Low self-esteem

What is low self esteem?

Low self-esteem arises when negative beliefs you have about yourself appear to be statements of fact, although actually they're really only opinions. These opinions are based on the experiences you've had in life, and the messages that these experiences have given you about the kind of person you are. If your experiences have been negative, your beliefs about yourself are likely to be negative too. Our view of ourselves is often formed early on in life and childhood experiences influence the way we view ourselves in later life. These experiences may include punishment, neglect or abuse, failing to meet parental or peer-group standards, an absence of praise, warmth, affection or interest or being treated as/feeling like the odd one out, at home or at school. In later life, experiences such as workplace bullying or intimidation, abusive relationships, persistent stress or hardship, or traumatic events can all trigger low self-esteem. Although low self-esteem alone is not a recognised mental health problem, if you have low self-esteem it will often have a negative effect on your mental health. Holding negative beliefs can place you at a higher risk of developing mental health problems such as eating disorders, depression or social phobia, which are closely related to your mood and self-belief.

If you have low self-esteem you might find that you form damaging relationships because you feel you don't deserve to be treated with love and respect, and so allow friends or partners to take advantage of you or control you. Some people with low self-esteem are also overly-sensitive to criticism and upset very easily. They may also struggle in the workplace, avoiding tasks they don't feel confident about, or trying to produce work which is perfect.

What can you do to increase self-esteem?

Firstly, identify your negative beliefs. This can be a painful process, so it is important to take your time, and perhaps ask a friend or partner to support you. If you are feeling very distressed, then it might be better to seek professional help. Write down questions such as these to help to structure your thoughts:

What do you feel are your weaknesses or failings?

What negative things do you think other people think about you?

If you could sum yourself up, what word would you use – ‘I am…’?

When did you start feeling like this?

Can you identify an experience or event that might have caused this feeling?

Do certain negative thoughts recur on a regular basis?

It might be also helpful to keep a thought diary or record over a period of several weeks. Write down details of situations, how you felt and what you think the underlying belief was.

Next, start using positive thinking. Make a list of the things that you like about yourself. Take your time and aim for 50 different things, even if this takes you several weeks. Keep this list and look at a different part of it each day. If you are worried about an event that is coming up, such as a job interview, take the time to read the whole list and show yourself that you have a lot to offer.

Then, set yourself a challenge that you can realistically achieve. Start with something relatively small, but which still has meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a letter to your local paper, or post a comment on a blog that interests you. Tell someone about the challenge and, when you have achieved it, accept their praise. Then set yourself another slightly harder challenge and gradually increase the challenges you set over time.

Be assertive. This does not mean being aggressive or difficult, but it does help to set clear boundaries and means you value yourself and others, and can communicate with mutual respect. Learn to say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, or tell people that you need more time or support with tasks that you find challenging.

Ten tips to boost your self-esteem

Improving self-esteem takes a long time but small changes can make a noticeable difference to how you feel even at an early stage. To help keep you focused on what you need to do, remember these 10 tips to keep you positive and engaged in boosting your self-esteem:

  1. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
  3. Don’t put yourself down.
  5. Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself to yourself.
  7. Accept compliments.
  9. Use self-help books and websites to help you change your beliefs.
  11. Spend time with positive, supportive people.
  13. Acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at.
  15. Be assertive, don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect.
  17. Be helpful and considerate to others.
  19. Engage in work and hobbies that you enjoy.