Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Friday’s Question: Why a Self-Esteem File?

On Fridays I will address a question related to depression and find the answer from an expert. If you have a question you want answered, please ask it on the combox of this post, and I’ll try my best to do some research and feature it in an upcoming Friday post.

On the combox of my post, “Video: My Self-Esteem File,” Beyond Blue reader Cathy Vern wrote this:

How have you applied all this self-esteem to enrich your life? Have you accomplished things you couldn’t even think of accomplishing before? I would like more on how this made you better, or how your life proceeded to bring you things you felt that you couldn’t do before.


I have been thinking about those questions the last month because I was somewhat forced to create a second self-esteem file three weeks ago. A former high school teacher, one who helped me get sober when I was a senior, learned about my writing, and what I’ve been up to lately, and he nominated me as a candidate for my high school hall of fame.

That was the easy part.

The hard part was begging friends, family members, and former professors to compose a brief letter of recommendation. Confession: even though I am the queen of the “self-esteem file” project, I have never felt comfortable soliciting a warm fuzzy. Only when my therapist assigned me that task three years ago–when I was suicidal-did I request such letters.


The result, once again–like three years ago–astounded me. I forgot how much power those letters, those sentiments have in boosting your self-confidence, your self-acceptance, and your self-esteem.

Among my jewels, were these statements:

  • She is a child of God whose focus and emphasis has been to give back and help others. –John M. Guenin, my stepfather
  • Therese is well-known for a sense of gratitude that she expresses fervently and frequently to anyone who has benefitted her in even the smallest way. –Keith J. Egan, former professor
  • The courage Therese displays in sharing her personal journey is a daily inspiration to her readers, and to me. –Holly Lebowitz Rossi, my editor at Beliefnet
  • She is sweet and kind. –Eric Borchard, my husband
  • I can count on her to be there for me although we are almost 1,000 miles away from each other. –Christy Johnson, my sister

I have stapled them together and have been carrying them in my work bag as a kind of security blanket when the negative thoughts attack, which is about every seven seconds.


They are my allies in my war against self-hatred and self-defeat.

For example, one morning last week I was talking with a woman I don’t know all that well, and the topic of mental health came up. She is one of those anyone-who-has-to-use-medication-to-pull-themselves-out-of-anxiety-is weak-and-pathetic types. I cringed as I listened to her condescending statements. I didn’t know how to defend myself. So I left the conversation, fighting the voices: She is right. You are pathetic. She is right … You are so weak.


I brought this up in therapy the day after.

“Why do these thoughts and statements still have so much power over me?” I asked my therapist.


Then I told her about some of the warm fuzzies I had received in my letters of recommendation.

“Next time, you find yourself listening to those voices of self-doubt, direct the thoughts to one of your letters as a way of defending yourself,” she said.


The next time (10 seconds later), my thoughts started to repeat what the woman said: Weak, you are so weak, I immediately shouted, “Keith!” the former professor who said that not only was I a strong person, but that he was “very proud to have walked in my life even a little way as one of my teachers and friends.” 

It worked!


Eight second later, when I heard the usual criticism, You are so self-absorbed, I yelled “John!” That’s my stepdad who wrote an unexpected and touching letter about how I had “become vulnerable so to help others.” Nothing in the letter like “totally self-absorbed.”

So, to answer your question, Cathy, How has my self-esteem file made me into a better person? Well, I don’t know. But this I do know: Those letters help me fight so many of the voices that are guilty in dragging me into a dangerous state that can lead to a crippling depression.


I guess in thinking more about it, I’d say my self-esteem file plays defense, which allows me to play offense: to risk a little more, to write without the constant restraint of self-doubts, and to let me concentrate a little more on the present because the file has got the voices of the future and of the past in a half-nelson.

I’d love to hear from you, readers. What has your self-esteem file done for you?


To read more Beyond Blue, go to, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.

