Editor's note: Please bear in mind that the author is writing from a heterosexual male Dom/fem sub point of view.
I have a simple fast rule - I don't tolerate people putting themselves down. That doesn't mean we can't have bad days, however to put one's self down demoralizes everyone who is around you. It calls into question their own ability to choose friends, lovers, etc. It calls upon their social expectations in who we accept within our sphere of socializing and friendship. Call me "nose in the air" but I have high standards for those I choose to be around, and to put oneself down in front of me is to question my ability to choose friends, lovers, etc.
As I have already pointed out this does not apply to those bad hair days or life troubled days we all have. Nor does it mean I don't go out of my way to help those with low self-esteem. I simply put my foot down in the beginning and say "hey around me there is no reason to feel low nor will it be tolerated." We all have to accept that others will, without fail, think of you as better or worse than you really are. The point is that we all have a basic need to "fit-in" within our peer groups and unless your truly friendless - i.e.: you have NOONE you can talk to, chances are that these peers of yours think more highly of you than you do yourself.
So how do we go about helping someone with a low self-esteem problem change it? While from here on out I will direct it mostly to the Dominants, submissives can also use these steps amongst yourselves - just adapt as necessary.
Dominants - those submissives with low self-esteem got there because of others in their lives holding them back, destroying their personal strength, verbal abuse, feelings of inadequacy brought on by others. We have a decision to make - we can fulfill in them these feelings by being harsh, putting rules in front of them that we know they can't abide by all the time, and showing them our disappointment in how they function or submit to us. We can say things like "if you loved me you would do this." We can breed co-dependence in them quicker than an alcoholic or a wife beater can - and we can do that because after all, they love us and we're not abusing them - we're showing them love.
The alternative and the one that I propose is one of building them up. To teach them independence, self-reliance and the ability to use their own strength. The benefits are enormous in these cases because the submission is deeper, fuller and based more on love, trust and acceptance of will instead of dependency of a stronger person.
So how do we reinforce the positive while taking away the negative? These suggestions are based on my own experience in the lifestyle and have worked without fail except on an occasion where the person needed mental health provided by professionals.
Do not accept or tolerate them putting themselves down. One important thing you can do is use a mind game they are already acquainted with. Guilt. I am not recommending the use of the "guilt trip" other than in this area. You guilt them into not putting themselves down. Comments and more importantly belief in statements such as "why would you doubt how I feel toward you?" "Are you saying that I have such low expectations that for me to say your beautiful is a lie?" These create guilt for that person and they feel guilty for letting you down.. A rule I use in my relationships with, not only melly, but friends as well: "I won't tolerate you putting yourself down."
Such actions get my wrath, induce a lecture, corner time, corporal punishment, ignoring such actions/statements, etc, depending on the level of relationship we have. In time as the habit of putting oneself down is broken we can now start building them up with more productive and positive results. Making them repeat how beautiful they are to mirrors or to you while looking in your eyes. Putting them into situations that make them feel beautiful and high on the social ladder - dress up dinners, public displays of affection, simply holding hands while walking through the mall
See what I am getting at? You first put a stop to their current habit and then build into them new ones. What else can we do?
Never set them up for failure. Set realistic and easy goals at first. For example I so often see Dominants who will give their new submissive a list of 50 rules they have to abide by. They are setting the sub up for failure and by doing so destroying self-esteem no matter if that submissive is of high or low esteem. Start off easy, with just a couple of rules. Once those rules become HABIT, add a couple more. Does that mean you won't have them in trouble as often? Yes it does, too bad. Learn how to use the scene to incorporate those type of situations so that both of you can fulfill that "you were a bad girl" scenario in the safety of a scene that is role play. The short term effects are the same. But not the long term ones.
* Long term effect: "I succeed in doing what pleases Master without correction."
* Short term effect: "Damn that hurt so bad last night and he really sounded mad at me! I am glad it was just a scene though it felt so real." My point is that you build someone up by encouragement and motivation NOT by allowing them to disappoint you and fail.
The last thing that I would suggest is this:
When they do mess up and yes they will. Be harsh and stern as they need. Let them cry. Let them get over the guilt. And then go back to square one as if nothing ever happened. And try harder. The success of a submissive overcoming low self-esteem is the responsibility of that person who they put their trust and submission into. There are no exceptions. Also never allow anyone to speak down or bad about your submissive. If these occasions happen have the submissive see your reactions and how you handle it. Its where we get to be the knights on white horses they grew up believing still existed.