Self-esteem is how you value and perceive yourself. It’s based on your opinions and beliefs about yourself. These can feel very difficult to change, but healthy self-esteem is key to positive mental health and wellbeing. It’s critical for cultivating a satisfying life, and it’s also a predictor of performance and success. People with healthy self-esteem show higher levels of resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks. Research also connects self-esteem to open-mindedness and self-confidence.
‘Low self-esteem is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating oneself negatively, and placing a general negative value on oneself as a person.’
Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)
It can be easy to dismiss low self-esteem as ‘just the way you are’, like a character trait, or even mistake it for being humble. But low self-esteem can have a wide-reaching impact on your life. It isn’t a mental health problem itself, but it can certainly lead to issues.
Recognising the signs of low-self-esteem is the first step towards growing your confidence and feeling worthy. Here are a few things to look out for. Some may be harder to spot than others…
Many of the beliefs we have about ourselves are based on conclusions we’ve reached because of experiences in our childhood. Our family, our peers, wider society and the schools we went to can all influence our thoughts and beliefs. If you encounter negative experiences, you may have formed very negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself. Negative experiences in adulthood such as abuse, prolonged stress or trauma can also influence your beliefs about yourself.
But why do we continue to struggle with low self-esteem once we’ve moved through these negative experiences? Unfortunately, they can create negative core beliefs – firmly held, strongly ingrained evaluations of our worth and value as human beings. These often take the form of ‘I am…’ statements (e.g. ‘I am a failure, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am worthless’).
Understandably, these negative core beliefs can make us feel very bad about ourselves. To protect ourselves and ensure we can continue functioning, we begin to develop rules and assumptions for how we live our lives. They’re designed to guard and defend us from the truth of our negative core beliefs. For example, if you believe you are ‘worthless’, you may develop rules such as ‘I must please other people’ or ‘I must not express my needs’, and assumptions like “people will only like me if I do things perfectly’. These rules and assumptions guide your behaviour and determine what you do on a day-to-day basis.
Sadly, some people constantly feel like they’re ‘worthless or ’not good enough’. For others, low self-esteem is more complex. On the surface, you may feel fairly good about yourself as long as you’re meeting your self-imposed rules and standards. However, to manage your self-esteem, you’ll be putting yourself under a lot of pressure. Following your rules and assumptions also keeps your negative core beliefs intact because you never challenge or test them. This means your low self-esteem is lying dormant, waiting to be awakened by the slightest bump in the road.
1. Identify and Challenge Negative Beliefs About Yourself
Changing your negative core beliefs and the associated rules, assumptions and behaviours is important for developing healthy self-esteem. CBT is great for this and it’s one of my favourite things to work together on with someone in therapy. Learn more about CBT and how it works here.
2. Acknowledge Your Positives
Many people who suffer from low self-esteem only pay attention to things that confirm their negative view of themselves. To counter this, try keeping a ‘positive qualities record’. List all the positive qualities you can come up with, no matter how small, insignificant, modest, or unimportant you think they are.
Journaling is another useful tool for self-discovery, healing and overall wellbeing. Using specific journal prompts is a great way to focus your writing on an area that needs a bit of development. Try my 5 prompts to boost your self-esteem.
3. Take on Challenges to Boost Your Confidence
It’s normal to feel nervous or afraid to do things at times. However, people with healthy self-esteem do not let these feelings stop them trying new things or taking on challenges. Try setting yourself a simple goal, such as joining a new class or attending a social occasion. Achieving this goal will help increase your self-esteem.
4. Cultivate Self-Compassion
Self-compassion has a lot of benefits for our mental health and wellbeing, including making us happier and more resilient to life’s challenges. Instead of meeting our failures and imperfections with self-blame and criticism, we can bring mindful attention to our experiences and a sense of love and care to ourselves. In other words, it’s a secret superpower you can use to drown out your inner-critic and boost your self-esteem! Learn how to cultivate more self-compassion here.
5. Stop Comparing Yourself
Constantly comparing yourself to others is a sure-fire recipe for low self-esteem and unhappiness. It’s a tough habit to break, especially if you use social media and are exposed to the ‘insta-perfect lives’ of the people you follow. The trick is to start noticing when you compare yourself to others. Once you’ve developed more awareness, the next step is to consciously stop yourself and then start thinking about all the great things you do have. The things you love, the people in your life, and the experiences you’re grateful for. If you can make this a regular practice, you’ll start to feel happier and more content.
If you’re feeling motivated and inspired after reading this article, I have plenty of other tools and resources designed to help people with their mental health maintenance. There’s my free guide to mindfulness, fortnightly newsletters and masses of information on my Instagram page, the.perfectionism.therapist. And if you’re looking for a therapist, please use my therapy enquiry form to get in touch.