Self esteem


We use the phrase self esteem to talk about the beliefs, perceptions and thoughts you have about yourself  what you think about the type of person you are your abilities the positive and negative things about you and what you expect for your future.
If you have healthy self esteem your beliefs about yourself will generally be positive. You may experience difficult times in your life, but you will generally be able to deal with these without them having too much of a long term negative impact on you.
If you have low self esteem, your beliefs about yourself will often be negative. You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made and may find it hard to recognise the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have, when challenges arise in your life you therefore may be less well equipped to deal with the decisions and therefore more stressed.

Causes of low self-esteem

Causes of low self esteem are different from person to person. You form your beliefs about yourself over a long period of time and this process is likely to be affected by a range of different things. Some factors that can contribute to low self esteem include:
  • difficult childhood experiences
  • difficult life events
  • personality and temperament
  • relationships with other people
  • stress
  • negative thinking patterns
  • discrimination and stigma
  • social isolation and loneliness
  • trauma, abuse or bullying
  • mental health problems
  • physical health problems

What can I do to build my self esteem?

In order to increase your self esteem, you need to challenge and change the negative beliefs you have about yourself. This might feel like an impossible task but there are a lot of different techniques you can try to help you.
Doing something that you enjoy, and that you are good at can help build your confidence and increase your self esteem. This could include things like paid work, volunteering, caring for another person or pet or a hobby.
Work can provide identity, friendship, a steady routine and a salary. Some people thrive in a busy environment and enjoy working to ambitious targets. Whatever you do, it is important that you feel confident and supported in your role, and that the balance between your work and your homelife feels right for you.
Developing interests such as learning a language, creative activity such as photography or singing or a painting class can all help. Think about where you feel you have some natural ability, or things that you have always wanted to try. Try to find activities that will not challenge you too much to begin with so that you can feel you have achieved something and have a chance to build up your confidence. The internet and your library should have details of local clubs and classes that may be of interest to you.

Try to build positive relationships

Try to associate with people who will not judge you, accept you for being you and who you feel able to talk to about your feelings. Being around positive and supportive people will mean you are more likely to have a better self image and feel more confident.
In return, if you are caring and supportive to other people, you are more likely to get a positive response from them. This will help you feel better about yourself and how other people perceive you.
If you have low self esteem, there might be people close to you who encourage the negative beliefs and opinions that you hold. It is important to identify these people and take action to stop them from doing this, perhaps by learning social skills training, such as becoming more assertive


Being assertive means you value yourself and others, and can communicate with mutual respect. To achieve a win win situation and let others know your thoughts and feelings. It will help you to set clear boundaries. The following things will help you act in a more assertive way:
  • pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you say – try to be open and confident
  • try to express your feelings if you have been upset – wait until you feel calm and explain clearly how you feel
  • say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests
  • tell people if you need more time or support with tasks that you find challenging
  • try to speak in the first person where possible – e.g. ‘When you speak to me like that, I feel… ’. This allows you to explain what you want to happen without appearing aggressive or scared
Assertiveness can be a difficult skill to learn, and you may need to practice by talking in front of a mirror or with a friend. Many services offer assertiveness classes there are also self help books with practical exercises and tips available to buy or use online.


Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, rather than being present in the past or the future. Using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga you can become more aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, it is easier to manage them. See Mindfulness

Self-help resources

Remember these suggestions to help you build your self esteem
  • do activities that you enjoy
  • spend time with positive, supportive people
  • be helpful and considerate to others
  • try not to compare yourself to other people, be happy with who you are
  • try to do regular exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep
  • be assertive – don’t let people treat you with a lack of respect
  • use self-help books and websites to develop helpful skills, like assertiveness or mindfulness
  • learn to challenge your negative beliefs
  • acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at
  • get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself