Interview with Ana Belén Medialdea, psychologist:
Five stations to heal and rebuild self-esteem

Nov 28, 2023 · 9 min read

Interview with Ana Belén Medialdea, psychologist: Five stations to heal and rebuild self-esteem
Ana Belén Medialdea and her book 5 Seasons of Self-Esteem.

We live in an incessant society where self-demand, perfectionism, and overload become the daily norm. In this competitive environment, as highlighted by Ana Belén Medialdea, we find ourselves immersed in a constant quest for validation. During our discussion with Ana regarding her book 'The 5 Seasons of Self-Esteem: Learn to Care for Yourself, Respect Yourself, and Value Yourself,' the psychologist urges us to unlearn and learn, focusing on rebuilding ourselves while reminding us that 'great learnings also arise from our greatest mistakes.'

Summarizing Ana's book proves to be a colossal task since each chapter comprises reflections so genuine and profound that it's challenging not to delve into each one. It's one of those books deserving a place on the bedside table; to be reread as many times as necessary. The distinguished psychologist, with training in Italy, Spain, and the USA, ranks among the most captivating professionals in the field of brief strategic therapy in Spain. Her insights on self-esteem serve as poignant reflections with phrases inviting us to redefine ourselves and impact us at a nearly poetic level. Among them:

"To you, who needs to free yourself from the emotional prison where should hold more power than desires and needs."

"I lost myself trying to please everyone. Now, as I find myself, I'm losing everyone."

"To know who you were, you'll first need to forget what others once told you that you were."

"When in the attempt to please you, I betray myself" (...) "You are you, I am me."

"May the brilliance of your smile blind those who wish to extinguish it."

"So, with a loud slam, close the door on anything that diminishes you."

"You're not a label (...) You are what you decide to be, you are where you feel good."

Learning, Unlearning and Relearning

1. In the first station of your book, you talk about learning, relearning, and how we face changes to improve our self-esteem. Could you delve deeper into the origin and nature of changes, from your perspective?

I believe we go through two types of changes. On one hand, there are changes imposed by life, where adapting to a new reality becomes a necessity. On the other hand, there's change derived from personal awareness, reaching a point where there's an urge to do something different. In my practice, I've observed individuals desiring change but resisting it. Often, real change involves confronting fears and dismantling certain entrenched beliefs to open ourselves to new possibilities. This carries a greater energy cost when doing things differently from the usual. Additionally, there's an adaptation period where we mentally prepare for change and then materialize it. Each person's timing and impact on their lives also play a crucial role in this process.


2. Often, women experience feelings of guilt that impact our self-esteem. How can we become aware of these feelings and what practical actions can we take to overcome them?

I believe we should feel guilty when we harm someone or have ill intentions. When we punish ourselves, we intentionally harm ourselves to feel like we are paying for that mistake, and we mistreat ourselves. We have to analyze where the guilt comes from, whether it stems from something I feel I'm doing wrong or from external messages that label us as mistaken. For example, if raised in an environment constantly reproaching me, I can develop a great sense of guilt for not meeting others' expectations or not feeling up to par. Guilt can arise even when nobody demands it, as a form of self-torture for not meeting personal or external expectations.

I invite those feeling guilty to question whether their action intended harm or not. However, if there was no malicious intent and guilt persists, it's like mistreating oneself, even if we make mistakes without malicious intent. I believe it's essential to acknowledge that as human beings, we have the right to make mistakes. So, I think it's crucial to connect with that.

Endless Perfectionism

3. 'Perfectionism is an endless race.' In your book, there's a phrase that says, 'Remember that your value is not in what you earn but in all the effort you've put in that has allowed you to learn and grow.' How can we identify perfectionism and what small exercise can we do to stop it?

It's as if we're constantly telling ourselves that we have to do everything right to succeed, and we forget that great learnings also stem from our biggest mistakes. Mistakes are part of life and are very important. What's hidden in that perfectionism is not feeling up to par, not being liked, the fear that others will realize we don't do things well. The moment we stop seeing what we want and focus on what others want from me, that's where we can lose ourselves completely.

There's a Chinese proverb that says, 'If I wanted my book to be perfect, I would never finish it.' I put it as my screensaver to remind myself that when I enter perfectionism, I'm sacrificing my work thinking it won't be good enough when, in reality, why does it have to be bad, right?

