How Accountability Builds Self-Esteem

May 2, 2019 Britt Mahrer

Accountability matters when we're building self-esteem. We do not like to do things wrong. As children, many of us are taught that wrongdoing results in punishment. We learn to deny mistakes, to avoid the "bad" experiences that result from being blamed. Yet though we may learn to avoid culpability, we never stop making mistakes–they are a natural part of life. So, what happens when we shift away from denying mistakes and focus on using accountability as a tool to build self-esteem?

Why Accountability Matters to Self-Esteem

  1. We learn to weather the storm. For all of us, there will be a time in our lives when our mistakes create a more difficult living experience. Whether it means we lose something we desire or have to do something we don't want to do, our mistakes can result in thoughts or actions we don't want. When we hold ourselves accountable for these times, we stop wasting energy avoiding their inevitability. We learn to say, "This situation is a result of my actions and thus it is something I can handle." As we continue to make mistakes through our lives (and yes, we will), we come to see that honoring consequences enhances our ability to get through them. 
  2. We learn to respect our process. When a child is learning to walk, do we punish them every time they fall down? Of course not. We know that learning to walk includes falling down–we don't see it as a failure, but as part of the process. Yet while we celebrate this in a child's development, we punish ourselves for our more complex mistakes. Why? While our mistakes don't necessarily involve the physical crash-and-burn they did in our youth, they still mean we are trying. Holding ourselves accountable means we proudly declare our mistakes as a piece of the learning process, as our desire to continue growing, learning, and living. 
  3. We learn self-forgiveness. As an old teacher of mine used to say, 90 percent of you is not your 10 percent best. In other words, even when you are trying your hardest, there is still so much of you that is imperfect. When we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, we lessen the pressure to be perfect. The lessons and experiences that come from being wrong become as valuable as we once saw the status of being right.
  4. We learn to self-advocate. Sometimes, it's not our fault. We all know the feeling of being wrongfully blamed (I recently dealt with a manager blaming me for a coworker's actions, which made my blood boil). Being comfortable with accountability means we better recognize situations where we are not accountable–our "accountability-meter" is more accurate. We learn to rationally stand our ground and have direct and honest confrontations with finger-pointers.

Tips for Exploring Accountability to Build Self-Esteem

When we see ourselves avoiding accountability, we have an opportunity to explore new parts of our subconscious. Think of it as an archeological dig–you've discovered something, now you get to use your brushes to sweep off the dust and see the details. In psychology, our brushes often take the form of introspective questions. I suggest trying a few of the following:

  1. What am I afraid will happen if I hold myself accountable for this?
  2. Does being accountable for this change the way I see myself?
  3. Am I afraid of what other people will think about me? If so, why?
  4. Did my mistake come from good or less-than-good intentions?
  5. Did I learn from this?

Exploring accountability allows us to change our relationship with mistakes. We stop trying to avoid the inevitable and learn to see mistakes as opportunities for strength, respect, forgiveness, and advocacy. If you choose to explore your accountability, I hope you find the process a rich one. 

APA Reference
Mahrer, B. (2019, May 2). How Accountability Builds Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Britt Mahrer

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Lizanne Corbit
May, 3 2019 at 8:24 pm

I absolutely love this read. This is one of those topics that at first, people might shy away from or think it would be detrimental. So instead they may coddle or overly allow for certain behaviors. This goes hand in hand with the idea of responsibility being empowering. Thanks for sharing.

May, 6 2019 at 12:15 pm

Hi Lizanne,
I like that you mention the connection between responsibility and empowerment. I think there is such growth in learning to own our actions, and allowing ourselves to be our own teachers. Thank you for your comment.

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