Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life generally
Good self-esteem can help when we have to deal with life's ups and downs.
We all have times when we lack confidence and do not feel good about ourselves. When our self-esteem is low, we tend to see ourselves and our life in a more negative and critical way.
If low self-esteem becomes a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on mental health and day to day life.
What causes low self-esteem?
There can be many reasons why someone might have low self-esteem. Our parent/s, carers, siblings, friends, teachers and social media, give us messages about ourselves. If you have been given a message from others that you are not ‘good enough’, it can stay with you and that belief can be hard to shake off. Stress and difficult life events, such as serious illness or the loss of a loved one, can also have a negative effect on self-esteem.
How does low self-esteem affect us?
If you have low self-esteem or confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, stop trying new things, and avoid doing things you find challenging. In the short term, avoiding challenging and difficult situations might make you feel safe. In the longer term, this can be unhelpful because it can get in the way of doing things that you care about, or need to do. You may also develop unhelpful habits to cope, such as smoking and drinking too much.
- Recognise what you're good at - We're all good at something, whether it's cooking, singing, doing puzzles or being a kind friend. We also tend to enjoy doing the things we're good at, which can help boost your mood.
- Build positive relationships - If you find certain people tend to bring you down, try to spend less time with them, or consider if it might help to tell them how you feel about their words or actions. Try to build relationships with people who are positive and who appreciate you.
- Be kind to yourself - Being kind to yourself means being gentle to yourself at times when you are being self-critical. Think what you'd say to a friend in a similar situation. We often give kinder, better advice to others than we do to ourselves. There is an exercise at the bottom of this page that you can try to help you practice being kind to yourself, like you would a friend.
- Learn to be assertive - Being assertive is about respecting other people's opinions and needs, and expecting the same from them in return. One trick is to look at other people who act assertively and copy what they do. It's not about pretending you're someone you're not. It's picking up tips from people you admire and letting the real you come out.
- Start saying "no" - People with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to other people, even when they do not really want to. The risk is that you become overwhelmed and feel resentful and angry. For the most part, saying no does not upset relationships.
- Give yourself a challenge - We all feel nervous or afraid to do things at times. But it’s important to not let these feelings stop you from trying new things or taking on challenges. Set yourself a goal, such as joining a club or going somewhere new with friends. Achieving your goals will help to increase your self-esteem.
Grab a piece of paper and answer the following questions:
- First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about themselves or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
- Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
- Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- Write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
Why not try treating yourself like a good friend and see what happens?