, what we think, and what we might do so that we can boost our self esteem.

Some of the important stuff in sex and relationships requires you to think about you, what you want, what you need, what you think and how you can make yourself heard.  A lot of people call this self-esteem. Or ‘how we feel about ourselves’. Self esteem isn’t this thing you either have, or don’t have. It’s something which emerges within us in response to how we are being affected by the external world. That’s what this is about.

We’re going to explore the relationship between the affect something has on your body, your emotions, how what we think helps us (or not), and what we might do. The relationship between these things is key and can help you have a better day and, ultimately, can help improve your self-esteem. First up ‘the body’.

The Body

We’re all affected by things which are outside of our control every day. News, events, how we are being treated. Even someone’s presence and the vibe we get from them can affect us. These affects can be good or bad. When the body is being affected by something it is noticing what’s going on first.

On a not so good day

Firstly let’s think of a not so good day. Don’t think of the worst day you’ve ever had, but just a generally not great day you’ve had recently. If this is too tough for you to think about right now, just skip to the next bit where you only focus on the good day. (It’s totally fine to do that if you want). What was your body saying about it? Spend a couple of minutes thinking back to this day and try to remember the kinds of things that you body does.

For me it was things like:

  • shoulders were all hunched up
  • my brow was furrowed
  • I was zoning out a lot
  • wasn’t able to sit still
  • my breathing was shallow and I wasn’t noticing it enough

On a good day

So imagine that you’re having a good day, and that anything affecting you has felt good or okay. What do you notice in your body? Spend a couple of minutes thinking about that now. Close your eyes, remember a good-ish day you had recently, what was your body saying about it?

For me my body might:

  • be relaxed
  • shoulders dropped
  • head up
  • breathing into my belly rather than my chest
  • notice my surroundings and sensations more.

That’s me, but you’re not me, so think about this for you.

Emotions

Emotions are really just the words we apply to the kinds of feelings that we might have as a result of being affected by something. You’ve probably experienced an emotion lately, so you might know how this feels. You might (without realising) learn what emotion you are having because of what your body tells you. Maybe your thoughts might also be able to help you work out what emotion you’re having based on past experience and understanding other people’s emotions. I like to keep it simple here at BISH by focusing on the five core emotions from the movie Inside Out: Anger, Sadness, Worry, Joy, and Shame (stay tuned for the last two).

So again, we’re going to do not so good day and good day.

On a not so good day

Think back to a not so good day you had recently. Not a really bad or traumatic or stressful day, just a not so great one. (If it’s too hard, skip ahead to the good day). What kinds of emotions were coming up for you? You can stick to the core 5, or come up with more.

For me it was:

  • Bad
  • Unhappy
  • Grumpy
  • Down
  • Pissed off

But what about you?

On a good day

Now think back to a good or better day. What kinds of emotions were you experiencing? You could use the 5 core emotions as a starting point and see what else you come up with.

For me it was:

  • Good
  • Happy
  • Cheerful
  • Positive
  • Hopeful
  • Expansive

But that’s me, now you do you. Doing the activity is way more important than just reading this.

Think

Often it’s our thoughts that can really mess us up. There are several reasons for this. Our brain tells us stories all of the time and we believe them, or think that they are telling us something true about ourselves. Many of us live in societies which tell us that these thoughts about us are us and that we should pay attention to them. Particularly the critical stories. In my view, and in the view of many religious and cultural traditions and philosophies, this is BS.

Thinking is really useful, but it’s hard to do this when we have all these stories floating around. The way to make thinking effective is to keep it tethered to our bodies, our emotions, and what we do. In this way it also connects us with the outside world and helps us to use reason, logic, creativity, and imagination really effectively.

On a not so good day

Back to not so good day (not a terrible day, just a not so great one), what kinds of thoughts were you having? Again, if this is too hard then skip this bit. I don’t want you to feel like shit in order to learn how to feel good (and it’s actually not necessary), I just think you may find it useful.

