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Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine is a stage play and film written by Willy Russell. It is a story that centres around a woman in her middle age years living in the UK. Towards the start of the story, we can see that Shirley is living a life that has slowly diverged from what she wanted. We can watch Shirley constantly make choices that do not reflect who she is or wants to be - and does not help her get to what she really wants. As a result, Shirley no longer has the things in her life she really needs.

All of us have to make sacrifices as we go through life. But it is important to keep checking the impact this is having on our life, our identity, and our self-esteem. Shirley Valentine offers us a story in how dramatic it can be to reclaim your sense of self-esteem if you let it wither for too long.

What is the difference between self-esteem and self-worth?

Many clients ask this question and you are not alone in getting muddled between the two.

Self-esteem is more about what we think, feel and believe about ourselves. It is a measure of how we evaluate ourselves, or the regard (esteem) we hold ourselves in.

Self-worth is a more fundamental measure of our own worth. Unfortunately, this is often mis-used. Some people think you can measure self-worth purely in objective terms (the wealth you have, the number of facebook friends, the postcode you live in), or in how others react to us (the number of subscribers we have online, the amount of birthday cards we receive). Both of these are terrible ways to measure self-worth!

Self-worth needs to be grounded in the realisation that we are valuable regardless of what we own, have achieved, or how other see us. It may be a measure of your qualities (if you are open minded, accepting, forgiving) or your values, hopes or capacity to do good.

If you think about it this way if you recognise your self-worth and your self esteem hits rock bottom, you still hold onto the fact you have innate worth and value as a human being.

Both are equally important and necessary in life so how can be ensure we have both? Here are a few tips you can use at home to help yourself:

Building Self-Esteem:

We are often our own biggest enemies, when it comes to self-esteem. If that’s the case, start by recognising what you are saying to yourself (negative thoughts) and then challenge them.

· Keep a diary of what you say to yourself each day. “I didn’t get the job because I am stupid”, “I burnt the cake because I can’t cook” etc. Ask yourself when you first started having these thoughts.

· Next, try and think of an opposite statement such as “I am good at answering questions” or “I am good at helping people”.

· Write down things that are positive about yourself. “I am a great listener”, “I am an adventurous cook” etc. and write down what good things other people say about you. You can either keep these in a notebook or some clients have written them on post-it notes and placed them around the house to remind them.

Remember: you may have really low confidence now because of your experiences in the past, but we can all develop the ways we think about ourselves and grow or self-esteem!

Building Self Worth:

It can be easy to focus on what we have/have not achieved in life and compare our status, popularity and how much money we have to others but try and think about the qualities you have such as kindness, compassion, empathy, respect for others and how you treat those around you.

It may be helpful to think about the ‘worth’ of other people around you. If you can identify that you really value honesty, trustworthiness or integrity in those around you, then you can look to find those qualities in yourself. If they are there, then you must have self-worth.

Finally, spend some time getting to know yourself. What do you like/dislike? What are your values, boundaries and hopes and dreams.

Many people seek counselling to discover or rediscover the answers to these questions. If you would like some support with this, please email

By the end of the film/play, Shirley Valentine is still Shirley Valentine. She hasn’t changed into an overnight success, found wealth or a fairy-tale Prince. That is not what the story is about. Having spent the story rediscovering her self-worth, and building her self-esteem, she is empowered to make decisions that offer a hope for a better tomorrow – and she becomes a better person because of it.


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