  • Cyaegha42

    Ma’am, I have been reading your site for several weeks now, and have also devoured your archived material. I am a depressive type and have found this site to be wonderfully helpful in regards to that facet of my mind. I thanks you for all the previous posts, and now this one.
    I received the advice to gather a “warm fuzzy” file from my mother, a few years before she passed on, and it has helped me during dome hard times. Now, granted, I am the author of my own bad times, and I accept that. But along the way, I did some harm to others, and it ate away at me once I got back into a state of mind resembling normal. It took me three years to approach some of them again, to apologize and ask for their forgiveness. And to my surprise, they not only accepted, they told me I was still part of their lives, that things I had done and said for them had helped them through similar times. Could have knocked me to the floor… I keep a list of all their thanks, and all their love for me. It was unexpected, and a treasure above all others I have ever had. I still call upon them when my inner voice tells me I’m awful, unforgivable, and every other manner of bad. You’re right to recommend such an exercise. Just knowing that you ARE loved is the best tool in the box for depression.
    So, in closing, Thank You for all you’ve done. This is my first reply, but I’ve been here for a while. Thank you so much for letting me know I’m not alone, and for giving me some other tools in fighting off this monster(a bit melodramatic, but that’s me).

  • Your Name

    I think that one of the reasons a SEF is so powerful is because it’s concrete. These people wrote these words…the words that you’re reading from the paper in your hand. No negative thought can deny that. So it gives you a physical thing to fight the negative thoughts with. When so much of the battle is in our minds, having a physical tool can be an amaxing help.
    I think I’m going to start my own SEF :)
    ~Meghan (Megulator2 on BB)

  • Annapurna Moffatt

    I totally agree with Holly.

  • Therese Borchard

    Thanks very much Meghan and Cyaegha! I really appreciate the feedback.

  • Therese Borchard

    Sorry, Anna. Did see you there. Thank you! t

  • Marilyn

    Therese since doing the self esteem files last year my confidence has grown so much.With every letter or encouragement the people here give me i realize i am a better person than i thought.Also i seem to have more confidence here in the real world and seem to have more strength to congour life.Thats ben one of the best things we have done here to bad the group has goten to big to do those again.Thanks for makeing me feel better about myself.

  • Therese Borchard

    wonderful, Marilyn!

  • Franco

    I responded to the encouragement to start a self-esteem file a year or more ago. When I started hearing back from folks I was almost moved to tears to know how much I was loved and appreciated. It was validation at a level that I had desired without ever knowing. Therese, I shared a couple of them with you. It was a golden key to a better and more accurate self-image. What it made me realize is I want to build files for all my children, wife, family and friends…so that they too may experience knowing a truth that I may have never spoken before. It’s sort of a mission for me now. There is a spiritual gift alluded to in the Bible that’s called Encouragement. I think we could experience that gift through writing self-esteem letters to all of our friends and family. I’m thinking of that as sort of a mission for 2009.

  • Therese Borchard

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with the group. I do remember! T

  • Nika

    I started my self-esteem file right after I saw your video blog about it. The times when I appreciate it the most is during the “bad days”, when hope is barely existent and the world seems to be falling apart. Even though I gathered all nice things said about me from just anybody, the ones from my parents and professors have been the most precious and helpful. If I never asked them to write these positive qualities about me I never would have known; I thought they were silent for a reason, that I was not good in some way or another.
    Of course after reading the file my confidence doesn’t just shoot straight into the sky and stay that high. However, every kind word is put into making a very safe net for me to fall upon whenever I fall.
    Thank you for this great idea Therese! I also proved to myself that I can take someone’s advice/ idea and put into practice.

  • Barbara Bowman

    One additional way the self-esteem file is useful: praise doesn’t fit my self-concept. I used to find ways to diminish any I received – “If they were only more knowledgeable, they would know that I am an inferior…musician…teacher…writer…person.”
    Then years ago when I got a nice note from someone — even if I didn’t know the person very well, I’d save it, or if it was verbal, I’d write it down, because mostly I would immediately forget the compliment, because as I said, it didn’t fit with my self-concept. I would literally forget in a few seconds – powerful negative training, I had. Once I had to go back and ask someone what they said three times, because I couldn’t write it down fast enough. How embarrassing!
    But I am getting better now, and having those notes – which are scattered all over the place, are such a blessing. I learned not to dismiss nice comments because I realized what a put-down it was to the person giving it. So I *chose* to believe them instead of the negative messages that ran in my brain. It is still a bit of a battle, but I am clearly on the backside of it now.

  • Isol

    And what happens when other people don’t think you are an spectacular being?
    Self-esteem, in my opinion, must come from inside of us. We cannot validate who we are based on other opinions. Because sometimes we hear good things, but a lot of times we don’t. We need to know who we are, we acceptante, love and compassion.
    I love the woman I am, that makes me free.

