What Is Self-Esteem And How Can You Improve It?

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated February 17, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

Everyone seems to know by now that positive self-esteem is critical to good mental health, happiness, and enjoyment of life. Psychologists have been talking about it for years. Even before the field of psychology existed, the great thinkers of the world have referred to the need to love yourself. Centuries ago, the Buddha said, 'You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.' More recently, Mark Twain commented 'A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.' Since self-esteem is so important, learning what it really is and how to improve it can help you live a better life.


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What Is the Definition of Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem encompasses many different facets of how you view who you are as a person. A complete self-esteem definition needs to include all the following aspects of self-image:

  • The level of confidence you have in yourself
  • How much you blame others
  • How you feel about your own mistakes and the mistakes of others
  • How well you recognize your strengths and accept your limitations
  • Whether you're optimistic or pessimistic
  • How well you take care of yourself emotionally and physically
  • How independent you are
  • Whether you can say no when you need or want to
  • How comfortable you are with your own emotions
  • How much you respect yourself


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Do You Have Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is a neutral concept. Everyone has self-esteem. The question is: do you have high self-esteem or low self-esteem? When your self-esteem is low, you feel unworthy and unlovable. Positive self-esteem means you love yourself for who you are. Your actions, too, speak for how much you value yourself.

Assessing Your Self-Esteem

You may be wondering at this point how you can determine whether or not you have high self-esteem or low self-esteem. Talking to a counselor is the best way to get a complete assessment of your level of self-esteem. However, there is a test you can take on your own to help you see where you fall on the self-esteem spectrum. It's called the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. This is a 10-question test that measures your self-esteem by evaluating your answers to questions related to both low and high self-esteem.

As you go through the Rosenberg test, you indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each of the 10 statements. After you answer the questions, you use the accompanying scoring system to grade the test and determine how high your self-esteem is. The resulting answer will range from 0-30 points, with 13-25 being within the normal range.

Is It Selfish to Think Too Well of Yourself?

Often, when people consider thinking well of themselves, they worry that they'll become self-absorbed and self-involved and that they'll care less for other people. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can't give others your best if you don't recognize that you're a worthwhile person capable of doing positive things.

If you don't have high enough self-esteem to take care of your own needs and desires, you put that burden on others. Therefore, you're doing the world a great service by loving yourself. It isn't selfish. In fact, it's one of the most positive ways you can impact the world.

Still, people with exaggerated levels of self-esteem are considered narcissists. They do put themselves on such a high plain that they care little about those around them. Their most cherished goal is to make themselves look better than others and get what they want no matter what.


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Does this mean that you shouldn't aspire to have a better level of self-esteem? Certainly not, especially if you think poorly of yourself now. The key to having a healthy level of self-esteem is to ground your positive view of yourself in objective reality with an attitude of optimism. If you have trouble doing that, a counselor can put you on the right path.

Advantages of Having Healthy Self-Esteem

If it's possible to have higher self-esteem, is it worth your effort? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. Raising your level of self-esteem comes with many benefits.

  • You're better equipped to meet your own needs.
  • You're able to work towards your own goals more persistently and effectively.
  • You enjoy richer, more satisfying relationships.
  • You experience life more fully.
  • You accept your past and look forward to your future.
  • You feel more at peace with yourself and others.
  • You worry less about what others think of you.

Can You Improve the Way You Think of Yourself?

Improving your self-esteem is not an easy task. The first step is to be able to define self-esteem in a way that's meaningful to you. From there, it takes a strong commitment to the process of learning to be comfortable with who you are. Anyone with low self-esteem can improve it.

What Is Self-Talk and Why Does It Matter?

Self-talk is the words you say about yourself or thoughts about yourself on which you focus. By the time you're an adult, you already have a vast store of these words and thoughts. Many come from your parents and other people with whom you interacted as a child. It's as if you have recordings of their words about you, playing in your head. If these people gave you negative messages, you need to counter those messages with the more positive messages you rather give yourself at present.


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By feeling and thinking good things about yourself and telling yourself about it, you can gradually improve your self-esteem. This positive self-talk can also be referred to as affirmations. Saying or thinking good things about yourself can gradually help you break through the fog of a negative self-image. Some people look in the mirror and say positive things about themselves, but that isn't necessary. You can simply think of the words in any situation without calling attention to your struggle.

For the greatest effect, make these positive statements to yourself when you are relaxed and focused. Also, say them when you are in a situation where you find you're giving yourself negative messages about yourself. During these times, the positive input you give yourself can help you make better decisions in the moment and seize opportunities as they arise.

You can also say positive things about yourself to others. Even though the words are directed outside of yourself, they have a significant impact on your feelings of self-worth. The more you say to others that you're stupid, unfit, or boring, for example, the more you are likely to believe it. If you choose to tell others that you are capable, intelligent, and kind, you'll believe those words instead. Hearing the words aloud imprints your mind with the positive messages. They become a part of who you are and influence how you interact with others.

Acting from a Perspective of Healthy Self-Esteem

While positive thoughts and words about who you are is the first step towards improving your self-esteem, your behavior needs to reflect your decision to respect yourself more. Much of this will come naturally as you learn to feel more comfortable with yourself.

Another thing to consider is that not only do thoughts affect behavior but behavior in turn affects thoughts and eventually helps mold beliefs. Even if you don't yet believe you're a valuable person, you can choose to treat yourself as one. This decision is always an option for you. The more you behave like a person of worth, the more you will come to believe that you are one.


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Getting Help with Low Self-Esteem

When you don't feel you're a worthy person, it can be hard to give yourself affirmations that you are one. The positive words you say to and about yourself can seem like lies. Many people give up quickly on affirmations because they cannot support them with evidence.

Talking to a counselor can give you the backing you need to venture forward into the new realm of loving yourself and accepting you for you. The counselor or licensed therapist will likely start by giving you tests like the Rosenberg scale as well as talking to you on a more personal level to assess your deepest beliefs about yourself. They may also help you explore where you got negative messages from others in the past.

Counselors typically follow by sharing their findings regarding your level of self-esteem. They then guide you through the process of reconstructing your self-concept in a positive manner better by way of different methods, tips and tools.

You can talk to a therapist online at any time that suits your schedule and from any location that works best for you. BetterHelp.com offers paid online counseling with licensed therapists for this and many other personal challenges. Many counselors are available through the BetterHelp.com site so that you can find a counselor you feel comfortable with, as you go through this journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.

It only takes a moment to get started with online counseling, and you can take the first step in improving your self-esteem at any time, day or night. Through the course of your counseling experience, you can come to value yourself more highly and start on the path to a happier, more fulfilling life.


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