Self-esteem, the perception of and opinion we hold about ourselves, is something many of us struggle with. When we have high self-esteem, we feel good about ourselves, often making others feel good as well and want to be around us. When our self-esteem is low, however, we may come across as negative and perpetuate a vicious cycle that makes others less inclined to spend time with us — often making us feel even worse about ourselves.
Self-esteem problems can lead to other issues in our lives, even prompting us to engage in reckless and destructive behaviors or encouraging us to harm ourselves and generally diminishing our sense of self-worth. While there is a such thing as having too high self-esteem — think narcissists — the consequences of low self-esteem can be harmful and devastating at worst.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to address the problem. What are some ways to raise your self-esteem? Here’s what to do.
How to build self-esteem: 7 steps.
1. Set goals for yourself.
Self-esteem can hinder your willingness to take risks and try new things. However, setting goals for yourself can help you tackle this problem and prove to yourself that you’re able to achieve what you set your mind to doing. For instance, if you’re shy around strangers, you might challenge yourself to talk to three new people at a party. Once you take the risk, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that you did what you told yourself you would.
2. Accept compliments.
One hallmark of a person with low self-esteem is the inability to accept a compliment. For example, if someone commends you on an achievement, you might respond, “I just got lucky” or tell them that they're wrong. Learning how to accept compliments will help you appreciate attributes about yourself that others admire. All you need to say is “Thank you.” Once you do it more and more, it will become a habit.
3. Eliminate negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is that persistent voice that tells you you’re not good enough. You’ll think to yourself “I’m so stupid” when something goes wrong or you made a mistake or “I’m so ugly” when you don't like how a piece of clothing looks on you. Instead of saying these hurtful things to yourself, trying writing down unhealthy thoughts to get them out of your head and onto paper. Try challenging them as well; find reasons why they aren’t true. Again, if you do this enough, it will become automatic.
4. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
You may think this is easier said than done; after all, it’s hard not to look at someone else and think they’re doing life better than you. Still, it’s incredibly harmful to constantly be measuring yourself against someone else. Try to challenge yourself every time you find yourself doing this. For example, think about some good qualities you bring to the table. Again, it’s important to have some compassion for yourself. Are you being fair? Is the assessment even accurate? Rather than immediately jump to "she's better than me," think, "What am I doing well?"
5. Identify and build your skills.
Reflect on your best skills and qualities. Write them down and read them over. Once you’ve identified your best attributes, think of ways to build on them and use them. For example, if you consider yourself a good listener, think of situations where you might exercise this talent, such as helping a friend through a difficult situation simply by listening to and supporting her.
Exercise has numerous physical and mental health benefits, including helping improve your mood. This can extend to your self-esteem, too. You’ll feel better about yourself overall, in part thanks to the endorphins. As a plus, you’ll also be healthier in general.
7. Talk to a therapist.
Don’t underestimate the support of a mental health professional. Self-esteem issues can negatively impact your life, but therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), will help you develop strategies for coping and learn how to reframe and address problems like negative self-talk. You can also work to address the underlying causes of your low self-esteem, such as anxiety or depression.
What are the symptoms of low self-esteem?
If you have low self-esteem, you probably know it. Still, it’s important to be able to identify certain attitudes and behaviors that arise because of it. It manifests in behaviors such as:
• Being overly sensitive to criticism
• The need to show off or impress others
• Social isolation or withdrawal
• Poor professional or academic performance
• Feeling irritable or angry
• Preoccupation with one’s faults, while ignoring positive qualities
• Too much focus on personal issues
• Medical or physical problems or illnesses, such as insomnia
• Negative comparisons with others
• Negative self-talk and criticism
• Self-blame for problems that aren’t your fault
• Feeling worthless
• Feeling ashamed
• Ignoring and not believing compliments
What causes a person to have low self-esteem?
There are many reasons why you might have low self-esteem. They include:
• Psychological disorders and illnesses such as depression and anxiety
• Criticism from parents, teachers, peers and others during childhood
• Being ignored by parents or teachers during childhood
• Social isolation
• Academic struggles
• Societal, cultural or other expectations
• Too high expectations placed on you
• Chronic illnesses or medical conditions
You may have experienced any combination of these factors, or you might not have experienced any of them. There are plenty of reasons why someone has low self-esteem. Some people are just more prone to it than others. On the flip side, a person might have experienced several of the above factors and have high self-esteem.
No matter what your circumstances, the important thing is remembering that you can do something about it — and you don’t have to do it alone. Use your support system, including a therapist if you decide to work with one. You can build your self-esteem, but it requires genuine effort. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that becomes deeply ingrained in your psyche and can be hard to shake — but not impossible. Even if you think a step is not worthwhile or not working in the beginning, stick with it for a few attempts. Improving your self-esteem requires time and patience.