If you’ve come across this blog post, you may be worried about someone else’s self-esteem, or you may be experiencing some personal challenges causing you to wonder whether changes could be made in your life to increase your own self-esteem. The good news is that self-esteem is not fixed; it can be developed.
This blog post will take you through what self-esteem is, the signs of experiencing low self-esteem, possible causes of low self-esteem, the benefits of working on self-esteem and then some strategies you can use to increase your self-esteem.
What is Self Esteem?
Self-esteem encompasses everything we think about ourselves; everything we think, feel and believe, and the evaluation of how much we approve of and value ourselves.
Self-esteem can be applied to you globally (e.g., “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself” or to specific domains of your life (e.g., “I am good at my job, and I’m proud of that”). Based on this, low self-esteem works in the same way; you can be confident and feel valued in some areas of your life but not others. It may be that you feel you are a great parent but have low self-esteem at work.
Some factors can influence our self-esteem that we have no control over, such as our age, specific social circumstances or life experiences we have had – but there are other things that we can control – our thoughts.
Healthy self-esteem is when we value ourselves for who we are and feel we are worthwhile and deserve to take up the space we hold in the world.
What Is Low Self-Esteem?
Having low self-esteem corresponds to negative evaluations of yourself. Put differently; if you have low self-esteem, you generally don’t hold yourself in a positive light.
You tend to be more critical of yourself. You might get stuck in loops of negative self-talk, telling yourself things like, “I’m worthless”, “I could never succeed at this”, or “I’m not smart enough”. This can bring up feelings of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness.
Self-esteem develops over your lifespan. It is thought that the beliefs you hold about yourself play a role in developing low self-esteem. The stronger the beliefs, the harder it may be to break the negative thought patterns associated with low self-esteem. Self-esteem is impacted by our value judgements and attitudes towards ourselves. It is when those internal measures of how we feel, and when those judgements are negative is when our self-esteem is hit the hardest,
Here are a few examples of beliefs you may have about yourself if you are experiencing low self-esteem:
- Worthlessness: “I’m worthless”
- Inadequacy: “I am not good enough”
- Pessimism: “I don’t have a bright future”
- Failure: “I fail at everything I do”
- Negative traits: “I am boring”, “I am ugly
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Although there are a variety of factors that play a role in self-esteem, here are a few factors that may make it more likely for someone to develop low self-esteem:
- Early childhood experiences: Experiences of abuse, neglect, or bullying at a young age powerfully shape self-esteem. Children who go through these traumatic experiences can form the belief that they are a bad person who deserved this treatment.
- Expectations of others: If you feel that you failed to meet the expectations of others (e.g., parents’ standards), this can maintain the belief that you are a failure. It’s important to remember that these expectations may not have been realistic in the first place.
- Peer groups: During childhood and our Teens, the pressure to fit in is very high. Since this is a time when your identity is forming, not fitting in or feeling left out can impact self-esteem.
- Lack of warmth or love: Although negative traumatic experiences play a large role in low self-esteem, it is possible that not having positive experiences can also play a role. If you don’t receive affection or encouragement, especially at a young age, it is possible to form the belief that you’re not good enough.
Signs of low self-esteem
Below outlines four areas where you may experience low self-esteem.
- You may be experiencing a change in your behaviour – perhaps you find it hard to speak out or find it difficult to ask for what you need.
- You may avoid certain situations that you find challenging even though they may be great opportunities, and you would usually like to pursue them.
- You may people please.
- You may find trying new things difficult even though you usually feel excited about them.
- You may find it challenging to set boundaries.
- You may find it difficult to say no.
- You may neglect self–care areas– drinking more than usual, exercising less, or binge eating.
- Thoughts and Emotions
- You may have a harsh inner critic that continuously self-blames.
- You may have a negative outlook on life and lack meaning and purpose.
- You may be experiencing difficult emotions such as anxiety, sadness or fear
- You may doubt yourself – the actions you take and the decisions you make. You may find it difficult to make decisions at all.
- You may feel like your opinion isn’t important.
- You may feel that you aren’t good enough.
- You may focus on your failures rather than the things you have done well.
- You may find it difficult to maintain relationships.
- You may regularly compare yourself to others.
- You may withdraw from others and from activities that connect you with others.
- You may find it difficult to engage with others.
- You may be sensitive to other people’s reactions to you or others’ opinions of you.
- You may not feel accepted or feel that others approve of you.
- Your productivity may have dropped; you are underperforming or not performing as you would like at work.
- You may experience Imposter Syndrome and feel that you aren’t good enough for your job.
- You may struggle to give yourself praise for your achievements.
12 Benefits of increasing self-esteem
- You are less fearful
- You are less critical of yourself
- You are more motivated
- You have more confidence
- You have more fulfilling relationships
- You are better able to express yourself
- You are better able to manage stress
- You take more opportunities
- You are more optimistic
- You are more satisfied with life
- You are more resilient
- You are living more authentically
How to increase self-esteem
1. Challenge your inner critic
Recognising the inner critic and reframing your thoughts is crucial to increasing self-esteem. Thoughts are not facts.
2. Practice Self-Acceptance
This involves accepting yourself unconditionally and showing yourself compassion across different situations (e.g., when you make a mistake).
3. Understand how you perceive mistakes
Mistakes are a natural part of being human. They can be reframed as necessary for growth and learning. You can learn to think about mistakes differently so you don’t feel as affected by them.
4. Practice Assertiveness
It is important to honour your needs appropriately by practising self-assertiveness. It’s okay to put yourself first and let this be known to people in your life.
5. Rewrite the rules
As we grow up, we learn specific rules, which are judgements on behaviour from our parents, family and peers – Rules for living based on an ideal perfection which our inner critic uses against us. These rules can be changed, and we can free ourselves from them.
6. Focus on your good qualities
Write down a list of all your good qualities, including your talents, skills, values, strengths and all the things you have overcome. You could even ask a friend or family member what your good qualities are