Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us able to deal with life’s ups and downs better.
When our self-esteem is low, we tend to see ourselves and our life in a more negative and critical light. We also feel less able to take on the challenges life throws at us.
What causes low self-esteem? Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us messages about ourselves, both positive and negative. For some reason, the message that you are not good enough is the one that stays with you. Perhaps you found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of you, or to your own expectations.
How does low self-esteem affect us? If you have low self-esteem or confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, stop trying new things and avoid things you find challenging.
“In the short term, avoiding challenging and difficult situations makes you feel a lot safer,” says Chris Williams, Professor of Psychosocial Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow.
“In the longer term, this can backfire because it reinforces your underlying doubts and fears. It teaches you the unhelpful rule that the only way to cope is by avoiding things.”
How to have healthy self-esteem To boost your self-esteem, you need to identify the negative beliefs you have about yourself, then challenge them.
You may tell yourself you are “too stupid” to apply for a new job, for example, or that “nobody cares” about you.
Start to note these negative thoughts and write them down on a piece of paper or in a diary. Ask yourself when you first started to think these thoughts.
Next, start to write down evidence that challenges these negative beliefs: “I am really good at cryptic crosswords” or “My sister calls for a chat every week”.
Write down other positive things about yourself, such as “I am thoughtful” or “I am a great cook” or “I am someone that others trust”.
Where to find help for low self-esteem.
Help is available if you feel you need support to start seeing yourself in a more positive light.
Talking therapies, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help. Your GP can explain the different types and tell you what’s available in your area. Read more about the different types of therapy.
You can refer yourself for talking therapies in some areas. Check whether you can refer yourself to your local psychological therapies (IAPT) service.
You can also pay privately for talking therapies – find the right therapist for you.