How Can You Improve Self Esteem?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." –Buddha 

Positive psychology is an area of psychology focused on mental health, happiness, and enjoyment of life. As part of this realm, self-esteem has been a popular topic of discussion in recent decades. Understanding what self-esteem is, what it affects in life, and how to strengthen your self-esteem could help you cultivate healthier relationships, reach your goals, and support your overall mental health and well-being.

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Navigate negative self-perception with positive coping mechanisms
The American Psychological Association defines self-esteem as “the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive.”

Self-esteem encompasses many facets of how you view who you are as a person. Elements could include:
  • The level of confidence you have in yourself
  • How you feel about your own mistakes and the mistakes of others
  • How well you recognize your strengths and accept your limitations
  • Whether you tend to be more optimistic or pessimistic
  • How well you take care of yourself emotionally and physically
  • How independent you are
  • Whether you can set boundaries comfortably 
  • How comfortable you are with your emotions 
  • How much you can express the emotions you're feeling 
  • How much respect you have for yourself

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." –Buddha

How to improve self-esteem

Building self-esteem is a process of challenging negative beliefs about ourselves and cultivating positive relationships. While self-esteem issues can fluctuate according to life events, lower self-esteem can affect every domain of our lives, as well as our relationship to ourselves and others. Below are some tips that can help improve your self-esteem, increasing the ability to cope with what life throws at us:

  • Aim to stop comparing yourself to others 
  • Bear in mind that the images we see of others, such as on social media, rarely represent the full picture of who they are and the challenges they may encounter
  • Say positive things about yourself in front of a mirror, or write them down and read them aloud or quietly
  • Avoid taking recreational drugs as a way to cope with the negative things in your life
  • Include some form of physical activity into your routine, as exercise can positively affect mood and help release tension
  • Aim to accept compliments instead of refuting them by saying a simple thank you, and then consider the positive words that were said about you 
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself
  • Consider talking therapies to discuss your personal life and find support for your concerns 
  • Challenge negative thinking patterns by practicing mindfulness
  • Try self-compassion, which involves treating yourself kindly in the way you would treat a friend. Some studies also indicate that it provides similar benefits to higher self-esteem but doesn't involve comparison to others. 
Causes of low self-esteem

For many people, poor self-esteem can stem from trauma, neglect, bullying, and other adverse life experiences. When ingrained social pressures and unrealistic standards lead to constantly comparing ourselves to others, it may also be harder to feel positive about who we are. Living with a serious illness, grieving the loss of a loved one, or staying in an unhealthy relationship can also compound self-doubt. 

High self-esteem

When looking at how to improve self-esteem, some people may wonder if having high self-esteem is inherently positive. While healthy self-esteem is linked with positive outcomes in life across various domains, it's important to distinguish it from narcissism, which involves a misguided or inflated sense of self-worth. Studies suggest that to build confidence in one's abilities and traits, the goal is to foster self-acceptance and self-respect—on our own terms.  

How to know if your self-esteem level is healthy
Self-esteem can exist on a spectrum. Someone might have high self-esteem when they love themselves and feel confident in their actions. When their self-esteem is low, however, they might experience self-loathing, pessimism, or even destructive behaviors. Below are a few ways to evaluate whether your general levels of self-esteem may be healthy or whether they may be holding you back.
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale 
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a ten-question test that measures your self-esteem by evaluating your answers to questions related to how you feel about yourself. 

As you go through the test, you’re asked to indicate whether you agree or disagree with each of the ten statements. After you answer the questions, you use the accompanying scoring system to grade the test. Your result can range from 0-30 points. The test suggests that 13–25 is within the normal range for healthy self esteem, with under 13 potentially indicating low self-esteem, and over 25 potentially indicating especially high self-esteem. While you can take this test on your own online, it may be helpful to have it administered by a therapist or to meet with them to discuss your results and strategies that could help you build self-esteem.

Elevated self-esteem: is it healthy? 
Some people associate healthy or good self-esteem with being self-absorbed and lacking empathy. However, positive self-esteem is not about disregarding others. In contrast, you may not be able to interact with others in a healthy way if you aren’t able to recognize that you're also a worthwhile person who is capable of positive actions. 

If you don't have the self-esteem to care for your needs and desires, you might unknowingly try to receive all of the validation and care you need from others instead of supporting these in yourself as well. Therefore, cultivating healthy self-esteem may help you feel more stable so you can engage with those in your life from a place of worth and confidence.

