Expectations and Relationships  - Lesson 3 in Building Self-Esteem

Honesty and realistic expectations go a long way in cultivating healthy self-esteem. 

Avoiding generalized statements and thoughts related to yourself and others can help you stay more grounded in reality and facts. Allowing yourself to see alternative perspectives in situations and separating the facts from your opinions can help you from taking others’ opinions and comments too personally. 

Checking in with your body can help you identify your emotions so that you can more openly admit to feeling positive or uncomfortable emotions. This honesty immediately gives you an opportunity to control yourself and the way you wish to respond to the situation. 

You may also start to notice that labeling, challenging, and replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones will give you more confidence and peace. 

Consider the following: 

Vivian demands perfection from herself and her work. A project is approaching its deadline and she has forgotten to telephone one of the contractors that needs to sign off on it. Vivian realizes what she has done at midnight and spends an hour talking to herself: “I’m so forgetful; I don’t deserve my job; I can’t believe I forgot, they will never forgive me; They will think terribly of me after this.” 

Imagine the situation if Vivian had been more honest with herself. Perhaps her thinking would shift to something more positive such as, “I slipped up and forgot to make that phone call.  Tomorrow, I can call and make a plan to get the contractor’s signature. It’s not a huge setback and I can acknowledge my mistake, along with how I intend to fix it.” 

Vivian, in the latter scenario, keeps in a place of honesty. She does not hold herself to unrealistic expectations and is able to accept that she made a mistake. She does not blow the mistake out of proportion or minimize it. She addresses the conflict within herself in a healthy manner. 

Tying It Together 

Being honest with yourself, keeping your expectations realistic, and decreasing your negative thoughts will set the groundwork for compassionate, non-judgmental thinking. When you are in a place that is both compassionate and non-judgmental, you naturally come to a healthy level of self-esteem, reducing anger, stress, and melancholy. This compassion and non-judgmental thinking applies to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up and try not to label yourself in harsh terms that are not facts.  

Objective: Objectivity 

Once you have accepted honest assessments of yourself and your surrounding situations, empathy and objectivity come pretty easily. What’s so important about maintaining objectivity? Objectivity allows you to let go of any emotional strings that may tie you to a situation. When you are overly tied to a situation, you are more likely to react or express your emotions in an unhealthy manner. For example, if someone at work is offered a promotion for a position you were promised earlier in the year, it would be easy to get snappy or cheeky with the person who was offered the promotion, or to feel bummed out and low on yourself. 

Instead, if you looked at the situation honestly, it may become clear that the person offered the promotion was more qualified for the job.  You could acknowledge that you weren’t entirely ready for more responsibility and ask yourself what you could improve to let others know you are ready for a promotion. This is an objective viewpoint, detached just enough from the situation that you can honestly and calmly assess what is happening. 

Cultivating honesty helps break down barriers that otherwise get in the way of acceptance. Write about a situation where what you thought should happen did not happen. Were you seeing the situation through your emotions? If you had been a little less attached to the situation, how would it have been different?  

Use simple mindfulness, such as noticing how your hands feel while washing the dishes or how your legs feel underneath your sheets. Every night, for the next three nights, practice small acts of mindfulness and take note of how this experience was for  you. You may find that practicing mindfulness more often can help lead to more honest, objective experiences. 

Your Social Web 

It is important to have a support network: friends, family, or acquaintances you can speak with reduces stress and can help you work through ongoing conflict as well as boost your self-esteem. 

Friends with whom you can share the joys and pains of life can prove as refreshing as a hot bath. Maintaining relationships with others outside of romantic partnerships and the workplace can be a good source of relaxation. As with any method of relaxation, a friendship can work to defuse potential depression and stress. 

There are times when you will feel highly frustrated at situations or others and you will need to talk it out with someone. Make sure this person is unbiased or unattached to the situation at hand. Ask them if it is okay with them that you are presenting a personal problem. If you aren’t seeking advice, say so up front. Unwanted advice may create more frustration on your end. 

Like bringing awareness to your body creates a feeling of being present, translating your frustration or pain into words dissipates feelings into rational thought. It may be that you only need to word the situation in your head to an outside source for a resolution to come to light. 

Sometimes conflicts seem irreparable. Both parties are at a standstill and there is no resolution in sight. When this occurs, it would be helpful to find a third-party that could help mediate. Finding another person that is unattached and unbiased can help put an objective perspective on the situation. 

Be conscientious of the mediator’s time and abilities. Make sure they have the time and willingness to help mediate. Let them know you are seeking them out specifically for gaining new perspective. This ensures the conversation will not turn into a complaint session, which may lead to negative self-talk or criticizing judgments. 

Consider the following: 

Carlos and Deborah work together frequently. Carlos is often disorganized, and usually avoids taking responsibility for his actions. Both Deborah and Carlos are working with a client. They both forget they had a meeting with their client. The client calls, angry that his time was seemingly wasted. 

Deborah blames the situation on Carlos. He usually sets appointments with clients. Carlos blames the situation on Debbie, who managed this particular client’s account. They are both angry at one another and feel they cannot be productive until the conflict is resolved. 

They decide to seek mediation with a fellow coworker, Denise. Denise works in a different department and is impartial to the situation Carlos and Deborah are facing. Both Carlos and Deborah calmly tell Denise their side of things, being sure to not interrupt one another. 

Denise sees both perspectives as well as her own. She suggests that they both slipped up, and they should acknowledge their mistake to the client. Additionally, she suggests they create a calendar that both can make edits to and that they both can see, so hopefully no one else slips through the cracks. 

Ultimately, having people in your community you can convene with or talk to helps bolster your idea of self, especially in difficult or stressful times. Know that you are worthy of affection and that most people do not have ulterior motives when communicating. Using relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, can help you if you often overanalyze circumstances in friendships or relationships. Begin establishing trust in your friendship by taking their words at face value and not assigning them with negative meanings. 


Think of a few friends or acquaintances you feel comfortable talking to about problems or challenges you may be facing. Perhaps go as far as writing a list down of these contacts, as a sort of “in case of emergency.” Next time you’re feeling upset, give someone a call. Go out for coffee with them. Be sure to maintain contact with these people in times other than just the stressful ones. 


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You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741. 

NOTE: Many of these resources utilize restrictive interventions, like active rescues (wellness or welfare checks) involving law enforcement or emergency services. If this is a concern for you, you can ask if this is a possibility at any point in your conversation. Trans Lifeline does not implement restrictive interventions for suicidal people without express consent. A warmline is also less likely to do this, but you may want to double-check their policies.