Transform Your Life: Understanding The Signs Of Low Self-Esteem

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Low self-esteem has the potential to negatively affect how you perceive yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. However, identifying low self-esteem and treating it can be a long-term battle for some. 

Achieving long-term contentment and success may require attunement to the subtlest limitations in your thought patterns and mental or physical well-being. However, pinpointing these early warning signals and exploring practical ways to enhance self-confidence may grow your aspirations into reality and help you achieve personal growth.

Break through barriers of low self-esteem

What is low self-esteem, and what are its impacts?

Low self-esteem refers to a negative perception of oneself, often with a lapse in self-worth and confidence. Potentially rooted in past experiences, such as criticism or rejection, this state of doubt can infiltrate various aspects of a person's life, manifesting as negative self-talk, self-sabotage, relationship conflicts, or poor job performance. The pervasive effects of low self-esteem can lead to a cycle wherein individuals continuously undermine their abilities and prospects, potentially hindering their success and happiness throughout their life.

Low self-esteem has been closely associated with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Therefore, it can be crucial to recognize and address behaviors, thoughts, and emotions associated with this mindset, utilizing professional and self-help techniques to regain a positive sense of self and boost one’s confidence. 

What are the signs of low self-esteem?

Individuals may benefit from recognizing the signs of low self-esteem to work toward improving their mental and emotional well-being. Attention to behavioral patterns and internal thought processes can help identify feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt. 

One sign of low self-esteem is difficulty making decisions or asserting preferences, potentially indicating feelings of worthlessness or the belief that one's opinions do not hold value. In addition, a person with low self-esteem may be sensitive to criticism from other people, harbor negative thoughts about themselves, and engage in self-sabotaging behaviors that hinder their personal and professional progress.

In recognizing these signs early on, one can implement coping strategies and seek support from mental health professionals to overcome internal beliefs that may be maladaptive. 

Why does low self-esteem occur?

Low self-esteem can be a profoundly rooted issue. Various factors, including childhood experiences, societal expectations, mental health conditions, and personal core beliefs, may influence self-esteem. 

Understanding these contributing elements could help individuals identify maladaptive thought patterns and work towards healthier self-perception. Engaging in self-awareness practices, such as journaling or therapy, can aid in uncovering the sources of low self-esteem and provide a solid foundation for personal growth.

Taking action to improve your self-esteem

When you notice the signs of low self-esteem in yourself, you may improve your self-perception by implementing strategies to boost confidence, such as acknowledging your accomplishments and challenging your inner critic. Seeking guidance from a mental health professional might also offer invaluable insights into your strengths. Improving self-esteem can lay a foundation for personal development in a competitive and complex society. 

Other ways to improve self-esteem may include: 

  • Stating positive affirmations in the mirror every morning
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Going running in nature 
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation 
  • Trying yoga or another form of calming exercise
  • Practicing your religion or spiritual beliefs
  • Wearing clothes, a hairstyle, and makeup that matches your gender and the way you want to appear to the world 
  • Keeping a clean home
  • Talking about your feelings when they arise  
  • Maintaining your physical health by eating a balanced diet

How has self-esteem changed in the modern world?

Self-esteem has been a topic in the realms of psychology and philosophy for centuries, as evidenced by the writings of philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius. However, self-esteem may be more critical in the modern world with increased social media usage and significant information dissemination over the internet. 

Some people feel like others constantly judge them, and they may compare themselves to others online. With skills to build self-esteem, people can learn to be confident regardless of the opinions of others. Having the capacity for self-love can require understanding that each person is different and that there is value in being unique. 

With this cultivation may come the validation that it can be normal to make mistakes while trying to accept who you are. If you're struggling with these concepts, staying connected with loved ones through your journey of self-growth may allow you to receive unconditional love as you attempt to achieve self-confidence. 


How caregivers can help children build self-esteem

Nurturing self-esteem in children can be crucial during formative years, as the foundations established in childhood and adolescence significantly influence an individual's mental, emotional, and social well-being as an adult. Parents, educators, and other role models play a pivotal role in encouraging a positive self-image and reinforcing every child's innate talent and capability, empowering them to face challenges and setbacks.

Children can build steadfast self-esteem that carries them toward emotional maturity, personal accomplishments, and overall life satisfaction when caregivers emphasize the significance of self-acceptance, perseverance, and resilience. They can learn to feel good about themselves and banish negative thoughts by learning to engage in positive self-talk.

Practices for building confidence and self-care

Confidence and self-care can be essential components in an increasingly demanding world, especially when social media encourages us to constantly compare ourselves to other people. Embrace your strengths, set achievable objectives, and take healthy risks while still taking time to nurture yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Investing in these areas may help you achieve well-being and success. 

You may develop a healthy sense of self-worth by focusing on your needs and establishing a routine that includes regular exercise, adequate nutrition, and mental relaxation techniques such as mindfulness. Furthermore, constantly challenging yourself and staying resilient during times of failure can reinforce your belief in your abilities.

When would it be beneficial to seek professional help for low self-esteem?

Each person has self-esteem, whether it is positive or negative. If you're living with low self-esteem, you may find it valuable to talk to a therapist to develop skills to retrain your thought patterns and reconnect with yourself. If these feelings are related to another concern, like a mental health condition, you may benefit further from support for these conditions. Treatment for a mental illness may sometimes improve self-esteem, as well. 

Therapy options for low self-esteem

There are a few options for treating low self-esteem, and a lack of self-confidence, depending on their cause. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be one of the most recommended. CBT involves reframing thought patterns to change behaviors and emotional responses. With medical advice from a therapist, you can identify where maladaptive thoughts may impact your self-esteem and result in anxiety and depression. 

One method used by therapists to address maladaptive thought patterns is cognitive restructuring. This method involves exercises to change thoughts so they are more effective and offer the opportunity for change. For example, a low self-esteem-oriented thought might be, "I am not worthy of friendships." 

Instead of repeating this thought, you may restructure it by telling yourself, "Having close friendships is valuable to me, and I'm ready to find connections that make me feel valued." Reframing this thought can open the door for you to seek friendships, even when worried about how you might be perceived. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Break through barriers of low self-esteem

Alternative treatment options 

At times, barriers can arise to mental healthcare that may discourage individuals from seeking support. For example, financial insecurity, misconceptions about therapy, or a lack of options in one's area can lead to not finding support. If you're living with low self-esteem and believe therapy might benefit you, there are alternative options, like online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. 

Online platforms may remove barriers to treatment, as you can receive more providers, including if you live in a rural town. You may also be able to choose between phone, video, or chat sessions, depending on your preferences. Studies also back up the effectiveness of this treatment format. One study found that online therapy for adolescents with low self-esteem was highly effective, increasing self-esteem, self-compassion, and quality of life while reducing depression and anxiety. These results were similar to those of in-person therapy studies. 


Achieving a healthy level of self-esteem may require confronting complex subjects about yourself and looking within for answers to difficult questions. However, self-improvement may bring numerous benefits, from increasing confidence in yourself and the world around you to achieving better relationships and letting go of destructive patterns.

A professional therapist can guide you to improve your self-esteem by providing insight into how you view yourself, uncovering the root cause of negative beliefs, offering perspectives that counteract those beliefs, and setting attainable goals with measurable progress. Consider reaching out to a mental health provider to get started.

You are deserving of positive self-esteem
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