Understanding self-esteem and how to become more self-confident

Do you ever wonder why some people seem confident and sure of themselves while you tend to doubt your abilities and think you aren’t good enough? It could be that you have low self-esteem. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental disorder in itself, it can be one of the symptoms of depression. Many people have low self-esteem, but it isn’t something you have to live with. Whether you have always had low self-esteem or developed since you became an adult, therapy can help change how you feel about yourself.


What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is essentially what we think of ourselves. It can have a significant influence on what we do and how we perceive the world. Self-esteem can be measured on a sliding scale from high self-esteem through a healthy middle ground to low self-esteem. Although having exceptionally high self-esteem (effectively overconfidence in ourselves) can be problematic, generally, it makes people unhappy. It wishes they could change when someone has low self-esteem.

Over time our self-esteem influences our behaviour, so while those with high self-esteem might focus on self-development and growth; looking for new opportunities and trying new activities, someone with lower self-esteem often won't want to risk doing something they think they will fail at, so they are more likely to maintain the status quo. 

How can you tell if you have low self-esteem?

The symptoms of low self-esteem can include:

  • not liking yourself very much
  • not having the confidence to try new things
  • not feeling able to stick to your decisions if challenged
  • unfairly blaming yourself when something goes wrong
  • being overly critical of yourself
  • not believing you deserve to be happy
  • not prioritising taking care of yourself
  • being taken advantage of by others

When something good happens, you might believe that it was due to luck or the situation. In contrast, someone with high self-esteem is more likely to think that a good thing happened because they deserved it or created the opportunity that made it happen. 

What causes low self-esteem?

The causes of low self-esteem are often deep-rooted, with some people can trace the feeling back to their childhood. In contrast, others develop low self-esteem as an adult. 

As a child, it likely emerges over time from repeatedly feeling you aren’t good enough. This may be due to repeated comparisons with others, regular criticism or being bullied. It can be due to feeling you are different from others (and that being different is a bad thing instead of something to be valued), for instance, through systemic discrimination. On the other hand, a child who is raised feeling secure and loved typically develops a healthy level of self-esteem.

As an adult, low self-esteem can be triggered by a significant life event that makes you question who you think you are. For instance, if you lose your job, your marriage breaks down or you develop a chronic illness. 

It may be that personality influences self-esteem as some people seem better able to deal with situations positively. Still, it’s hard to know if the personality aspects are due to how we are born or raised. For example, studies have shown that some people are more susceptible to negatively comparing themselves with others on social media.

The theory of self-esteem is generally credited to William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890). It has been subsequently explored by many academics and psychologists to define it further, identify the different types, and what purpose self-esteem has. James said that how we feel about ourselves is created by the interaction between our pretensions (our values, goals and what we perceive our potential to be) and how well we do (our successes). Thus, we can feel better about ourselves by either doing better or managing our expectations of what we should be or want to achieve by changing how we define success.

It can be a downwards spiral when you have low self-esteem. You can set yourself impossibly high standards and then use the inability to meet those standards as evidence that you aren’t good enough, further affecting how you feel about yourself.

How to build confidence and self-esteem

When you have low self-esteem, you can take your opinions and treat them as unchangeable facts, making it challenging to change what you think of yourself.

To rebuild confidence and a healthy level of self-esteem, you need to break the negative thought processes.

You can do things yourself, but it can be hard initially to change long-held beliefs about yourself that you might not even realise you have. 

One common suggestion is to write a list of your strengths and what you are good at. This is a challenging exercise if you think everyone is better than you or you do everything poorly. Being able to change involves identifying your negative beliefs and challenging them. It can help to write negative thoughts down, recognise when you started thinking that way, and write down evidence to challenge it. It can also be helpful to make notes of any positive comments people say about you, even if you don’t currently believe they are true.

At Hope Therapy, we can help you gain more confidence and healthier self-esteem through counselling or therapy. Counselling can help you understand where the negative thoughts about yourself came from, making you better able to challenge them. Cognitive behavioural therapy is more focused on keeping the current negative feelings going so that you can then break the cycle.  

Our qualified counsellors and therapists are experienced at working with people who have low self-esteem, so they can help you develop effective interventions and skills. Contact us for more details or to book a session. 

Other articles of interest

  • https://www.hopefulminds.co.uk/treating-anxiety-without-medication/
  • https://www.hopefulminds.co.uk/exercise-and-mental-health/
  • https://www.hopefulminds.co.uk/depression-and-low-libido/
  • https://www.hopefulminds.co.uk/modern-evidence-meets-ancient-wisdom/

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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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Mindfulness Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met.

As such 'Hope' was born and currently offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK and abroad via Zoom.

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