Why Do I Feel Worthless? Improving Self-Esteem One Day At A Time

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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If you're feeling worthless or helpless, you're not alone. However, with support and specific coping mechanisms, you may find ways to further understand why these thoughts are occurring and how to reframe them. Feelings of worthlessness often have an underlying cause and may be a sign of a serious mental health condition like depression. By taking specific steps to improve your self-esteem, you may find relief from this feeling.

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Causes of low self-esteem

Self-esteem issues can stem from several sources, and the cause may vary from person to person. Below are potential causes for feelings of worthlessness: 

  • Early interpersonal traumas, including abuse, maltreatment, neglect, or frequent criticism from caregivers 
  • Childhood or adult bullying 
  • Termination from a job, financial issues, or divorce
  • Feeling ostracized at school or work or in social situations
  • Stress and pressure to meet demands
  • Discrimination or rejection 
  • A mental illness like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

The list above may not be exhaustive. If you're experiencing low self-esteem, reaching out to a professional like a therapist for guidance can be beneficial. 

The connections of thoughts and feelings in therapy

Unwanted thoughts and thinking patterns can sometimes feel overpowering, and it might seem challenging to escape the negativity. However, many thoughts are learned through life experiences or common messages from others. A lack of self-esteem is one of the most common reasons people seek professional help, and therapy can effectively restructure learned thought patterns. 

One of the most popular techniques for restructuring distressing thoughts is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been referred to as the "gold standard" of therapy and helps clients identify connections between emotions, thoughts, and behavior. It may also help you develop practical skills to manage the causes of unhealthy behavioral patterns. Common goals of CBT are to increase positive thoughts, reduce unwanted behavior, and control emotional responses. 

For example, if you believe you are uninteresting, annoying, or not fun, you might avoid social activities with friends. In CBT, you can learn to challenge this behavior by pinpointing the cause of the thoughts. If you feel inferior or fear social situations because you feel embarrassed or unlovable, changing thought patterns may help you change your behavior. CBT could also empower you to learn affirmations like, "I am full of life experiences, and I have a unique point of view. My ideas and perspectives are valid and interesting".

How to improve self-esteem

It can be human to make mistakes and embarrass yourself. Rather than striving for perfection and comparing yourself to others, try to focus on what makes you unique and how you can improve the lives of others and yourself. Below are a few tips for improving self-esteem one day at a time. 

Avoid "should" thoughts 

Try to avoid cognitive distortions like telling yourself what you "should" do or who you "should" be. Telling yourself that you should act a certain way, achieve a specific goal, or have certain material items may cause you to feel adversely toward yourself if you don't meet those expectations. 

"Should" thoughts are not often self-directed goals and values but instead messages you may have learned in childhood, from society, or due to pressure in academic or career life. For example, if a teacher often told you as a child that you "should" be less creative, you might believe that your desire to express your emotions creatively is harmful and that you should be "more logical." 

Communicate your feelings 

At times, feeling unappreciated may lower your self-esteem. When interacting with others, communicate your feelings and boundaries. Valuing yourself can mean valuing the inner compass that tells you what you value. Celebrate your accomplishments, let others know when you need space, and talk positively about yourself in conversation. 

Many people value others above themselves in conversation, attempting to avoid conflict or make others feel more important. By talking to yourself the same way, you may start to believe the positive messages you share. In a conversation with a friend, you might say, "I got through a difficult test today; I'm proud of myself!" Although you might feel strange expressing these thoughts out loud initially, being able to enjoy your accomplishments socially might help you feel less alone and reduce your desire for outside validation.

Be realistic about your limits 

If you feel overwhelmed, consider lowering your expectations or taking a break. Take your time if you're not ready to complete a difficult task. Try not to pressure yourself to succeed in all areas of life at once. Some people may feel shameful about themselves when struggling with multiple life challenges and don't know how to organize them all. 

In these cases, try taking on one task at a time not to overwhelm yourself. For example, you can work on getting out of bed at the same time each morning before you try to start eating healthier, exercising, and practicing mindfulness. You can add these skills later as you feel more comfortable getting out of bed in the morning.

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When is feeling worthless a symptom of depression?

Persistent and profound feelings of worthlessness can be a symptom of depression. Many depressive disorders leave individuals feeling alone and unworthy of social interaction and support. However, these feelings can become a cycle that may cause worsening symptoms of depression. 

Note that depression is not a choice that a change of thought can quickly remedy. Depression, like all mood disorders, can occur due to various factors and is not a sign of "laziness" or caused by a lack of motivation. Genetics, brain differences, and environmental factors can all contribute to the development of this condition. Symptoms of depression may include: 

  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety 
  • Numbness or apathy 
  • A lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawal from social support systems
  • Profound sadness or low mood
  • Difficulty smiling, laughing, or connecting with others in joyous ways
  • Difficulty caring for your hygiene or well-being
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

For those who have had symptoms of depression for at least two weeks, consider seeking support from a professional, as you might be living with a depressive disorder. Your therapist or medical professional can ask questions and perform a screening to support you. You might also be referred for medication, outpatient therapy, treatment facilities, or case management. 

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Counseling options 

If you're living with feelings of worthlessness, reaching out to a therapist may be beneficial, even if you aren't living with a mental health condition. Mental health professionals are trained in specific skills to help individuals cope with challenging emotions and thoughts. However, if you're experiencing difficulty leaving home due to these thoughts or symptoms of a condition like depression, you might try online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, which can be done from home. 

Online therapy is flexible with scheduling and can be more affordable than traditional, in-person sessions. In addition, researchers in the mental health field have confirmed online therapy is also an effective treatment option. One study suggests that internet-based interventions can reduce symptoms of depression and increase self-esteem. Study participants also reported an enhanced quality of life post-treatment. 

Counselor reviews

"Collin has been very helpful in my first few weeks using BetterHelp. Sessions seem to fly by because I value everything she says and it has made me think about things I've never examined about myself. I recommend her completely to anyone seeking better ways to control their thoughts and reevaluate habits for better mental health. She's also extremely kind and cares about what she is doing".

"I have been in therapy numerous times throughout my life. I feel that working with Dan has been much more productive than even face-to-face therapy with PhDs or MDs. I can divulge very particular information and always feel safe and unjudged. When I get off track, he gently and kindly gets me back on track. He has gotten me through what is probably the biggest crisis in my life thus far. I would recommend Dan to anyone seeking help."

Takeaway

Using online self-help resources and working with a therapist, psychologist, counselor, or mental health specialist may help you find effective coping methods. Consider contacting a mental health professional to discuss your feelings of worthlessness in more detail and receive compassionate and non-judgmental support.
You are deserving of positive self-esteem
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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