How to improve your self-esteem

So many of us suffer from a low opinion of ourselves, criticising ourselves, feeling needy and insecure in our relationships, and struggling with anxiety.  These feelings might originate from our earliest experiences when we felt insecure at home or school and absorbed negative messages from those around us. We can be aware of how we feel but be unsure how to change, constantly looking for reassurance from others and spending much of our time feeling like we don’t fit in.


Although we can’t change our past, we can take steps to make our present experience better and challenge those beliefs we hold about ourselves.

One of the biggest problems is our negative self-talk, that voice inside our head that allows us to criticise and undermine ourselves for almost everything we do. We wouldn’t talk to our friends in the same way as we talk to ourselves, and yet many of us let that voice continue unchecked. The first step towards stopping this is to challenge it as soon as you become aware of it.  You can tell yourself that you’re doing it again or simply tell it to be quiet.  Just becoming aware is the first step towards changing it.


Allow yourself to feel good when you have achieved something, be proud of what you have done.

Going further you can replace this negative talk with more positive things. It’s very powerful to stand in front of a mirror and say positive things about yourself. Find a phrase that resonates with you and start saying it to yourself in the mirror as often as you can. If you find it difficult to say it out loud start by saying it inside your head. The point is to counter all the negative self-talk you have become used to. Try to look yourself in the eyes when you say it so you really accept it. The more you practise the more normal it becomes.  Maybe start with things like “I’m OK”, “I am enough”.

While you’re trying to improve the way you feel about yourself, it is important to choose your company. Surround yourself with people who love and value you, spend time with people who make you feel good and limit the time with people who reinforce or introduce new negative views of yourself, even if you are related to them. In the same way as you are challenging the thoughts that go round and round in your head, you need the company of people who are giving you positive feedback, so that if you express feelings of self-doubt they will counter them and help you to see things differently.

Young couple laughing at camera
When people make positive remarks about you, focus on them and accept compliments: just say thank you or simply smile. Try to resist the urge to argue against it and not take praise, just accept the sentiment of the message, absorb the feelings behind it.

Another way to build your self-esteem is by taking care of yourself: treat yourself well, eat healthily and exercise, do things that make you feel good.  Give yourself permission to have time off, to do nothing. Do things that give you pleasure or buy yourself things that you want, anything from the smallest of things. Show yourself value.

When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we can be afraid to ask others for help. People might not offer to help us as they feel we have things under control and they see us as strong, whereas we can see this as a sign they don’t care, reinforcing our sense of worthlessness. Reaching out to others can allow them to help us, to become closer, and if they can’t or won’t help, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us, it might just be the wrong time or they are unable to help. Don’t take it personally.

People with low self-esteem can denigrate their accomplishments whilst focusing on their supposed negative traits so it’s important to celebrate your achievements. Allow yourself to feel good when you have achieved something, be proud of what you have done. You can hang your certificates on the wall, hold a party, or whatever feels right for you. Achievements don’t just mean passing exams or starting a new job, celebrate what you are good at in life, it doesn’t matter how trivial it seems. Other people could be grateful for the skills you dismiss so easily.

This encourages you to reflect on what went well, so that when you have done something you can look back at the success you achieved. Maybe it wasn’t a complete success or even a bit of a disaster, but your focus should be on the positives you have taken from the experience. 

This should encourage you to not dwell on your mistakes: things go wrong in life but that doesn’t make you a failure. Much is about trying things and then working out whether it’s something you want to incorporate into your life. If it goes wrong or you decide you don’t like it, you can simply decide not to do it again or you can appreciate that some things get better with practice. Even if something feels overwhelmingly awful, then you can normally find some positive if you dig deeply enough.


Accept you’re not perfect: part of being kinder to yourself is to accept that you are human and you do make mistakes.

As well as learning to be kinder to yourself you should try to treat others well: many people who spend a lot of time with negative thoughts going round in their heads are also critical about others so try to turn that thinking around.   We don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives, but when we learn to be kinder and more tolerant of ourselves, we can expand this to be nicer to other people. It might be that the person who has been unkind is suffering the same negative self-talk that has been colouring your life, so sometimes it’s good to just let things go and smile.

But that doesn’t mean we should accept bad behaviour from others if it continues to happen. Set your boundaries and stick with them. If you are learning to counter your own negative self-talk, it doesn’t make sense to allow others to talk to you or treat you badly. Many people say they don’t like confrontation but allowing others to get away with treating you or others badly reinforces a negative sense of yourself. You are worth far more than that. It doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive or start shouting; simply saying that you won’t accept being spoken to in a certain tone or walking away shows the other person that you value yourself.

Finally, accept you’re not perfect: part of being kinder to yourself is to accept that you are human and you do make mistakes. Sometimes we’re not very kind to others, we’re a bit lazy, but this is just part of who we are, the same as everyone else. If we wait for things in life to be perfect before doing something, we might never get anything done and the same goes for ourselves. Accepting our bad days, mistakes and occasional bad behaviour doesn’t make us a bad person, just a real one!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Exeter EX1 & Colyton EX24
Written by Charlotte Feeny, Counsellor MBACP BSc (Hons) Dip Couns
Exeter EX1 & Colyton EX24

A qualified and experienced counsellor, with a degree in psychology, working with couples and individuals online and in Exeter and East Devon. Visit

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