Some factors that can contribute to low self-esteem include:
- Difficult childhood experiences – negative experiences in childhood, such as bullying, difficult family relationships or having a hard time at school, can be particularly damaging for your self-esteem.
- Difficult life events – difficult experiences as an adult, such as the end of a relationship, long-term illness, the death of someone close to you or being unemployed, particularly if you experience several difficult events over a short period of time.
- Personality and temperament – elements of your personality, such as a tendency towards negative thinking or finding it hard to relate to other people, could contribute to a poor self-image.
- Feeling ‘different’ – feeling like the ‘odd one out’, or under peer pressure to conform to social norms you don’t agree with, can affect the way you see yourself.
- Relationships with other people – other people may feed into your low self-esteem, being negative about you or making you feel like you have little or no worth. Or you may feel you don’t live up to other people’s expectations.
- Stress and excessive pressure – if you are under a lot of stress and finding it hard to cope, this can lead to feelings of low self-worth.
- Negative thinking patterns – you may learn or develop thinking patterns that reinforce low self-esteem, such as constantly comparing yourself to others or developing high standards for yourself that you can’t achieve.
- Discrimination and stigma – if you are discriminated against for whatever reason, this can affect the way you see yourself.
- Social isolation and loneliness – if you have limited social contact with other people, or find it hard to maintain relationships with other people, this can lead to poor self-image.
- Trauma, abuse or bullying – trauma, physical, sexual or psychological abuse and bullying can all lead to feelings of guilt and low self-worth.
- Mental health problems
Low self-esteem can cause people to develop unhelpful behaviours as a way of coping, such as forming damaging relationships, taking drugs or drinking too much. This often causes problems in the long-term and makes life more difficult, which can then lead to mental health problems. Low self-esteem is not a recognised mental health problem, but self-esteem and mental health are closely related.
Low self-esteem can lead to mental health problems
- Negative thinking patterns associated with low self-esteem, such as assuming you will fail at things you do, can develop over time and lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
- Low self-esteem can make it hard to try new things or complete tasks, such as starting a new hobby or completing a job application. This can stop you from living your life the way you want, and lead to frustration and depression over time.
Low self-esteem has severely limited career development in the life of lots of people who have so much potential. It has kept them in a place of low confidence, so that they’re less willing to take on challenges at work. If you find certain situations difficult because of low self-esteem, you may start to avoid them and become increasingly socially isolated. This can cause feelings of anxiety and depression that can develop into mental health problems over time.
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 be anything from paid work, volunteering, caring 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. Other people see their job as a means to an end or work in unpaid, volunteering roles. Whatever you do, it is important that you feel confident and supported in your role, and that the balance between your work and your home-life feels right for you.
Hobbies could be anything from learning a language, to singing, to a painting class. 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 your confidence. The internet, your library and adult education colleges should have details of local clubs and classes that you might want to go along to
Try to associate with people who will not criticise you, and who you feel able to talk to about your feelings. If you spend time around positive and supportive people, 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 becoming more assertive.
Looking after your physical health can help you feel happier and healthier, and improve your self-image. Physical activity helps improve people’s sense of wellbeing and image of themselves. Exercise releases endorphins – ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help improve your mood, particularly if you do it outside. Lack of sleep can cause negative feelings to be exaggerated and means you can feel less confident, so it’s important to make sure you get enough sleep. Eating a well-balanced diet at regular meal-times with plenty of water and vegetables will help you to feel healthier and happier. Stopping or reducing your alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco and recreational drugs can also help improve your general wellbeing.
If you set yourself goals and work towards achieving them, you will feel satisfied and proud of yourself when you achieve your goal, and feel more positive about yourself as a result. Make sure the challenge you set yourself is one that you can realistically achieve. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly large but should have meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a letter to your local paper or start going to a regular exercise class.
Be aware of media’s messages. Their goal is to make you feel bad about yourself so you will buy what they are selling. Keep good company. Positive feeds positive and negative breeds negative. If you choose to be around positive people, you will become more positive. Reward yourself. Give yourself and others positive rewards for being and doing well.
Don’t accept messages that damage your self-esteem. It is much easier to improve or change your behaviour when you believe you are lovable and capable. Be aware of the different messages that you hear in your head and remember to turn up the volume on the messages that contribute to your positive self-esteem and to turn down the volume on any message that encourages you to think negatively about your worth or ability.
You can improve the quality of messages you have in your head about being lovable and capable. Use “how to” statements in your head and take action on the answers you receive. Repeat positive affirmations to yourself out loud as much as possible. Negative messages can build esteem as long as they are not attacking your self-worth or defining yourself as incapable. Finally say these words: “I care about myself. I am a worthwhile person and I can learn how to do things better.”