What is self-esteem and how do I improve it?

Self-esteem plays a key role towards our emotional well-being. Although low self-esteem is not in itself a mental health issue, the two are closely related. Many of the feelings experienced by an individual with low self-esteem can be similar to those of depression and anxiety and can include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Worrying about your abilities to do things
  • Disliking yourself
  • Blaming yourself unjustifiably
  • Avoidance of new opportunities
  • Not being able to assert yourself

For many of us, self-esteem is something which we want more of, however we often lack the knowledge of how to improve self-esteem. Below are some common questions about self-esteem and how to start to build it.


The difference between self-esteem and confidence…

Self-esteem refers to your overall sense of value and personal worth. Simply put, it is about how much you may like, respect and be satisfied with yourself. Self-esteem is often confused with confidence and the two terms are used interchangeably. Confidence refers to the belief you have in your abilities and is likely to vary based on the situation. For instance, an individual may have a healthy level of self-esteem, however lack confidence in their cooking abilities.  


Where does self-esteem come from?

Self-esteem is developed throughout your life and your experiences shape how you view yourselves. When you try new things and the results are beneficial to you, this leads to an increase in your self-esteem. For example, being offered a promotion at work to supervise a team for the first time, and having successful results is likely to increase self-esteem. However, if the role as a supervisor does not go as planned, this may impact on your self-esteem. It is important to note, that what affects self-esteem varies from person-to-person. Some common experiences that may impact on self-esteem include:

  • Being involved in a challenging romantic relationship, separation, or divorce
  • Experience of domestic violence
  • Workplace bullying
  • Loss of employment (being terminated or made redundant) and/or difficulty in securing work
  • Medical condition (physical or mental health issues)


Early childhood experiences play a particularly crucial role in development of your self-esteem. How you were treated from those around you including your caregivers, family, teachers and peers helps to mould your view of yourself, your worth, and contributes to your overall self-esteem.

            Childhood experiences that may contribute to healthy self-esteem:

  • Being listened to and acknowledged
  • Recognition for your successes and acknowledgement of mistakes
  • Being treated with respect and spoken to appropriately
  • Sound level of love, nurture and affection

Childhood experiences that may contribute to low self-esteem:

  • Verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Being told that you are not good enough
  • Lack of acknowledgment for your achievements, being told you could have performed better, or failures (e.g. not passing a subject at school) being reflected as a failure of your whole life
  • Being ignored
  • Bullying or teasing


Ways to build self-esteem:

Positive self-talk

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves, either aloud or in our mind. Often, we may not be aware of our self-talk, but it has an influence on how we perceive ourselves, how we behave and how we feel. Negative self-talk can be extremely harmful to our self-esteem, it includes thoughts like “I can’t do anything right”. To help shift your self-talk to be more positive, try looking at the thought from a different perspective. Ask yourself:

  • Is my self-talk helpful or unhelpful?
  • Do I have all the facts?
  • Is there another way to view the situation?
  • Could there be something that I have overlooked or that I am missing?
  • Would I speak to others in the same way?
  • What would I say to someone else if they told me they were thinking this way about themselves?


Positive affirmations

Affirmations are positive statements that can help to challenge and overcome your negative self-talk. These phrases described how you would like to be. Repeating positive affirmations helps you to start seeing things from a more positive perspective. Think about how doing repetitive physical exercises can improve your fitness and physical health over time. In this similar way, positive affirmations can help to provide you with a more optimistic outlook. Examples of affirmations include: “I am a likeable person”, “I have a lot to be proud of”, and “I am in control of my life”. For a list of positive affirmations visit https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/PositiveAffirmations.pdf


Strengths and positive qualities

Focus on your strengths and positive qualities. If you struggle, think about what others would say about you. Here is a link with a list of positive qualities: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/positive-traits.pdf

As an exercise, circle your strongest positive qualities and then ask a family member or friend to circle the traits that they identify as your strengths (make sure to give them a new copy of the positive traits list and they don’t see your responses). The results may surprise you and help you see how others may view you in a more positive light.


Gratitude journal

It is all too easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of our day and focus on what didn’t go well. We often don’t think about what we are grateful for or what positive experiences may have occurred. A gratitude journal is a great tool to help you focus on the positive experiences of each day. Think about three things you are grateful for each day. No matter how big or small. If you get stuck, you can use prompts, however these are optional. The following prompts may be useful:

  • The best part about today…
  • Something I am grateful for today…
  • Today I learned…
  • Something beautiful I saw today…

For more information and a different version of a gratitude journal, which doesn’t require daily entries visit https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/gratitude-journal.pdf


A final note…

I hope this has been helpful in answering your questions about low self-esteem, as well as provided you with some ideas of how to start to improve self-esteem. If you are experiencing low self-esteem and would like some support, why not give us a call? Our team of highly skilled and well-experienced Psychologists are here to help. Call us now and take that first step towards obtaining the life you deserve.


The following articles were referenced in creation of this blog:





This blog was written by Maria Kampantais, Psychologist at Your Mind Matters.

Maria works with us 4 days per week and has both evening and day session times.  To learn more  about Maria, click here