For me it was things like:

  • I’m not good enough
  • What’s the point?
  • I give up
  • No-one really thinks I’m any use

On a good day

And now on to the better or good day. Think back to one you had recently, this time in really vivid detail. What were you thinking?

For me it was things like:

  • I like myself
  • I’ll listen to the good things people think about me
  • I’ve got lots to offer
  • Just keep persevering and take time out when I’ve done some work

But what about you? Can you give yourself the curiosity of a really good friend (or therapist) who is really really interested in what your good days look like?

Do

The Do part of this is what might we go onto do with our bodies, emotions or thoughts. Who do we communicate with, what do we say? Where might we go or not go? Do we put anything in our bodies, or move our bodies? In what ways might be use our body to connect with the external world?

Everything that we do has the possibility of affecting ourselves and others. This can be something as simple as lying down on the floor in your favourite comfies. Or having a glass of water or a slice of toast. Or going out with some pals to move your body around eg kicking a football, dancing, or rollerskating.

So you know what’s coming next

On a not so good day

Think back to the last not so great day you had, what did you do (or not do)? Not a terrible day, just a not great day.

For me it was:

  • Not really moving
  • Binge watching a TV show while doom-scrolling
  • Ate too much unhealthy food and didn’t even enjoy it
  • Shutting myself off from people and being grumpy

On a good or better day

And now back to a good or better day, what kinds of things were you doing?

For me again:

  • I made plans
  • I watched a bit of TV but paid attention and put my phone down
  • Went for a walk
  • Responded to texts and messages quickly and happily

That’s me, what about you?

Body, Emotions, Think, Do

So now is where we bring everything together. Look at your responses for the affect on the body, emotions, think, and do for both a not so good and good day. This is where you might start to see how all these different factors might result in you having more or less self esteem.

self esteem you on a not so good day bish

And now put everything together for you on a good or better day.

You on a good or better day. Guide to self esteem from BISH

Looking at both your lists what do you notice? Are there big differences between the two lists? Can you see a relationship between the different parts of you?

Try to think of a day when a not very good day just started to be a little bit better. What was the very first thing that you noticed about you that was a bit better? It could be something really really tiny. Where did it start and how did it emerge with everything else?

This doesn’t mean that you will immediately be able to turn a bad day into a good day. It’s hard to just ‘cheer up’. But can you just notice the tiny little things that might feel a bit better? What are you pleased to notice? Just reflect on this each day and perhaps notice what it is you’re doing that helps you to get through a bad day, or make a good day even better.

Lastly

An important thing to remember here – self-esteem is not always something we can control. Our health, our financial situation, our identity and experience of stigma, the way we are treated by others because of who we are, our ability can all affect how we feel about ourselves. It’s a fact that some people are more able to feel okay about themselves than others.

However, (cliche alert) this is about some of the stuff that we might have a small amount of control over. What resources do we have to be able to get us through a not very good day to make it just that little bit more bearable? Think about the days that you have got through in this way. What does it say about you that you were able to do that? Doing this kind of work is what self-esteem is and how we can build it for ourselves and with the help of others.

Other resources

You might also find this useful about how to feel a bit better, which is when you’re feeling pretty rubbish. Of course reading a website is no replacement for talking to someone you trust who can listen to you and give you the support you need. You should also be able to access a trained professional who can help you with this too: perhaps a school counsellor, a youth worker, or your GP might be able to help. There may also be free or low cost therapists near you too. Here’s my page for sexual health services in the UK, a lot of their websites give details for how to access mental health services too.

Please leave a (nice) comment below if you like or ask me a question here.

© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

If you’re over 18 and would like an advanced version of BISH check out my podcast Culture Sex Relationships. Also I’ve written a sex advice book for adults with Meg-John Barker called A Practical Guide to Sex available wherever you get books. We also did some zines to help you to figure out what you want from sex and relationships. They are at our website.

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