  • Your Name

    i battle depression daily. i get up in the morning depressed go to bed 1/2 depressed. i fight daily to do work at home instead of sitting in my chair doing nothing. i have no friends family doesn’t have anything to do with me. i watch my son daily cause he has seizures. can’t leave him alone. have a great girl friend she understands helps me alot. if i stay busy its not to bad. but its a HUGE fight to not just sit online or watch tv. well i feel better just wanted to complain. thanks gary

  • La Gaile

    I’ve been going through a longtime unhappy marriage. I’ve decided I can’t take it any longer. I seen a lawyer. Now I’m going through this deep depression about leaving. My husband is very controlling or tries to be. I’ve gotten to where I stand up to him. It makes things hard to live here, but I’m so fed up. I need to get past the guilt of leaving him. Been almost 32 years of bad marriage. I have my faults, don’t get me wrong. Crying everyday is getting so much more depressing. I don’t work and financially I’m going to have a hard time making it on my own. Guess that adds to all my worries. I’ve prayed about this for along time. Any advice or anywhere I can get help dealing with my problems. I’m so afraid. Thanks for listening.

  • Your Name

    I have been a social worker since 1973.I was the first person ever in my family to go to college.I have battled demons all my life from an abusive childhood.I met a wonderful man and married at age 19. We put each other through college while having 2 children of our own and adopting a special needs child. When that child was 13 and the others were 17 and 19 my husband suddenly died at age 40. I was 37. That was 16 years ago today. Recently I left a job I had worked at for 3 years because I found out the program had done some things I consider illegal and abusive to the children they serve. They offered me money in the form of a gag order and I declined to take the money. The system is corrupt. I had to make a decision which left me with my intergity in tact but out of work at age 53 and broke.I am looking for a job daily and because I left employment can not even get unemployment compensation. In addition to this my family has gone through great strife and my daughter has estranged herself from us and taken the grandchildren away refusing to let them speak to myself or anyone else in the family. To sum it up the stress,health problems brought on by stress and depression over the whole situation has caused me to evaluate my place in life.My wants and my value. These events shook me to my core. I read the article one morning about making a self esteem file.It seemed like a good idea or at least a life line so I began to gather letters of recomendations from former employers and clients I had filed away .I put cards my kids had given me over the years. transcripts from college, favorite quotes and Bible verses all reaffirmed I was a good mother,therapist smart and decent honest human being. This collection has served to help me through this difficult time. With God’s help I will emerge with my integrity and self esteem in tact.

  • Your Name

    your comments and solutions seem to be directed to women, i wish there was a place like this dealt with how men feel. i have been dealing with depression for 69 years. it’s only been in the last few years that i have known what to call it. please direct some comments to men there must be some reading this site.
    thank you

  • Your Name

    Goodafternoon Everyone I use to have low-self esteem. And when I tell people that they look at me as if I were crazy like u so pretty HOW!!! But u know what u can be the most prettiest person in the world and still lave low-self esteem.But since I found God it has change. I dont think negative of myself and Im happy and peaceful. U dont need to have a man tell u your cute,pretty, or whatever makes u feel good. Just look in the mirror and tell yourself “Im Pretty IM Somebody”.Write yourself Emails,Text yourself. It so much fun and people will start seeing it,it will start showing though u.U all our pretty to me and I don’t know u. But it starts within. God Bless

  • Julie

    I started my 1st self-esteem file in September 08 after watching your video.I agree that it was VERY hard to reach out to others and ask them to write at least 10 warm fuzzies about me especially when I couldn’t really think of 10 myself.Needless to say, I’m so glad I took the plunge!I have no problem allowing others to have faults or thinking everyone else is perfect, but when it comes to myself I’m always no good.This self-esteem file is a sometimes “daily use” file to remind me that I am: 1. Loyal 6. Creative
    2. Giving 7. Selfless
    3. Thoughtful 8. Determined
    4. Caring 9. Amazing Wife & Mother
    5. Creative 10. Beautiful(inside & out)
    That’s only 1 of the letters recieved; So take the Plunge! It works!

  • Your Name

    Therese! I don’t even know HOW to go about assembling a “self-esteem” file! I DID, however, receive a comment in Dave Oliver’s blog from a fellow poster that my “childlikeness” was what drew her to my blogs every day! BOY, did THAT do something for my “ego” (self-esteem).

  • SuzanneWA

    Sorry, Therese – I guess I want to write MORE than your Capchek allows, so it left my NAME off!

  • Becky

    How would you go about helping your boyfriend with low self-esteem issues?

