What Is Self-Esteem (and How Can I Improve It?)

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 6, 2019

What Is Self-Esteem (and How Can I Improve It?)

How we see and value ourselves can have a huge impact on our outlook. We share 14 ways you can explore to boost your self-esteem and start viewing yourself (and the world around you) in a more positive light

We’ve all been there; some days, you just can’t think of a single positive thing to say about yourself. It’s when those momentary periods of self-dislike turn into something more long lasting and prevalent, that it can be a sign that you may have low self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is, in essence, how we perceive and value ourselves. Our self-esteem can be influenced by a wide variety of things, from life events to our childhoods. When your self-esteem is low, you may begin seeing yourself (and the world around you) in a more negative light. This can also cause you to struggle with unexpected challenges, leave you feeling generally unhappy, unsatisfied, and can lead to having a negative impact on your overall mental health and wellbeing.

When you have good self-esteem, you are more able to recognise your value and worth. Positive self-esteem can help you feel confident to try new things, take risks, step outside of your comfort zone, and stand up for what you are passionate about. Low self-esteem can leave you taking each mistake to heart, could cause you to put other’s feelings and needs above your own, and leave you feeling unable to speak out and seek help when you need it.

As one counsellor explains, “You can’t touch it, but it affects how you feel. You can’t see it, but it’s there when you look at yourself in the mirror. You can’t hear it, but it’s there every time you talk about yourself.

“It’s knowing you are worthy of love and respect and accepting your limitations and boundaries. It’s how you see yourself, and how you feel about your achievements. Good self-esteem helps you to hold your head high and feel proud of yourself and what you can do.”

While we may all have times where we don’t feel good about ourselves, we can do our best to make sure that these periods don’t become a long-term problem.

If you find yourself struggling to:

  • like and value yourself as a person
  • assert yourself or make decisions
  • recognise your strengths or try new things
  • practice self-compassion or kindness
  • take time to look after yourself and practice self-care
  • move past mistakes without unfairly blaming yourself
  • feel that you deserve to be happy

These can all be signs that you may be struggling with low self-esteem. Over time, these can lead to anxiety and depression.

14 ways you can take control and start boosting your self-esteem

1. Identify and challenge negative thoughts

What negative beliefs do you have about yourself? Maybe you think you’re ‘not good enough’ to apply for that promotion, or that ‘nobody really cares’ how you feel. Keep track of these automatic negative thoughts by noting them down.

Can you remember when you first started to feel this way? Figuring out the cause of these thoughts can help you to challenge negative thinking and replace it with more positive thoughts and focuses.

Find opportunities to let yourself shine

2. Focus on your positives

Write down the positive things you can think about yourself, as well as the good things others have said about you. Tracking these can help provide a gentle reminder when self-doubt strikes, showing you that no matter how you may feel in the moment, there are are parts of yourself that you – and others – appreciate.

Recognising your ‘core competencies’ (and acting on these) can help to boost your mood while highlighting the areas you are good at. This can rebuild your confidence, encouraging you to branch out and try new things. Find opportunities to let yourself shine.

3. Start using positive affirmations

Trying to use positive affirmations when your self-esteem is at a low can feel impossible. When you’re feeling bad about yourself, focusing on positive affirmations can seem too contrary to what you currently believe. If you’re struggling, try tweaking the affirmation to something a little softer, so ‘I’m going to be a success!’ becomes ‘I’m going to keep trying until I succeed’.

As NLP practitioner Nicola explains, we all use affirmations all the time, but they’re often negative ones focusing on why we ‘can’t’ or aren’t ‘good enough’.

“There is a myth that you can simply say an affirmation and it will somehow work its magic, but affirmations don't work unless you do,” Nicola emphasises. “You need to repeat the affirmation in your mind, out loud or in writing regularly, and you have to try to evoke the feeling as you do it.”

4. Try hypnotherapy

It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but hypnotherapy can be extremely effective for improving low self-esteem and boosting confidence.

With the help of a hypnotherapist, you can:

  • Begin tackling avoidant behaviours and automatic negative thoughts
  • Reframe negative thoughts and bad behaviours
  • Reinforce positive thinking with self-hypnosis techniques
  • Develop a more assertive attitude
  • Practice more self-compassion

As one hypnotherapist explains, “Having confidence and high self-esteem ought to be effortless and organic, not forced. Hypnotherapy will get to the root of what is causing you to be nervous, anxious and fearful and not have self-belief. Hypnotherapists ask thought-provoking questions to dig deeper and find out what is causing you to lack confidence.”

5. Learn to accept compliments

Often people find that the lower their self-esteem is, the worse they feel about themselves. This can lead to a reluctance in accepting compliments (despite this being when we need them the most). While accepting compliments may make you feel uncomfortable at first, by tackling your automatic reaction of countering these or dismissing them, you may find over time the impulse to reject these compliments will fade – and may just make you (and the compliment giver) feel more positive in the moment.

6. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion

Being critical is easy; focusing on the positives? That can be the real challenge. Practicing self-compassion can feel impossible when we are used to criticising ourselves, or focusing on our faults and mistakes. Next time your inner voice is being critical, try asking yourself: would I say this to a friend or loved one if they made the same choice or mistake? If the answer is no, challenge yourself: what would you say to someone else? Could the same response be applied to your situation?

7. Build positive relationships

If you struggle with low self-esteem, the NHS recommends spending less time with those who bring you down through their words or actions. By surrounding yourself with those who appreciate you, can see the positives in situations, and make you feel appreciated, you can begin seeing yourself (and challenging situations) in a more positive light.

8. Avoid the comparison game

Is social media having a bigger effect on you – and your relationships – than you realise? By giving up social media for just one month, we could gain back 100 hours of our lives according to the Royal Society of Public Health.

It’s easy to forget, but what we see on social media rarely represents the whole picture. We tend to only show our best possible selves on Instagram and Facebook, leading to a somewhat skewed picture of how we – and others we follow – are #LivingOurBestLife.

If you find yourself reaching mindlessly for your phone, compulsively checking updates, or feeling worse after scrolling through Insta, it could be time to take a step back and embrace JOMO. Falling into the comparison game can create a cycle of negative self-talk, stress, and anxiety that can impact your mental health and wellbeing. While some time spend scrolling can help us to feel connected with loved ones, if you’re feeling the strain, it could be time to take a break.

9. Learn to be assertive

If you are a naturally reserved or introverted person, it can be easy to misinterpret assertiveness with being pushy, bossy, or forceful. Assertiveness is about respecting other’s opinions and needs – and expecting the same from them in return. If you struggle to be assertive, taking note of assertive colleagues or friends behaviours can be a good place to start. Picking up the hints and tips from others can help you to develop the confidence to try out and adapt these methods yourself.

Learning how to say ‘no’ can be a positive first step towards practicing these behaviours. If you’re unsure where to start, check out these 13 ways you can say no in the workplace (without damaging working relationships).

10. Mood and food

Having a balanced diet full of nutritious, mood-boosting foods can help improve your confidence and self-esteem.

Your relationship with your body can play a significant part in your overall confidence and sense of self. Developing a healthy relationship with food through intuitive eating and ensuring your diet includes all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and fats to keep you healthy and happy can have a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

What you eat can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, help boost your mood, and in term help you to feel more confident, self-assured, and ready to face challenges. If you struggle with your relationship with food, working with a nutritionist can be a great first-step to help you discover more about mood-boosting foods, and small ways you can tweak your habits to set yourself up for success (whilst giving you confidence to experiment more in the kitchen).

11. Get active

Numerous studies have shown a link between exercise, improved mental health, and higher self-esteem. Becoming more active and ensuring you complete the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate physical exercise can help you to feel empowered, whilst giving you a natural boost to your mood thanks to the feel-good endorphins released.

If you struggle to fit in enough physical activity into your week, check out these ideas for how to find your fitness inspirations and discover simple ways you can motivate yourself.

12. Rest and relaxation

Are you getting enough sleep? While our obsession with sleep is having a negative impact for some, ensuring you are getting enough good quality sleep can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, whilst boosting our overall mood and helping us to feel more prepared to face the day.

If you struggle to get a full night’s sleep, check out these tips to help get a good night’s sleep, or try out these apps that can help you track (and improve) your sleep quality.

Building in time for self-care and relaxation can also be a crucial part of looking after yourself and setting yourself up for success. Holistic therapist and qualified nurse, Hayley Merrick, explains

“As someone who’s experienced chronic stress, life is busy, fast-paced and stressful. By taking regular time out to relax and get out into nature, it can make such a difference to our health, happiness and wellbeing.

“Fill yourself up first and you will find it so much easier to care for others. After all, you cannot keep pouring from an empty cup.”

13. Be more mindful

Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can help you to switch off of autopilot, feel more present in the moment, and help you to reconnect your mind and body – all whilst alleviating stress. Regularly practicing mindfulness can help you to feel more aware of yourself, mentally and physically. This can help you to better identify areas that may be causing you anxiety, sleepless nights, or undue stress.

The better you are able to connect with yourself as a whole, the more you can become attuned to your needs. This can help you to gain the confidence to trust yourself to know what you need, and when; whether that’s saying no to after work drinks when you could really benefit from some self-care, or pushing yourself to do some not so fun chores that have been hovering at the back of your mind, taking up vital bandwidth that could be put to better use.

Discover more about how you can begin applying mindfulness at work, or find out how you can have a more mindful commute.

14. Consider speaking with an expert

If you feel you are struggling with your self-esteem, working with a therapist can be a huge help. Providing an impartial sounding board, a qualified therapist can help you to navigate the complexities of understanding where your negative opinions of yourself have come from, helping you to challenge these beliefs.

Together with an experienced counsellor, you can become more aware of how your past may be impacting who you are today, helping you to recognise negative thought patterns and behaviours that are affecting your reactions to current situations.

CBT has been shown to be particularly effective in helping individuals to notice and change negative thought patterns, whilst compassion-focused therapy can assist in boosting your self-esteem and letting go of self-blame.

Counsellor Yvonne explains the importance of self-acceptance.

“In our quest for perceived success and happiness, and often as not the approval of others, we lose sight of our own uniqueness and creativity. We stop listening to ourselves as we learn to obscure or obliterate any awareness or discomfort we might be experiencing in our mind or in our bodies.

“Self-acceptance and self-compassion are [our] greatest allies. They release the power, the energy that nurtures our unique possibilities – our autonomy, our creativity. What really matters is self-acceptance. Focusing our energy on living by our values, not our goals will help us to accept, identify, and develop a deep sense of worth.”

Discover more about how you can boost your confidence and self-esteem with the help and support of experts. Visit Hypnotherapy Directory to find out more about how working with a hypnotherapist can help boost your self-esteem.

Find out how life coaching can help you develop your self-belief with Life Coach Directory. Speak with a qualified nutritionist to explore how you can boost your mental and physical health with a balanced diet through Nutritionist Resource.

Learn more about how complementary therapies can help support your self-care routine with Therapy Directory, or use the search bar below to find a qualified counsellor near you with Counselling Directory.

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