• MJ Fievre

How you can build a strong sense of self-worth

A lack of self-esteem can lead to all kinds of problems. Whether it’s setting boundaries, learning to undo the damage done by your inner critic, managing relationships, or finding the right therapy for you, navigating the quagmire caused by low self-worth is a challenge. But it’s a challenge you can take on and conquer. This week we look at some of the questions readers have asked MJ about these areas and a few others and try to help you make sense out of the dilemmas that arise when you are trying to build your confidence and support network. It’s not easy, but you CAN build a strong sense of self-worth and surround yourself with people who value you for who you really are. Read on for answers to some of the most popular questions we’re asked.

What are 3 tips for helping someone to acknowledge self-worth?


First, it’s important to realize that without a healthy sense of self-worth, everything is exponentially more difficult. Life becomes a struggle. You’re not doing yourself any favors by not thinking highly of yourself. Secondly, if you think we are all created equally, then you can realize you are no better or no worse than anyone else. You’re just equal, and you can love yourself for your unique qualities rather than in comparison to others. Lastly, you’re stuck with yourself during this life. It’s far more healthy to build a solid relationship with yourself than to beat yourself up constantly. Understanding that and realizing you are your own best friend will go a long way to helping you build a healthy sense of self-worth. Therapy can also help. Too often, in the Black community, therapy is frowned upon or considered weak. It’s not weak if it makes you stronger.

What type of therapy do you find to be most effective for someone with low self-esteem?


Well, I’m not a therapist, so I may not be qualified to answer the question. I think rather than focusing on specific types of therapy, the key to effectively treating self-esteem issues is to find the right therapist for you. The right therapist will cater to your needs and develop a therapeutic model based on what will work best for you. I personally advocate for art therapy and writing, but it might not be the best fit for everyone, because we all have unique needs and challenges. It’s important to find the right therapist for you too. That’s something that can take some time, and effort. Don’t give up if you don’t click with the first therapist you meet with. Keep looking until you find the right fit. Finding a therapist who relates to your experience as a Black woman can be difficult, because there aren’t as many Black female therapists in the world as are needed, but you can find one if you look long and hard enough. Find someone who knows how to help you set boundaries, because loose boundaries can cause you to lose your personal power and make you feel worse about yourself.

What would you suggest to help someone in with low self-esteem to set boundaries so that they don’t allow others the opportunity to take away their focus on what they desire and not allow abuse, negative criticism, or negative exploitation to lead their decisions?


Setting healthy boundaries takes a lot of patience and practice. I’d suggest starting small and building your skillset in that area. Have a script ready that focuses on your needs rather than on the other person. If you have trouble setting boundaries, working out how to do this in therapy is a good idea. It’s important to do this, because if you let people know what you cannot tolerate, they are more likely to treat you with respect, and you’ll feel more empowered to make choices in your life. Recognizing that you have that power is key to building self-esteem.

What would be the first steps in teaching someone to keep their power sacred, as they receive judgement? Teaching them that judgement is just a point of view and that it doesn’t make that judgement true or accurate, instead to look beyond it, receive it, but don’t allow it to control what you desire or the outcome?


Again, it takes practice. If you receive some harsh criticism pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it doesn’t feel accurate, it may just be some else’s subjective viewpoint and not capture all the nuances of your situation. Having a good sense of self-knowledge will go a long way to understanding how to receive or reject criticism. If you know yourself, no one can tell you who you are. So I’d suggest getting to know yourself intimately, more intimately than you know anyone else. In the moment, I’d suggest thanking the other person for their opinion and letting them know you’ll consider what they’re telling you, because that can diffuse the situation and get you out of a place where you feel you’re being harangued by another person’s judgment. But beyond that, how seriously you take another person’s judgment is entirely up to you. And it’s important to remember that you have that power to reject another person’s point of view if it doesn’t fit with what you think is right. If you haven’t protected yourself from outside criticism, it can lead to a nagging inner-critic who is always on your case, belittling you and making you feel like you’re not worthy. We have a tendency to internalize criticism, which leads to disturbing thought traps we can get lost in.

How do you transition thought at the subconscious level to undo the triggers that created this low self-esteem to begin with?


That voice of the nagging inner critic never really goes away completely. But you can choose to let those thoughts go. We all have dozens of deviant thoughts over the course of a day. If we could see inside each other’s minds, we’d all see some really horrible thoughts, but it’s important to recognize that we are not our thoughts; they are just there to help us navigate life, and we can let go of the ones that aren’t productive or healthy. I like to think of them as little thought balloons. You can acknowledge the thought, and let it go if it’s not healthy or productive. Just kind of look at the thought and say, “Okay, that’s interesting, but it doesn’t really help me, so I’m going to let it go.” If you engage with the nagging inner critic, you’ll find yourself wrestling with too many unhealthy thoughts and will become overwhelmed by them. Focus on the positive whenever you can. Surround yourself with positive people.

How do you get your family back when there is an estrangement?


I don’t know that it’s important to get your family back in every situation. Sometimes, especially if the dynamic is toxic or abusive, you’re doing yourself a favor by letting them go. You can build your own family out of people close to you if you’re estranged from your biological family. But if it’s important to you to remain bonded to your biological family and there’s a rift, I think it’s important to make a concerted effort to rebuild the relationships you’ve lost. Start by telling your family members they are important to you and that you want to work things out. But recognize that it IS work. You’re going to have to put in some effort to meet your family halfway, and you should have reasonable expectations that they are going to put in the work too. It’s like a two-way street. If they can’t meet you halfway and aren’t willing to put in the work, then you really have to question whether the effort is worth it. Is it really healthy for you to try to maintain a relationship with them? Sometimes people need time to come around and understand what you’re going through. Give them space and time, but in the end, expect that they will work through issues with you.

What is the best first step toward building new relationships?


Be honest with the other person about who you are, and be open to your own vulnerability. This doesn’t mean rushing into a new relationship with your heart handed out, but let the other person get to know you in an honest way that acknowledges all your quirks and foibles. Be willing to listen to what they have to say too, and accept them for who they are. Listening is important because as the other person starts to let you in, they are telling you who they are, and what’s important for them in life, and it will help you reasonably understand them, and not set up false ideas of who the other person is, and what they are prepared to be to you in a relationship. Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” That’s important because it saves you from setting up expectations the other person will never be able to meet.



When you put yourself and your self-worth first, new ways of navigating life present themselves to you. You begin to feel stronger and more confident, and can better shake off other people’s demands and criticisms of you. Your inner voice becomes one that is more supportive of your needs, and you can start appreciating your own value better. It’s not something everyone can do on their own. You’ll need support, whether you find it through a therapist or through a network of supportive people, it’s important to realize you don’t have to go through it alone. You can hold your head up and move past any limitations you’ve allowed to be placed on you. You can be strong.


*** A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.


M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls


“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book


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Affirmations for strong, fearless Black girls. Wisdom from Badass Black female trailblazers who accomplished remarkable things in literature, entertainment, education, STEM, business, military and government services, politics and law, activism, sports, spirituality, and more.

Explore the many facets of your identity through hundreds of big and small questions. In this journal designed for teenage Black girls, MJ Fievre tackles topics such as family and friends, school and careers, body image, and stereotypes. By reflecting on these topics, you will confront the issues that can hold you back from living your best life and discovering your Black girl bliss.


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