Challenges With Self-Confidence: How To Build Healthy Self-Esteem

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The terms self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-image are often interchangeably. While the nuances are slight, there is a difference between lacking self-esteem and lacking the other three. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-esteem is “confidence and satisfaction in oneself.”

Positive self-esteem can involve optimistic thoughts and opinions about yourself without considering what others might think. When one has low self-esteem, daily situations can be colored through a lens of self-imposed inadequacy. People with low self-esteem often assume they’re not “enough,” regardless of evidence. 

With that understanding, low self-esteem can damage a person’s mental health. Many situations might contribute to, or detract from, your self-esteem, including how healthy your relationships are, past events that you’ve experienced, successes and failures that you’ve had, your role in society, your general health, and the messages you’ve heard from others.

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Signs and consequences of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can have a significant impact on a person's mental health and overall life. People who experience low self-esteem often feel inadequate or unworthy, which can lead to negative thoughts. This might be more challenging if a person experiences physical health issues. 

Signs of low self-esteem often manifest differently between people, and some can be difficult to identify. A few examples of behaviors associated with low self-esteem that you might recognize could include the following:  

Learned helplessness and dependence

Helplessness, self-pity, and dependency on others in relationships may occur for those with low self-esteem. If your self-esteem is low, you might consciously or unconsciously avoid taking responsibility for your actions or may partake in reassurance-seeking behaviors to avoid anxiety in social situations.  


Perfectionism and competitiveness leading to procrastination and burnout may also be signs of low self-esteem. Individuals with these traits might try to feign self-esteem but struggle to care for themselves when home alone. They might neglect self-care but become perfectionists at work or in social life to compensate for their challenges. 

Rebellious behavior 

Rebelliousness, anger, and aggressive ambivalence towards others might also occur with low self-esteem. People who express these traits due to low self-esteem could put on the mask of a “rebel” by putting others down, blaming others for their problems, and lashing out. However, not everyone with low self-esteem reacts with anger. 

Why is self-esteem important?

Self-esteem can be essential because it may influence how you think and the decisions you make. People with healthy self-esteem can see and acknowledge their worth and value as a person. They may also recognize the contributions of which they’re capable in relationships.

People with low self-esteem can struggle to see their capabilities clearly, and they are sometimes convinced that they can’t achieve success, potentially leading to a host of consequences, depending on the individual. 

For instance, people with low self-esteem might be more prone to stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety disorders. As a result, some people with low self-esteem may struggle with substance use disorders. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.


What is overinflated self-esteem?

Self-esteem may not only be unhealthy when low. Some people may have a high self-opinion without any substance to support that assessment. Sometimes, this sense of entitlement accompanies selfish behavior and self-centeredness and could be a sign of adult narcissistic behavior. However, many people with narcissistic tendencies have low self-esteem and over-compensate by feigning confidence, putting others down, and pretending to have high self-worth. 

Tips for overcoming low self-esteem

Improving your self-esteem can be beneficial for a happier and healthier life. Some ways to improve your self-esteem might be to challenge negative thoughts, avoid social media comparisons, and focus on your strengths. Remember, self-esteem isn't just about if you feel good about yourself; it's also about taking care of your mental health and well-being. If you struggle with low self-esteem consistently, it may signify a more profound challenge to address with a professional. You can use a few strategies to build your confidence and self-esteem at the moment it occurs, including the following. 

Change your self-talk

You may also struggle with negative thoughts and self-talk if you struggle with low self-esteem. Your thoughts can have an impact, so staying mindful of your inner dialogue is one way to cut off those thoughts and ideas that contribute to your lack of self-esteem. Keeping a journal of your thoughts could help you keep track of how you’re speaking to yourself and how to practice more self-compassion.  

This exercise in paying attention to your inner dialogue may also lead to creating a list of your strengths and posting them somewhere you can see them daily. Reminding yourself of the positive traits and capabilities you have daily can help you replace some of that negative thinking with more positive, constructive dialogue. 

Learn to recognize your success

If you struggle with low self-esteem, you may experience difficulty in acknowledging your achievements, perhaps finding ways to diminish them or excuse them instead of taking credit for them.

Learning to recognize your successes, including those you consider “minor” might help you build long-term confidence. At the end of every day, write down three areas where you succeeded during that day. Continue to add to your list day after day. Eventually, you may have a long list of successes at which you can look back whenever you start to doubt yourself. 

Change how you view failure

It might seem easy to make the leap from failing at a task to labeling oneself as a failure, but the two are not the same. Everyone can have moments where they fail throughout their lives. Successful people often learn to reframe their failed attempts as stepping stones to success or areas for growth. 

Spend time with positive people

When building confidence and self-esteem, spending time with positive people with healthy self-esteem who encourage and affirm others instead of trying to judge them or tear them down, can be helpful. People with naturally healthy self-esteem may also help you feel more positive and happier throughout your day.

Build healthy self-esteem with professional guidance

Speak to a counselor about self-esteem

It may be normal for people to occasionally struggle with bouts of less-than-perfect self-esteem. However, if you experience feelings of inadequacy regularly, it may benefit you to speak with a professional to try treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A therapist can also partner with you to develop a personalized plan for coping with depression and anxiety, which might be related to low self-esteem. 

Online therapy might be a convenient and flexible option if you’re ready to work toward healthier self-esteem. It can often be more convenient than traveling to an office, and studies have found that it’s as effective as in-person therapy. Platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with an experienced professional who works with your schedule via online messaging, phone, or video chat. 


Building self-esteem can be a process, but you’re not alone in this experience. Contact a licensed therapist to gain more personalized self-esteem coping mechanisms and discuss the factors that could impact your self-beliefs.
You are deserving of positive self-esteem
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