Five methods to boost your self-esteem

Symptoms of low self-esteem can include feeling worthless, incompetent and unrealistic of our abilities, being overwhelmed with negative thoughts and discounting the positives parts of our personality.

Low self-esteem generally starts in childhood when we receive messages from individuals close to us that we are not good enough. These messages can come from parents (e.g. criticising parents or parents that have set high expectations) siblings, teachers, kids at school (e.g. bullying) or even the media. Some individuals may have found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations or the individual themselves may find they can’t live up to their own expectations.

Problems with low self-esteem can also stem from trauma. For instance when an individual believes they are to blame for the death of close relative, or any physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In an effort to gain control of the circumstances the individual may be convinced they were complicit or to blame – when this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The problem with low self-esteem and thinking that you’re not good enough is that people start to behave as if it’s true. For instance, you may start to avoid things you find challenging, stop trying new things or hide away from social situations. If low self-esteem is not examined it can harm your mental health leading to depression and anxiety. As a consequence, it is important that you find ways to improve your low self-esteem either by trying some of the techniques below or talking to a psychotherapist.

1. Ensure you are looking after yourself

It may seem obvious, but when an individual isn’t looking after their physical health it can impact self-esteem. If you have stopped exercising your body will not be releasing the ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins that can help improve your mood. If you are not sleeping well, negative feelings can feel bigger than they really are – so it is important to ensure you are getting enough sleep. Eating a balanced diet at regular times and drinking enough water can help you to feel happier - so it could be important to assess whether this may be having an impact on your low self-esteem. Reducing your alcohol intake, or avoiding tobacco or recreational drugs, maybe essential steps in improving your self-esteem.

2. Give yourself a challenge

As mentioned earlier, if you are suffering from low self-esteem you may also stop doing things you find challenging. A simple way to avoid this is to ensure that you give yourself a set of goals to achieve. The important thing here is to set realistic and achievable challenges - if you don’t then you are setting yourself up to fail! Remember that everyone feels nervous or afraid to do things at times – but people with healthy self-esteem don’t let anxiety prevent them from taking on challenges.

3. Learn to identify and challenge your negative beliefs

As many of us will have developed low self-esteem in childhood due to the negative messages from the environment we grew up in, it is important to identify these negative beliefs that you may have. 

So when you find yourself reacting in a less constructive manner you should record:

1. The situation.

2. Your reaction.

3. The underlying belief when you find yourself reacting in a less constructive manner.  

For example, you saw a job liked (situation), but didn’t apply for the position (reaction) because you believe that you are not clever enough for the job (underlying belief).

When you have identified what your core beliefs are, so the most prevalent beliefs, you should look for evidence to challenge these beliefs. In the above example this would involve looking for evidence that proves that you are clever.

This exercise may seem simple, but it is worth considering how your thinking patterns, and hence your inner critic, are getting in the way of you living a fuller life.

4. Connect with your inner champion

Following on from point three, it can also be useful to connect with your inner champion to build self-esteem. As explained, low self-esteem comes from a belief that we are not good enough in some way – e.g. an inner critic that firmly believes that we are defective. We all have an inner critic, but in the same vein we all have an inner champion – we just may not be able to connect with it or believe it exists! A way to respond to the part of ourselves that believes we are not good enough is to develop the inner champion – a part within that believes we are good enough. 

To get to know your inner champion you can try this visualisation. First find a quiet place and relax and make sure you are not going to be interrupted. Sit down and breathe deeply for a couple of minutes into your belly. Then take a trip back in time in your mind. Look for times when you felt seen, appreciated and acknowledged in some way. Notice any images, sensations, smells and feelings that arise. A wise person may have stood up for you in the past that guided you when you were struggling. This person may have been a teacher, parent, friend or a neighbour. What did this person say to you? How did they support you? What did you need from them?

Embracing your inner champion will help you to develop the messages it gives you so you can balance out the voice of the inner critic and increase your self-esteem.

5. Be kinder to yourself

Another method to build your self-esteem is to recognise that you are having critical thoughts, accept them and be kind to yourself by developing self-compassion. 

So when you next find yourself talking to yourself unkindly, ask yourself whether you would speak to a friend in the same way? Perhaps you are beating yourself up for not making it to school/work due to anxiety – what are you saying to yourself as a consequence? ‘I’m stupid, why can’t I just get over my anxiety and make it in?’ 

Explore how you would support a friend in the same situation and then try speaking to yourself in the same way.  

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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