Self-esteem is a product of recognition through solidarity. Let me explain what that means. Within a community of peers people experience the expression of appreciation, acknowledge, valuing, and support as a sign of solidarity. When we are recognised in the above ways by people who share our values, concerns, and/or interests it means they ‘esteem’ us.

By being recognised in these ways people are able to develop self-esteem. You can see through the discussion of building self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem in the other posts that we always rely for building these positive self-relations – und therefore our identity - to a significant extent on others. Thus a relationship of solidarity is one in which people mutually esteem each other, in which people mutually sympathise with their various different ways of life, and in which group members can earn self-esteem.

Honneth (p. 121) is convinced that people always need – over and above the experience of affectionate care and legal recognition – a form of social esteem that allows them to relate positively to their concrete traits and abilities.

Classical examples of groups set up for members’ need for solidarity are for example unions, where a large group of people (employees) has come together in the spirit of solidarity to represent the interests of the group as a whole and its individual members. Women’s Refuge or Rape Crisis Centres are examples of movements in which not only the interests of women are represented publicly and politically, but that also provide services such as safe housing, information, and practical support.

When people are unable to acquire self-esteem through solidarity, when their traits and abilities are demoted as inferior, they will lose personal self-esteem. The lack of social approval and group solidarity postulates the devaluation of one’s patterns of self-realization. Individuals “…can not relate to their mode of life as something of positive significance within their community” (Honneth, 1995b, p. 134), which may result in them feeling denigrated and insulted. Of course, this lead to social exclusion and we see many examples of such exclusion in the mental health field, where stigmatisation and discrimination are ‘normal’ experiences.

The mental health patient who is not sick enough to warrant hospitalisation or institutionalisation often subsists at the fringe of society in isolation. If he/she is lucky they receive the occasional visit of a mental health professional or social worker to check on medication. Besides that, they have usually no access to a caring, supportive person that is consistent and willing to establish a close bond built on care and support so that they can develop self-confidence; they are not assertive enough to stand up for their rights and fight for their entitlements so that they can build self-respect, and they usually haven’t got the skills to engage in complex social relationships where they could earn self-esteem.

Without massive amounts of help people who either through illness, abuse, trauma, or poverty find themselves at the periphery of society have little chance to work themselves out of that dilemma and develop the positive self-relations needed for an autonomous and independent life.

So how do you build self-esteem?
Building self-esteem is always linked to be involved in a group or a movement that is organised around a common interest or passion. Such a group can be a sports team, a choir, a volunteer group, a self-improvement group, a political group, or a learning group. It can be a group of colleagues, neighbours, or a post-natal support group. If you want to build-up your self-esteem, joining a group is the only way to get there.

For more reading go to:
Axel Honneth, 1995, The Struggle for Recognition (MIT Press)

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gudrun Frerichs is a trainer, psychotherapist, and researcher who has investigated for the last 20 years how people recover from the impact of abuse. For more information go to Are you interested in the field of DID (formerly multiple personalities)? Then go to her website .
Gudrun has dedicated herself to assisting survivors of sexual abuse to grow strong and fulfil their potential and their dreams. For information about the recovery from sexual abuse and about courses for healing, self-awareness, effective communication, and successful relationships go to