What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It is based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves, which can sometimes feel significantly difficult to alter.
Your self-esteem can affect whether you:
- like and value yourself as a person
- are able to make decisions and assert yourself
- recognise your strengths and positives
- feel able to try new or difficult things
- show kindness towards yourself
- move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
- take the time you need for yourself
- believe you matter and are good enough
- believe you deserve happiness.
Self-esteem and confidence
Some people think that self-esteem means confidence - and confidence comes into it - but it’s rather more than that.
There are any number of apparently confident people who can do marvellous things whilst suffering from low self-esteem.
Many people in the public eye fall into this category. Actors, comedians and singers in particular can glow with assurance on stage, yet off-stage feel desperately insecure.
Low self-esteem is not a mental health problem in itself, although the two are closely linked. For example, if your self esteem remains low for long periods of time, you may end up suffering from mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Causes of low self-esteem
There are various factors that can affect self-esteem for everyone.
For some people, low self-esteem may start in childhood, as teachers, friends, siblings parents and the media send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. Unfortunately, messages of you not being good enough can stick with you. Carrying these thoughts around for long periods of time can result in low self-esteem.
For others, self-esteem may change suddenly, perhaps due to difficult or stressful life experiences.
Additionally, personality can play a part, as some people can be more prone to negative thinking, while others set impossibly high standards for themselves or find it difficult to live up to their perception of the expectations set by others as well.
Direct causes of low self-esteem
- being bullied or abused
- experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma
- losing your job or difficulty finding employment
- problems at work or while studying
- ongoing stress
- physical health problems
- mental health problems
- relationship problems, separation or divorce
- worries about your appearance and body image
- problems with money or housing
Effects of low self-esteem
People with low self-esteem may avoid certain social situations, stop trying new things and avoid challenging situations or ideas.
Avoiding challenging and difficult situations may make you feel safe in the short term. However, this can be more harmful than beneficial in the long-term as it reinforces your underlying doubts and fears, preventing you from making progress towards facing those fears. Furthermore, it can reinforce the unhelpful idea that the only way to cope is by avoiding things. (NHS, 2020)
If your feelings of low self-esteem last a long time or start affecting your day-to-day life, you may be seeing signs of a mental health condition. Examples of these feelings include:
- hopelessness or worthlessness
- blaming yourself unfairly
- self-directed hate
- worrying about being unable to do certain things.
Boosting your self-esteem
There are a number of ways of boosting your self-esteem. The core concept behind all of these methods is identifying your negative beliefs about yourself, then challenging them.
For example, you may note these negative thoughts and beliefs on paper or in a diary. You should also ask yourself when these thoughts first started to pop up in your mind. Next, you should write some evidence that challenges the negative beliefs, such as “I’m really good at cooking”. Additionally, writing down positive things others have said about you can be very helpful. Aim to add at least 5 positive things to your list, regularly. Keeping this list somewhere you can see it will be helpful as it will remind you that you’re worth more than you initially thought. (NHS, 2020)
A psychotherapist like myself can help you to boost your self-esteem through methods such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Having therapy can help you to recognise what you are good at, build positive relationships, be kind to youself and learn to be assertive, amongst many other helpful ideas.
Mind, 2019. Self-esteem. [online] mind.org.uk. Available at:
NHS, 2020. Raising low self-esteem. [online] nhs.uk. Available at: