Self-esteem is how you think and feel about yourself; the worth you place on your strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. Your self-esteem plays a huge part in dictating how you live your life, the decisions you make, and how you view others. You can have negative or positive self-esteem, but self-esteem is a fluid notion, that fluctuates between the two points.
It’s a very common characteristic for people to continuously compare themselves with those around them (or a polished version of those people seen through social media). This unhealthy but often uncontrollable act highlights our own insecurities leading to a negative view of ourselves, our life choices and ultimately a negative view of the world we live in. It’s easy to lose sight of the value of our own individuality and feel inadequate and unsatisfied, a very exhausting personality trait.
Symptoms of low self-esteem
- feeling worthless
- feeling incompetent and unrealistic about our abilities
- feeling unloved
- being overwhelmed with fear and negative thoughts
- being unrealistic about goals
- being drawn into destructive relationships
- fear of change
- distorted views of self and others
What causes low self-esteem?
The development of self-esteem can lend itself to a number of external contributing factors and relationships, deep-rooted in ourselves from birth. Negative experiences and troubled relationships lower it, and good experiences and strong bonds raise it.
There isn’t a single event or person that will determine your level of self-esteem; it will continue to develop throughout our lives, changing with different events and time.
Understanding where these feelings have come from is the first step in moving on. This is not easy because we tend to bury painful memories deep in the unconscious - one way of coping with early put-downs and criticisms. But it can be hugely rewarding to recall, and re-evaluate, an early memory of being told that we have failed or are not good enough.
- Counsellor, Jo Couling MA, MBACP(Sen. Accred)
The foundations for self-esteem are laid in childhood. The feeling that we are valued and understood - that our worries can be soothed and rectified - gives us an internal picture of our own worth and value.
Positive experiences allow people to be realistic about goal setting, accept criticism, learn from mistakes and be adventurous but not reckless. We develop an internal, default position which allows us to understand what we can manage, without damaging ourselves. We can recognise stress and destructive relationships as being uncomfortable and seek to put things right. We can learn to trust our instincts, that they will help us protect ourselves. Early nurturing teaches us to nurture ourselves and develop a resilience to deal with life’s knocks and blows.
Negative experiences and troubled relationships can develop low self-esteem, causing fearful, delicate children who are unable to reach unrealistic goals, thus further denting their self-image. Children with low self-esteem are likely to develop into adults who constantly compare themselves unfavourably towards others, have little natural ability to protect themselves and are less resilient to change.
How could counselling help?
Working to improve your self-esteem takes time, requiring honesty, strength and courage to confront the things in yourself you don’t like and change them. Long-term, it’s a very worthy task which should help you feel better about yourself and your life. Counselling establishes a secure, safe haven from which to explore these memories; an external source of strength to help process change.
Self-esteem is central to who we are and central to the process of counselling. A supportive therapist can be a great help on this journey. They’ll encourage you to take a new, objective view of your personal history, allowing you to reflect clearly on your present situation without feeling blame.
Therapy can offer an opportunity to see if early patterns and habits are repeated in your current relationships, both at home and in the wider world. Finding a counsellor you feel comfortable with, someone who can help you settle into a healthier way of feeling about yourself is essential.
Types of therapy
‘Person-centred’ therapy, a humanistic approach, can help you focus on how you perceive yourself in the conscious state, rather than analysing your unconscious thoughts.
Transactional analysis, a concrete model of talking therapy, looks at three key life stages and might be more suited if you need a ‘practical set of tools’ model.
Cognitive behavioural therapists will work with you to monitor negative self-beliefs, destructive thoughts and damaging assumptions that keep you trapped in a cycle.
For those who wish to understand more about the roots of their low self-esteem, a psychodynamic or attachment approach might appeal.
Positive self-esteem goals
Raising your own self-esteem means you’ll learn to feel good about your real self, and others around you. Although this doesn’t guarantee success in the world, it does allow for more positive thinking ensuring you value your own uniqueness and recognise abilities; you praise yourself, trust yourself and like yourself. When you become more tolerant of the real you, your relationships can improve as you become more realistic about others too.
Every morning when I look in the mirror, I greet myself with a smile and give thanks for my wonderful life. I feel so blessed to be able to do that now because, just a few years ago, my morning ritual could not have been more different.
- Read more on Happiful
The route to higher self-esteem, and thinking more positively about yourself includes:
- Acceptance – of your true strengths and weaknesses
- Help – with realistic goals to allow you to develop your abilities
- Encouragement –with realistic planning and timetabling
- Praise – for your achievements so you can enjoy them
- Respect – to be proud of who you are
- Trust – feel more confident in your own thoughts and feelings
- Time – learn to know yourself and enjoy your own thoughts
What it isn’t
Self-esteem is not self-centeredness. It doesn’t mean you are selfish or egotistical, but it does allow you to appreciate the qualities you have and respond to others in a productive way. It can help you show kindness towards yourself and view others around you with a positive, healthy attitude.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor?
If you’re ready to take the first step in raising your self-esteem, consider talking therapy. Choosing a therapist can be daunting, but it’s important to spend some time reviewing counsellors, their areas of specialities, their personalities and speaking to them beforehand.
Having some questions prepared for your initial consultation can be helpful in deciding whether they are right for you. Ask yourself, “What do I want from counselling? Will this person help me to explore my individuality?”
There aren’t regulations regarding the level of training a counsellor working with someone with low self-esteem needs, however, there are several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area.
When researching therapists and therapies, take your time and get to know their background. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information if you need it.
This is where you can submit feedback about the content of this page.
We review feedback on a monthly basis.
Please note we are unable to provide any personal advice via this feedback form. If you do require further information or advice, please visit the homepage & use the search function to contact a professional directly.