Self-esteem refers to the overall opinion we have of ourselves, how we judge or evaluate ourselves, and the value we attach to ourselves as people.

Self-esteem is shaped by experiences in the family, at school, from friendships and the wider society. 

The way we see ourselves has a huge impact on our thoughts and feelings and how we live our lives.

What does having self-esteem and confidence involve?  

  • Knowing your values, what you like and what you want
  • Moving towards goals with a sense of purpose
  • Self-awareness, a realistic knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses
  • Proactive rather than defensive or avoidant
  • Looking after yourself, body relaxed and breathing easily
  • Having fun, feeling creative and able to laugh at yourself
  • Knowing you can deal with what life throws at you even if you can’t control it
  • Knowing things will be all right in the end, however long it takes

What is low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating oneself negatively, and placing a general negative value on oneself as a person.

People with low self-esteem usually have deep seated negative beliefs about themselves. These beliefs are often, and wrongly, taken as facts or basic truths about their identity and can have a negative impact on a person and their life.  

How does low self-esteem develop?

The roots are often in early life experiences:

  • Punishment, neglect, abuse
  • Difficulty in meeting others’ standards, especially parental expectations
  • Not feeling we fit in at home or at school
  • Difficulty in meeting peer group standards/being bullied
  • Being on the receiving end of other people’s stress or distress
  • Our family’s place in society and experiences of prejudice or hostility
  • Insufficient encouragement or affection

While the roots of low self-esteem are often in early experiences and formative relationships in childhood and adolescence, people with a fair amount of confidence can develop low self-esteem when they experience prolonged difficulties and continuously stressful life events.

Low self-esteem can also be a symptom of depression along with feeling guilty and worthless.

How can low self-esteem impact on your life?

  • Study and work – there may be a pattern of underperformance and avoidance of challenges, or rigorous perfectionism and hard work fuelled by a fear of failure. You may find it hard to give yourself credit for your achievements. You may not feel you deserve leisure time and struggle to relax and enjoy yourself.
  • Relationships – you may suffer self-consciousness, oversensitivity to criticism or disapproval, you may be eager to please or always put others first.
  • Self-care – you may not take proper care of yourself or you may spend too much time perfecting how you look believing this is the only way to be attractive to others.

How do I build my self-esteem?

  • Overcoming low self-esteem involves addressing what maintains low self- esteem.  This involves challenging unhelpful thinking and behaviour patterns to begin to change how you feel.
  • Name three things you would do if you had more self-esteem and confidence. Be as specific as you can. Now ask yourself: what stops you doing them? What message do you give yourself about them that might make doing them more difficult?
  • Once you have developed skills in challenging your thinking and behaviour patterns, the next step is to practice managing situations differently, face situations that you normally avoid.

Taking the next step

  • Download 'Improving Self-Esteem’ - a free self-help programme from the Centre for Clinical Interventions.
  • Read ‘Overcoming Low Self-Esteem’ by Melanie Fennell - this book will help you understand the nature of your low self-esteem and, with this knowledge, break out of the vicious circle of negative self-image and learn the art of self-acceptance. Based on clinically proven cognitive therapy techniques, this book is available in the library through our Bibliotherapy scheme along with a number of other books addressing self-esteem and confidence.
  • Download ‘Increase Your Self-Esteem’ – a leaflet from Mind which explains how to increase your self-esteem, giving practical suggestions on what you can do and where you can go for support.
  • Talk to a counsellor – some counselling could help you address your self-esteem issues.