Note, however, that people with excessive levels of self-confidence may demonstrate narcissistic tendencies. They might view themselves as being on such a high level in their mind that they matter more than and care less about those around them. However, studies suggest that people with narcissistic tendencies often actually have low self-esteem and self-regard, despite what their actions may seem to indicate. For this reason, narcissistic behavior is not always considered an attribute of high self-esteem.

Some potential advantages of improved self-esteem

Finding effective ways to improve self-esteem could provide several benefits, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Feeling more equipped to meet some of your own needs for validation 
  • A desire to work toward your goals persistently and effectively
  • Enjoyment of richer, more satisfying relationships
  • Being able to recognize, question, and shift negative thoughts
  • Accepting the past and looking forward to the future 
  • A sense of being more at peace with yourself and others
  • Worrying less about what others think of you
When you're able to meet many of your own needs, such as for validation— you might notice that you don't concern yourself as much with what other people think of you. In this way, the work of cultivating a healthy sense of self-esteem could help you feel more stable in your relationships with yourself and others.

Questions to ask yourself about your self-image

Improving your self-esteem usually takes time and effort, but it is generally possible. A few tips that may help you improve self-esteem are as follows.
  • Do I want to love myself more? 
  • What specific behaviors can I learn to feel more self-sufficient? 
  • What are three qualities I have that I want to expand on?
  • What are three qualities I have that I want to change? 
  • What parts of me do I value despite the opinions of others? 
  • What would I want to think about myself if I was the only person in my life?   
Below are a few other suggestions for improving your self-esteem over time. 


Practice speaking to yourself in a positive way 

Self-verbalization refers to the words you associate with yourself verbally or the thoughts you have about yourself during the average day. You may have developed many of these throughout your life, beginning at a young age. These messages—whether about your own abilities, body image, or something else— may have initially come from your family and the culture you grew up in as a child and may be reinforced by social media and peers today. If they were negative, they could be deeply affecting your confidence.

To combat these ingrained messages, learning to replace negative self-talk with more positive self-talk could help. Positive self-talk may help you improve well-being, boost self-esteem, and increase stress resilience, so incorporating practices that can help it become a habit into your daily routine could be worthwhile. For example, you might write and then repeat a set of positive affirmations to yourself daily, such as:
  • "I am deserving of my love and attention."
  • "I am doing my best, and I am proud of myself." 
  • "I am lovable." 
  • "My opinion of myself is valuable." 
  • "I will improve my self-esteem." 
  • "I deserve to feel comfortable in my skin." 

Try to make these positive statements to yourself when you are relaxed and focused. You can also say them when you are thinking negative messages about yourself. During these times, the positive input you give yourself might feel "silly" at first. The more you practice affirmations and positive thinking, the more it might impact how you think. 

You can also try pointing out positive aspects about yourself to others. If you routinely tell others that you’re disorganized, lazy, or awkward, for example—even in a joking way—your brain could still internalize the negativity of those statements. Hearing more positive words out loud from yourself instead can imprint your mind with positive messages. 

Act from a perspective of healthy self-esteem
While positive thoughts about yourself can be the first step toward improving your self-esteem, and engaging in behaviors that reflect the thoughts or affirmations you're using can be the next. Using a confident posture and eye contact could be simple ways of “acting in high self-esteem". 

Making decisions that reflect respect and care for yourself—such as setting boundaries in relationships, tending to your physical health, and addressing any health issues—could also help reinforce the internal message that you’re worth defending and caring for.

Reach out to a professional for support

Speaking with a mental health professional like a therapist is another potentially powerful way to increase your self-esteem. They can help you address any past trauma that may be contributing to these feelings, find ways of building confidence that work for you, and practice skills like setting boundaries and communicating your needs. If you’re experiencing low self-esteem as a symptom of depression or another mental health condition, they can also help you address these.

Online counseling

If you're nervous about attending therapy or can't find a provider in your area, you might try online counseling instead through a platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can choose to meet with via phone, video, or in-app messaging sessions, depending on which format you're most comfortable with. 

Navigate negative self-perception with positive coping mechanisms
Research suggests internet-based interventions can be as effective as in-person therapy in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic stress, all of which can contribute to low self-esteem.


Self-esteem is the regard you hold yourself in, whether positive or negative. Many people experience low self-esteem, but there are methods that may help improve these feelings over time—such as practicing positive self-talk and caring for your health. If you're looking for a personalized guide to self-esteem, you might consider contacting a licensed therapist for further guidance and support.
You are deserving of positive self-esteem
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