Self-esteem: Take steps to feel better about yourself
Medically reviewed on July 12, 2017
Low self-esteem can negatively affect virtually every facet of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health. But you can boost your self-esteem by taking cues from types of mental health counseling.
Consider these steps, based on cognitive behavioral therapy.
1. Identify troubling conditions or situations
Think about the conditions or situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem. Common triggers might include:
- A work or school presentation
- A crisis at work or home
- A challenge with a spouse, loved one, co-worker or other close contact
- A change in roles or life circumstances, such as a job loss or a child leaving home
2. Become aware of thoughts and beliefs
Once you've identified troubling situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes what you tell yourself (self-talk) and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas.
Ask yourself if these beliefs are true. Would you say them to a friend? If you wouldn't say them to someone else, don't say them to yourself.
3. Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
Your initial thoughts might not be the only way to view a situation — so test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible.
Be aware that it can be hard to recognize inaccuracies in thinking. Long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel normal and factual, even though many are just opinions or perceptions.
Also pay attention to thought patterns that erode self-esteem:
- All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad. For example, "If I don't succeed in this task, I'm a total failure."
- Mental filtering. You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation. For example, "I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I'm not up to this job."
- Converting positives into negatives. You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don't count. For example, "I only did well on that test because it was so easy."
- Jumping to negative conclusions. You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it. For example, "My friend hasn't replied to my email, so I must have done something to make her angry."
- Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts. For example, "I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure."
- Negative self-talk. You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. For example, "I don't deserve anything better."
4. Adjust your thoughts and beliefs
Now replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Try these strategies:
- Use hopeful statements. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Instead of thinking your presentation won't go well, try telling yourself things such as, "Even though it's tough, I can handle this situation."
- Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes — and mistakes aren't permanent reflections on you as a person. They're isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, "I made a mistake, but that doesn't make me a bad person."
- Avoid 'should' and 'must' statements. If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you might be putting unreasonable demands on yourself — or on others. Removing these words from your thoughts can lead to more realistic expectations.
- Focus on the positive. Think about the parts of your life that work well. Consider the skills you've used to cope with challenging situations.
- Consider what you've learned. If it was a negative experience, what might you do differently the next time to create a more positive outcome?
- Relabel upsetting thoughts. You don't need to react negatively to negative thoughts. Instead, think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, "What can I think and do to make this less stressful?"
- Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes. For example, "My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged — which means that I accomplished my goal."
You might also try these steps, based on acceptance and commitment therapy.
1. Identify troubling conditions or situations
Again, think about the conditions or situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem. Once you've identified troubling situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them.
2. Step back from your thoughts
Repeat your negative thoughts many times or write them down in an unusual way, such as with your nondominant hand. Imagine seeing your negative thoughts written on different objects. You might even sing a song about them in your mind.
These exercises can help you take a step back from thoughts and beliefs that are often automatic and observe them. Instead of trying to change your thoughts, distance yourself from your thoughts. Realize that they are nothing more or less than words.
3. Accept your thoughts
Instead of fighting, resisting or being overwhelmed by negative thoughts or feelings, accept them. You don't have to like them, just allow yourself to feel them.
Negative thoughts don't need to be controlled, changed or acted upon. Aim to lessen the power of your negative thoughts and their influence on your behavior.
These steps might seem awkward at first, but they'll get easier with practice. As you begin to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem, you can counter them or change the way you think about them. This will help you accept your value as a person. As your self-esteem increases, your confidence and sense of well-being are likely to soar.
In addition to these suggestions, try to remember on a daily basis that you're worth special care. To that end, be sure to:
- Take care of yourself. Follow good health guidelines. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Limit sweets, junk food and animal fats.
- Do things you enjoy. Start by making a list of things you like to do. Try to do something from that list every day.
- Spend time with people who make you happy. Don't waste time on people who don't treat you well.