Much of the body image work I do with clients who experience eating disorders comes back to building up self-esteem. What follows are a few activities I’ve found helpful in exploring this topic with clients. These can be used as homework between sessions or as an activity with a therapist guide.
Make a Self-Esteem First Aid Kit
Find a shoebox or similar-sized container. On the outside, create a collage using magazine clippings of all your favorite things: the people, places, and things that you hold most dear.
Begin a collection of items to put inside that make you stop and feel good about yourself. Use your creativity! Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
• Make a list of every compliment you ever remember receiving.
• Have friends and/or family write their five favorite things about you and leave them as a surprise for you in your box.
• Keep special cards or love letters.
• Include photos of good times you have had and of people you love and who love you well
• Include any special recognitions you have received, such as awards, great report cards, or performance appraisals.
• Make a list of things you set out to do and accomplished: your victories!
• Include inspirational and uplifting stories, poems, and sayings.
• Make a list of all your strengths and best qualities, inside and out.
Take your box out each night at bedtime and close your day with a mood lift, or, on days when your confidence is suffering, use the box to remind yourself of the amazing person you truly are.
Try Guided Imagery
When it is hard to come up with a list of what you really like about yourself, try it from someone else’s point of view. Belleruth Naparstek has a powerful guided imagery meditation called “See Yourself with Kinder Eyes” in her book Staying Well with Guided Imagery. This exercise provides an opportunity to look back at yourself through the eyes of a benevolent other who knows you best and loves you most.
Examine Your Support Network
Write down a list of the people you interact with on a regular basis. Think about how you feel after you spend time with each person on your list. Place a plus sign (+) beside each person who you feel better after having spent time with, a minus sign (-) beside the people where you walk away feeling worse, and an equals sign (=) when there is a neutral feeling.
Take time to journal about this: What is it about each person, or the interactions between the two of you, that earns that particular mark? How might you limit your contact with or better insulate yourself from those who earned a minus sign? Especially during the times your confidence is suffering, focus on spending your time with those who earned a plus sign (+) and are most positive and affirming. Surround yourself with healthy relationships.
Author SARK says, “Women are very good at shining kindness outward, yet if you ask how kind they are to themselves, they often cry.” Make a promise to have more fun with and do nice things for yourself on a regular basis. While vacations to the Virgin Islands, long massages, and shopping sprees may all be great fun, the presents you give yourself don’t have to come at such high price tags. They might be so simple as:
- Curling up by the fireplace with a cup of hot tea
- Getting up before anyone else and watching the sunrise
- Asking someone to brush your hair
- Taking a rainy day nap
- Buying a ticket to a community play
- Going to the park and watching the squirrels chase and play
- Rereading your favorite book
- Making a CD of your favorite songs
- Calling an old high school friend
- Picking yourself a bouquet of flowers
- Giving someone a big hug and letting them hug you back
- Coloring a Mandala
- Doing something you’ve always wanted to do
- Having an adventure
SARK adds, “Women deserve adventurous lives. . . a tiny adventurous moment, close to home. It changes your perspective, reminds you that the world is deep and rich and full of colors and miracles. . . . Fill your life with tiny and large adventurous moments. . . perfect peaches, lilting street musicians, a butterfly landing on your shoulder, happy dogs on the beach, people praying together outside, children wearing pajamas in the daytime, old women on benches, laughing. . . . These are all signs of adventure.” What fun!
- Copeland, Mary Ellen. (2001). The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Naparstek, Bellaruth. (1995). Staying Well with Guided Imagery. New York, NY: Warner Books.
- SARK. (1997). Succulent Wild Woman. New York, NY: Touchstone.
© Copyright 2010 by Joy A. Davis, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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