The two factors I have found most important to a healthy self-esteem are honesty and compassion. These tools are far more effective than the traditional methods of praising and nurturing yourself. The value of honesty is that it ensures that we have nothing to hide. When we tell the truth to ourselves, and tell the truth to others about ourselves, we are affirming our self-acceptance. This is the single most important step in building self-esteem because low self-esteem comes from a refusal to accept our own qualities. In contrast, if we lie to ourselves or to others, then we are telling ourselves that we have something shameful to hide. Thus we are constantly afraid of being exposed. Ironically, it is often low self-esteem that causes us to lie in the first place. We must break this cycle by cultivating honesty at all times.
The second factor, compassion, is not meant in the sense of self-compassion (although that is also important). Rather, the teaching is that if we learn to help others and feel concern for others, we will also feel better about ourselves. The reasoning is straightforward: if we know that we are of benefit to others, we naturally feel more worthwhile, and this boosts our self-esteem. Compassion is also important for directing our attention away from ourselves, causing us to worry less about our own problems and to see the bigger picture more. By reducing self-absorption and self-centredness, we reduce the kind of thinking that can lead to a low self-esteem.
Therefore, if we suffer from low self-esteem, honesty and compassion are two qualities to focus on. As I discussed in this article, focusing too much on self-esteem can be dangerous. However, if our response to low self-esteem is not to dwell on it but to instead focus on developing honesty and compassion, then we are guaranteed to profit. After all, the benefits of honesty and compassion go well beyond an improvement of self-esteem.