  • Your Name

    Good Afternoon Readers! My husband suffers from very low self-esteem and massive bouts of depression and that really takes a toll on our relationship as well as my own mental health. How can I get him to make a self-esteem file AND USE IT to better himself as well? He only says that this is how he’s ever been and can’t live any other way. Any suggestions would be most appreciated! He does go and see a therapist but I know that he isn’t honest with him either. I just don’t know how much more of his negativity and verbal abuse I can take. Thanks for your time.

  • Lorrie

    I don’t even know how to start a self-esteem file. I suffer bi-polar depression and have been suicidal at numerous times in my life. I have lost my best friend, my fiance to cancer, and shortly after my first husband, childhood sweet heart, my fist sons’ father also to cancer. I haven’t been able to get outof my rut. I am hard on myself because I don’t think I can do anything because Iam tired all the time and I stay at home all the time and just get out to go to the Dr.s, Please let me know how to start an self-esteem file.

  • debbie davenport

    I would like to know more about a self esteem file – I’m terribly depressed and hide away in my house, don’t go out, am FAT and ugly and don’t much like myself some days. It makes me sad, I do have many friends and get out some but I’m not a happy camper just now!!
    Please help me – tell me about this self esteem!! :o)

  • Leeann

    Please help me I have for over three weeks been up and down with my bipolar and depression mostly the depression. I wake up everyday and try to think positive and I get the mail or phone calls from collectors wanting money. The problem is I get workers comp and my husband has Parkinsons and is waiting for SSI and I feeel like everything is on my shoulders and that I need to make it work but it is not. Their are so many problems they seem to outweigh the good and the things I should be thankful. I keep thinking i should be happy that there are tohers that are worse off then me. My therapist tells me that it is ok to feel you are alone and at that edge. I just don’t want to fall off. I have been hospitalized and had bad thoughts as well as going to Respite and I am afraid I am reaching that point again and I don’t want to I can’t do it to my family. So please help me!!!

  • Your Name

    I must admit to being “rather perplexed”.(not depressed–yet)…I keep seeing all this “stuff” about DEPRESSION…….AND FRANKLY IT REMINDS ME OF WHAT
    the AMA/surgeons/psychologists/psycho-therepists/ and a bunch of folx(
    are “practicing”….CREATING ILLNESS SO THE CAN PEDDLE (‘scuse me..
    partiular-“professional-practice”…….BELIEVE ME..I’ve known setbacks,failures,Divorce,parental-loss,loss of friends,mentors,and
    “closeness”….(to the best of my knowledge) I’VE NEVER MADE A CAREER
    OUT OF IT…….
    The self-esteem “stuff” is the final straw,4-me…Id this not what’s DESTROYING (what’s left of the finest , most progressive education-system in the world (prior to the 70’s NEA & Co.?)
    “there are “no-losers”, “we all play the game equally”, “everyone’s a winner”…”what an absolute pantheon of unmitigated bull-crap !!”
    aM i A mILLIONAIRE ? nO; am I a loser.? NO–NOT-YET…because
    I pick myself-up/dust myself-off/and start all over again…with
    My Lord is my Rescue/My salvation/He will NEVER leave me nor desert
    me…IT DOES HAVE one significant requirement…that you (not only accept and believe in/on HIM…..AND (AS SUCH) YOU ARE PRE PAIRED/PARED TO FOLLOW, OBEY, AND BECOME SERVILE TO HIS WILL…
    WILL THAT CURE YOUR ILLS ? NOT A HOPE IN BLAZES !! BUT “THAT” AS A FIRST “DECISION”(gut-wrenching)followed by ACTION…deciding to
    “alter course” theN (DISCIPLINE)………DO-IT…..
    Ask HIM for help/guidence/wisdom…Listen and follow…(and oh-yes)
    BE PATIENT…just because YOU just woke up..doesn’t mean He’ gonna
    bring your breakfast “IN-BED”
    FOR YOUR ‘self-esteem-file (#’s 1&2…..)

  • Your Name

    First to I would like to say, I am grateful to God that you are able to survive the stresses and strains of life. Your comments, however, I find to be very sarcastic, judgmental and lacking compassion. I would urge you to be a little more understanding of those of us who are struggling just to make it through a single day. I would also suggest that you study the book of Job and recognize that Job wished his life to end and was desponded and yes, I dare say, even exhibiting depressive symptoms! But I would also encourage you to study his so-called friends’ “advice” and how they were not helpful to Job. Pay special attention to God’s indictment against them for their lack of compassion. Patronizing platitudes such as what you have posted, along with other Christians who judge those who suffer from depression and other mental health issues do nothing to help the sufferers; it only causes us to feel more guilty and and depressed. Jesus tells us that we should not judge lest we be judged in the same manner. Please do not judge those who suffer until you walk in their shoes. There but by the grace of God go you. It is only by His grace and His mercy that you have not experienced the pain of depression. A little compassion goes a long way, and glorifies the Father above.

