Understanding Low Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is how you think and feel about yourself. It drives how you judge and value yourself and where you fit in the world. It’s the foundation of your self-confidence. Self-esteem can ebb and flow depending on what’s happening in your life. But many people have consistently low self-esteem. This means they don’t feel good about themselves most of the time. This can lead to troubled relationships, addiction and substance abuse problems, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Changing these powerful core feelings about yourself can be challenging. But it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your life.
What causes low self-esteem?
Many things can lead to low self-esteem. These include:
A difficult or stressful childhood, illness, grief, neglect, abandonment, or abuse
Poor treatment from parents or a partner
Trouble in school, work, or your social circles, such as bullying or intimidation. This includes feeling inadequate, unvalued, or like you don’t fit in.
Long-term health problems
Mental health disorders
Overuse of social media
Being a perfectionist
Treatment for low self-esteem
Treatment for low self-esteem involves different types of therapy and self-care. Medicines may also be used.
Cognitive behavioral therapy. This is also called talk therapy. It involves talking with a mental health counselor or therapist about your feelings and issues that might add to low self-esteem. Therapy may be done in private sessions with just you and the counselor. Or it may be done in group sessions with others who have experiences like yours. A counselor or therapist can help you explore your thoughts, relationships, and feelings. Then your therapist can help you develop new skills to change negative thoughts and behaviors.
Acceptance and commitment therapy. This therapy involves accepting your inner emotions and committing to behavior changes to move forward.
Medicines. These may help related anxiety or depression. Low self-esteem can lead to other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
Trade negative thoughts for positive thoughts
Often, people with low self-esteem have a powerful inner critic. See if you can find a way to quiet that voice. Here is a low-tech approach:
Fold a piece of paper in half to make 2 columns.
In one column, write your negative thought. In the other column, write a positive thought that contradicts the negative thought.
Practice using the language in the positive column. When a negative thought comes into your head, consciously stop it and replace it with the positive language.
Identify your positive attributes
Write down what you do well, what makes you feel good, and what you can offer to others. For example, are you insightful? Empathetic? Conscientious? Creative? Can you cook? Decorate? Are you great at puzzles or singing? Look for a list of attributes online to help you develop a robust list.
Identify negative past experiences
Explore things in your past that may be contributing to your low self-esteem. Write these down and discuss them with your therapist.
One of the less obvious but most impactful things you can do to help boost your self-esteem is to help others. Find an organization in your community that is meaningful to you and volunteer your time. Even something as simple as donating books or clothes to those in need or raking your neighbor’s leaves can feel like a positive accomplishment.
Tune out social media
Lots of time on social media can influence self-esteem. People, especially teens, tend to compare themselves with others on social media sites. Try not to compare yourself with others. After all, they may be misrepresenting themselves with filtered photos and selective realities. Take a break from these sites and see if it improves your outlook. It’s healthier and more satisfying to interact with someone face-to-face when possible. Keep in mind, some people can be simply overwhelmed with too much online information. Beware of doom scrolling during times of crisis. Too much news and detail can be upsetting. Also be careful not to self-disclose too much information about yourself. The digital record never goes away.
Journaling provides an opportunity for positive self-talk and for identifying negative thoughts and behaviors. When you have a problem and you're stressed, keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress. Keeping a journal helps you create order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. You get to know yourself by revealing your most private fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time. It's a time when you can de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that's relaxing and soothing, maybe with a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time. And know that you're doing something good for your mind and body.
Visualization is like taking a mental vacation. It frees your mind while keeping your body in a calm state. To get started, picture yourself feeling warm and relaxed. Choose a peaceful setting that appeals to you and fill in the details. If you imagine a tropical beach, listen to the waves on the shore. Feel the sun on your face. Dig your toes in the sand. By using the power of your mind, you can take a soothing break when you need to.
Build a support network with people who can give you feedback that is helpful and kind. Interact less with negative people in your life who may make you doubt your self-worth. Find a few good friends or family members who can help bolster you up when you need it. Engage in talk therapy so you can learn new problem-solving skills to manage low self-esteem.
Develop a safety plan
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you may find yourself in crisis. In these times, have a safety plan. This is a written set of instructions for when you may think about harming yourself. You may want to include the following in it:
The names of people you can call when you're upset
A list of your internal coping strategies, or what helps sooth you
Things you are grateful for
Your reasons for living
Your provider’s phone number
Urgent care services' phone number
Phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). The Lifeline is available 24/7 and provides free and confidential support. You can also reach a crisis counselor by texting HOME to 741741 or visiting the lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Call or text 988
When you call or text 988, you will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat option is also available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Lifeline is free and available 24/7.
Call or text 988 if you:
Have suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the plan
Have serious thoughts of hurting someone else
Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening symptoms.