How To Improve Low Self-Esteem

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated March 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Self-esteem refers to how positively someone views their qualities and characteristics. It can include how someone views their capabilities and accomplishments, how well they live up to their values, and how others respond to them. The more positively someone perceives these aspects of their personality, the higher their self-esteem may be. 

In contrast, people with low self-esteem have a poor opinion of themselves and their self-worth. Low self-esteem can be more complex than self-dislike. Those with low self-esteem might not believe they deserve love, understanding, or attention or value their feelings, thoughts, opinions, or interests.

Low self-esteem can affect many aspects of life, from relationships to careers, and it can be a symptom of mental health conditions like depression. However, it is possible to improve low self-esteem, and help is available. 

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Signs of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can manifest in various ways, and several signs can indicate someone might have low self-esteem. Some of these signs include the following:

A sense of a lack of control

Individuals with low self-esteem may perceive themselves as powerless, which could be because they do not trust themselves to make the right decision or because they believe they can do nothing to fix their problems. 

Doubting their decisions

If someone with low self-esteem makes a decision, they may be more likely to worry if they made the right one. Because they second guess themselves, they may turn to others to make decisions for them and find it more challenging to make significant decisions about their life.

Lacking boundaries

People with low self-esteem can have difficulty setting boundaries because they may not value their needs and time highly. They may also fear enforcing boundaries would hurt or disappoint someone else. 

Negative self-comparisons

People with low self-esteem may compare themselves to people they see as superior to them, which can lead to thoughts of hopelessness or inadequacy. Social media can also make social comparisons even more widespread.

Low self-confidence

Self-confidence refers to how much someone believes in their own skills and abilities. Low self-esteem and low self-confidence often feed into one another. People with low self-confidence may believe they cannot rely on themselves, particularly in challenging situations. 

Negative self-talk

People with healthy self-esteem often engage in positive self-talk to boost their confidence and remind themselves of their strengths. Contrarily, people with low self-esteem may experience negative self-talk, focusing on their flaws and engaging in self-criticism.

A poor outlook for the future

People with low self-esteem may not have much confidence in themselves and their abilities, which can make them doubt that they will be able to accomplish their long-term goals. They may struggle to believe that the future will be any better than the present, which can lead to thoughts of hopelessness. 

Difficulty accepting praise and compliments

People with low self-esteem often have trouble accepting compliments. When someone does give them positive feedback, they might become suspicious or believe the person is teasing them because what the other person is saying does not align with how they feel about themselves.

Difficulty asking for help

Someone with low self-esteem may struggle to ask for help. This challenge may be because they are embarrassed to admit that they cannot handle a task on their own or because they believe they do not deserve support. 

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How to improve self-esteem

If you have low self-esteem, getting rid of negative thoughts can be challenging. However, raising your self-esteem is possible. Consider the following coping skills when negative thoughts start to get you down. 

Determine what affects your self-esteem

Some people with low self-esteem find that certain situations incite their negative self-talk, like giving a presentation in front of a crowd, getting into an argument with a loved one, or experiencing a significant life change. Others may find that they are incited by having to make an important phone call, meeting a new group of people, or dressing up for a formal night out. Pay attention to when low self-esteem seems to spike to see if you notice any patterns.

Pay attention to how you think and behave

Pay attention to your thoughts after you identify what situations tend to spark low self-esteem. What do you say to yourself? Are you having rational or positive thoughts, or does your self-talk mainly include negative or irrational thoughts based on fear and false ideas? Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is accurate. Would you say what you’re saying to yourself to someone you love? As you go through these mental exercises, you may find it helpful to write down these thoughts to examine and dissect them more clearly. 

Challenge and adjust your negative thoughts

Challenging your negative thoughts can be difficult, especially if you’ve had a low view of yourself for a long time. However, doing so can be vital for improving self-esteem. Negative thoughts and feelings that you’ve had about yourself can seem more like facts the longer you’ve held onto them, so try to pay attention to any cognitive distortions you might be experiencing.

Cognitive distortions are mental biases that can fuel and perpetuate negative views about yourself, and there are many types of cognitive distortions. Black-and-white thinking is a common cognitive distortion when a person assumes a situation is either “all good” or “all bad.” Fortune-telling involves being convinced you know a bad situation is going to happen. Catastrophizing is assuming every road bump will lead to the worst possible scenario. There are hundreds of cognitive distortions, so reviewing these with a cognitive behavioral therapist can be helpful if you think you may be experiencing them. 

Alternative coping mechanisms

Once you identify negative thoughts and cognitive distortions, you can try to change them. Below are a few strategies for increasing positive thinking to help you boost your self-esteem. 

Be kind and encouraging to yourself

Rather than doubting yourself and your abilities, try telling yourself encouraging statements, such as: “This task is going to be challenging, but I know I can do it.” Forgive yourself for making mistakes and remind yourself that mistakes don’t make you a bad person.

Focus on the positive

What parts of your life work particularly well? What do you excel at? Instead of focusing on your flaws, prompt yourself to identify what you like about yourself, what you’re proud of, and what skills you’ve used to overcome challenges in the past. Give yourself credit and celebrate your wins.  

Challenge “should” statements

Some people might feel like they have specific goals they must meet or societal expectations of them. These ideas may become internalized as “should” and “must” statements that can put undue pressure on you. Try to challenge these statements by reminding yourself you are human and are doing your best.  

Change the script

When you have a negative thought, try to use it as a prompt to think of a positive scenario. Ask yourself questions like the following: 

  • How can I make this situation less stressful? 
  • What can I do to turn this around? 
  • What strengths can I draw on in this moment? 
  • What wins have I had lately that I can celebrate?
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Professional support options

In some cases, no matter how much effort you’re willing to put in, raising self-esteem on your own can be highly challenging. Talking to a licensed mental health professional is one way to find support. A licensed therapist can help you develop the coping skills to manage self-doubt and cultivate healthy self-esteem. 

For some people, low self-esteem may make various aspects of seeking help intimidating or overwhelming, such as having to meet a new person and open up about insecurities face-to-face. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may seem more straightforward, as it allows you to meet with a therapist virtually and have your sessions from wherever you feel most comfortable. In addition, online therapy can be more cost-effective for some people. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective in treating low self-esteem. For instance, one study examined the secondary benefits of an online depression intervention, and it found that the online intervention was effective in improving participants’ self-esteem and empowerment

Takeaway

Having low self-esteem can affect many areas of life, from relationships to how you perform at work and how you view the future. Low self-esteem can seem overwhelming at times, but you can take steps to boost it, such as paying attention to your self-talk, challenging negative thoughts, and incorporating positive thinking. Consider connecting with a therapist online or in your area for additional support in this process.
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