  • Your Name

    Yes, I think it is tough to imagine what others may be experiencing and the best you can do is to listen, to try to understand and to have compassion for those who may not handle things the way you do. Criticism has a way of cutting that is hard to forget. I am in a public profession and get a lot of criticism as regular fare. Years ago, If someone said something encouraging, I would “put it in my pocket for a rainy day” because there were sure to be plenty of those. Now, with a lifetime of blows I could not have imagined when I was young, I decided to dig through old letters and cards and put together a “Book of Compliments” just for me, to help me recreate some of the boldness I had in my youth. I have big things to do and I believe in a self-esteem file and it’s ability to affect one in a positive way. I worry about those who may not have the interaction with others to have any encouragement come their way. It’s one of the best reasons to get out and help others and one of the things that is meant by the idea that “you get more than you give” when you volunteer.

  • Therese Borchard

    Thanks for all of your comments regarding the self-esteem file, and thanks to those who shared their experience with one. Some folks have asked for more instruction. You might try this link to my article on 10 steps to building one: Thanks again, t

  • Your Name

    Regarding jan939…
    First, I will tell you that I love the Lord. He is my true strength. When I speak with him, he does not yell (caps are considered yelling), or critisize me for my weaknessess. He knows them. We all have them Jan. Reaching out to others for comfort, inspiration and personal wisdom is part of his plan for us. I suffer what is labeled as mental illness in the form of bi-polar disorder. I choose to look at it as spiritual warfare as the enemy attempts to rob me of my faith, my hope, and my spirit. That is what the enemy attempt to do to us. While I don’t take meds any longer as they are not a remedy, and for some, cause more problems than they solve, I would not judge others who may need them to balance out chemical issues within the body. Please, be careful with your judgments of those you consider weak. Remember, the Lord said “The meek shall inherit the earth”. Each path to Him is as individual as snowflakes. Where is your compassion for those who need more help than you do? Is that not our purpose??? Do you not have the compassion of the Christ??? As He was led to the cross, Jesus fell as he carried the cross….there was one who stepped forward and attempted to pick up the cross and carry it for him. This is compassion, this is how we as Spiritual Beings are to live…for others and the benefit of our fellow sufferers. I do not relish suffering, but am grateful for all the lessons it brings as our suffering is as His. Without suffering, how can we possibly understand His grace?

  • Your Name

    For the third time in my adult life I have had to admit that the chemical imbalance in my brain causing my depression requires medication. This time I have been on the medication for almost 5 years but there have been several catastrophic events that continue to add to my stress index causing the inability to get off the medication. I read the Bible daily (with an occasional lapse) and try to feed my mind with only good things – Christian fiction, no TV, Christian radio and audio books. Is there a maximum time limit for medication?

  • Douglas Cootey

    I have never seen so many people named “Your Name” before. I wonder if it was popular a few years ago like Jason and Megan. But I digress.
    First, I wanted to congratulate not for her heart warming letter of compassion and understanding for others unlike her, or her phenomenal grasp of Christ’s teachings, but for the way she tortured the English language. I found the juxtaposition of UPPER CAPS with typos and random ascii characters almost, but not quite unlike, art. Can you imagine reading the Holy Writ done in textspeak? The heart shudders.
    Therese, I like your idea of a self-esteem file. Many years ago I discovered the power of devices like that. I set aside complimentary emails I received from people and compared them to my flame mail file. Contrary to my own perceptions, I received more compliments than insults. That was an eye opening experience. I used to refer to that compliment folder from time to time whenever I was feeling down. It’s an excellent technique to help us offset negative thinking. Well done!
    Douglas Cootey
    ? The Splintered Mind\ – Overcoming AD/HD & Depression With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

  • Therese Borchard

    Good to see your name among the comments, Douglas! And thanks for giving your testament to the power of (SOLICITED or unsolicited) warm fuzzies. Like I said, for those folks who have enough self-confidence without having to take these measures, more power to you, man! Me? I spent a good part of my day staring into the mirror saying: “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. Gosh darn it, a few people even like you!” :-)

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