In that tireless pursuit of perfection, sometimes, we run towards an infinity that we never reach.

"In that tireless quest for perfection, sometimes, we run towards the infinite that we never reach."


You speak of the concept of 'putting on armor' and how difficult it is to be authentic. And what happens when we take it off? As you rightly point out, 'the armor anesthetizes you to life and is dropped with love and self-care.' Why do you think it's so hard to be true to our essence?

We live in a society that seems to invite us to compete. It seems like we all have to be good at something. We feel the need to excel in different areas and seek validation in them. This quest to be perceived as special leads us to hide our vulnerability and discomfort, sidelining our authenticity. The constant pursuit of being perceived as special can lead to frustration and discontent. Often, we arm ourselves with a facade that conceals our true emotions, without realizing the impact it has on our emotional well-being.

Saying Yes instead of No

In one of your topics, you talk about saying yes when we really want to say no, and that 'when you give without measure and without limits, you become invisible.' You also refer to the 'healthy discomfort' felt in saying no, but that is so 'necessary' to help heal self-esteem. Why is it so challenging for us to communicate in our society?

We say yes out of fear of what people will say, of not being liked, and of not being pleasant. The problem isn't wanting to do a favor and saying yes occasionally. However, this can't become our every day, as if we do, we become invisible to ourselves, and people get used to always getting a yes from us, without pausing to think if we really can or want to. It can even lead to an abuse of our goodwill. Therefore, it's essential to practice saying a small 'no' daily.

'Having a healthy self-esteem involves daring to face our fears, even if it scares us.'


Women are self-demanding, and it affects our self-esteem. Could you explain the concept of 'doing' and 'stopping doing' that you propose, and how to implement it to stop being so self-demanding?

Self-demand doesn't work 'from doing,' but from 'stopping doing.' Today, women are expected to excel in our jobs, with our families, to care for our children, to have time for our friends, to take care of ourselves, and even to have hobbies. But when am I connecting with what I really like to do? I have to connect with myself to know what my body needs. For example, if my body needs rest, even if I planned to exercise, I have to listen to what it's demanding. In 'stopping doing,' we have to consider what things help destroy our self-esteem so that gradually, we stop doing them, even if initially, it's difficult for us. And it's better than nothing.


In your book, you highlight the importance of "learning to be the friend you so much need" and being kinder to ourselves. How can we overcome the belief that we must force situations when they don't go as expected, and instead, adopt a compassionate attitude towards ourselves to promote mental well-being?

There's this belief that when things don't turn out as planned, we should keep pushing them. However, this can backfire, leaving us more blocked, making us believe that we can't do it or don't know how. When something doesn't go as anticipated and you're frustrated, it's essential to respect yourself and do something that might benefit you. This is also a way to activate compassion for ourselves, being kinder and more flexible, helping us to reconnect with our main objective.

For instance, taking breaks is crucial. Our brains aren't wired to stay focused for 8 hours straight. Alternating between periods of focus and rest allows our minds to concentrate and unwind. However, it's important to note that motivation, inspiration, and concentration fade away in stressful environments. So, if I'm in front of the computer trying to write an article and it's not coming together, I fall into the paradox that the more I try to focus, the more I lose concentration. It's akin to attempting to force oneself to sleep.

Healthy self-esteem

And what would a healthy self-esteem look like?

Having healthy self-esteem means living your life taking care of yourself and respecting yourself whether you like what you see in the mirror or not. It means saying no when you don't want to, setting boundaries to protect yourself, and living with the freedom to decide what you need without emotionally depending on anything or anyone. Having healthy self-esteem involves daring to confront our fears, even if they scare us. To have healthy self-esteem, it's crucial to learn to take care of, respect, and protect ourselves, and for that, it's necessary to make decisions. There's a quote by Jean-Paul Sartre that says, "We are condemned to be free" because we have to choose. One of the techniques we use in brief strategic therapy is to act "as if." My professor always said, "To have high self-esteem, we must start acting in small things as if we already had it."

"It is very important to learn to take care of ourselves, respect ourselves, and protect ourselves, and for that, it is necessary to make decisions."

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