Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, or the opinion you have about yourself. Everyone has times when they feel a bit low or find it hard to believe in themselves. However, if this becomes a long-term situation, this can lead to problems, including mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Some of the symptoms of low self-esteem can also be a sign of these problems.
Self-esteem is often the result of a lifetime of experiences, and particularly what happened to us as children. However, it is possible to improve your self-esteem at any age. This page provides more information about self-esteem, and some actions that you can take to improve it.
Some people think of self-esteem as their inner voice (or self-dialogue) – the voice that tells you whether you are good enough to do or achieve something.
Self-esteem is actually about how we value ourselves, and our perceptions about who we are and what we are capable of.
Self-esteem is not about ability
Self-esteem is often not associated with either your own ability, or other people’s perceptions of you.
It is quite possible for someone who is good at something to have poor self-esteem. Conversely, someone who struggles with a particular task might generally have good self-esteem.
People with good self-esteem generally feel positive about themselves, and about life. This makes them much more resilient, and better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.
Those with poor self-esteem, however, are often much more critical of themselves. They find it harder to bounce back from challenges and setbacks. This may lead them to avoid difficult situations. That can, however, actually decrease their self-esteem still further, because they feel even worse about themselves as a result.
A lack of self-esteem can therefore influence how people behave, not to mention what they achieve in their lives.
You may find it interesting to read our page The Importance of Mindset for more about how attitude influences behaviour.
Why Do People Experience Low Self-Esteem?
There are many reasons why someone might have low self-esteem. However, it often starts in childhood, perhaps with a feeling that you were unable to live up to expectations. It can also be the result of adult experiences such as a difficult relationship, either personal or at work.
Self-esteem, domestic violence and abuse
The victims of domestic violence and abuse often have low self-esteem.
This may be because their abuser has spent time belittling them and making them feel bad about themselves, reducing their self-esteem. However, it may also be that their low self-esteem made them more vulnerable to being abused because they did not feel that they were valuable.
Nobody should have to suffer from abuse or violence.
If you, or anyone you know, is in this situation, you should seek help.
Stressful life events, such as a divorce or bereavement, can also have negative effects on your self-esteem.
Improving Your Self-Esteem
There are a number of ways in which you can improve your self-esteem.
1. Identify and Challenge Your Negative Beliefs
The first step is to identify, and then challenge, your negative beliefs about yourself.
Notice your thoughts about yourself. For example, you might find yourself thinking ‘I’m not clever enough to do that’ or ‘I have no friends’. When you do, look for evidence that contradicts those statements. Write down both statement and evidence, and keep looking back at it to remind yourself that your negative beliefs about yourself are not true.
2. Identify the Positive About Yourself
It is also a good idea to write down positive things about yourself, such as being good at a sport, or nice things that people have said about you. When you start to feel low, look back at these things, and remind yourself that there is plenty of good about you.
In general, positive internal dialogue is a big part of improving your self-esteem.
If you catch yourself saying things like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m a failure’, you can start to turn things around by saying ‘I can beat this’ and ‘I can become more confident by viewing myself in a more positive way’.
To begin with you will catch yourself falling back into old negative habits, but with regular effort you can start to feel more positive and build your self-esteem as well.
3. Build Positive Relationships—and Avoid Negative Ones
You will probably find that there are certain people—and certain relationships—that make you feel better than others.
If there are people who make you feel bad about yourself, try to avoid them.
Build relationships with people who make you feel good about yourself and avoid the relationships that drag you down.
4. Give Yourself a Break
You don’t have to be perfect every hour of every day. You don’t even have to feel good about yourself all the time.
Self-esteem varies from situation to situation, from day to day and hour to hour. Some people feel relaxed and positive with friends and colleagues, but uneasy and shy with strangers. Others may feel totally in command of themselves at work but struggle socially (or vice versa).
Give yourself a break. We all have times when we feel a bit down or find it harder to maintain our self-belief.
The key is not to be too hard on yourself. Be kind to yourself, and not too critical.
Avoid criticising yourself to others, because this can reinforce your negative views—and also give other people a (possibly false) negative opinion of you.
You can help to boost your self-esteem by giving yourself a treat whenever you succeed in doing something hard, or just for managing a particularly bad day.
5. Become More Assertive and Learn to Say No
People with low self-esteem often find it hard to stand up for themselves or say no to others.
This means that they may become over-burdened at home or at work, because they do not like to refuse anyone anything. However, this can increase stress, and make it even harder to manage.
Developing your assertiveness can therefore help to improve your self-esteem. Sometimes acting as if you believed in yourself can actually help to increase self-belief!
Our pages on Assertiveness provide more information about this, including how to improve your assertiveness.
6. Improve Your Physical Health
It is much easier to feel good about ourselves when we are fit and healthy.
However, people with low self-esteem often neglect themselves, because they do not feel that they ‘deserve’ to be looked after.
Try taking more exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. It is also a good idea to make time to relax and to do something that you want to do, rather than something that someone else expects you to do. You may find that simple changes like this can make a huge difference to your overall outlook.
You may like to read our pages on The Importance of Exercise, Diet, Health and Nutrition, What is Sleep? and The Importance of Sleep for more information. You might also like our page on Relaxation Techniques.
7. Take On Challenges
People with low self-esteem often avoid challenging and difficult situations.
One way to improve your self-esteem can actually be to take on a challenge. This doesn’t mean that you need to do everything yourself—part of the challenge might be to seek help when you need it—but be prepared to try something that you know will be difficult to achieve.
By succeeding, you show yourself that you can achieve.
This challenges your negative beliefs and will therefore improve your self-esteem.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.
The second edition of or bestselling eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.
The Importance of Small Steps
It is very unlikely that you will go from poor to good self-esteem overnight.
Instead, you will probably find you make small improvements over a period of time. The key is to look over the long term, rather than day-to-day, and focus on the big picture, not the detail of how you felt at a particular moment yesterday.
When you feel good, or you do something good, celebrate it—but don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally slip back into negative patterns of thinking. Just pick yourself up again and try to think more positively. Eventually, this will become a habit and you will find that your self-esteem has quietly got better.