A Practical Guide to Living With Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can be a devastating thing to experience and can take the joy out of much of life. Not only that but being low in confidence can also actually sabotage our success in multiple areas life: preventing us from taking chances or putting ourselves forward.

‘Curing’ low self-esteem is not easy though and takes time in the best case scenario. Fortunately there are steps you can take to make it a bit easier to deal with.

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the beliefs that you hold about yourself. These include who you are, what you are capable of and all of the good and bad things about you; and then how you judge yourself on this basis. Your self-esteem can vary depending on your emotions and your experiences. Good self-esteem comes from seeing yourself in a strong and positive way.

Low self-esteem indicates that you have a low opinion about yourself. A low self-esteem can manifest itself in many different ways. You may focus on the things that you do badly rather than the things that you do well. You may struggle to name good things about yourself and just focus on your bad side. Low self-esteem can be brief or it may be a long-term problem and can feel very upsetting or detrimental.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can be triggered by many different factors; often it stems from more than one cause. Those experiencing low self-esteem tend to report different triggers that upset them and often the causes can become interwoven.

Low Self-Esteem

Common causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Life events, such as bereavement, the break-up of a relationship or illness
  • Negative relationships with other people, including relationships that attack your self-worth
  • Past life events, such as bullying or damaging childhood experiences
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Loneliness, limited contact with others or difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Discrimination
  • The development of negative thought patterns

There also appears to be a genetic component to self-esteem which may make one more susceptible to these environmental factors.

Low self-esteem can have very negative consequences. Negative thought patterns about yourself may become routine which can cause feelings of depression and worsen over time. Having a low opinion of your abilities can lead to difficulties at work or in your hobbies. You may feel unworthy to associate with your friends or colleagues. Low self-esteem can also prevent you from moving forwards with your life, such as applying for new jobs and starting new relationships.

In serious cases a long term negative opinion of yourself may even lead to negative coping behaviors (such as drug dependency and alcoholism) and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and paranoia.

How to Prevent Low Self-Esteem

Long term low self-esteem can feel difficult to prevent; when negative thought patterns are so ingrained it can be difficult to know where to start to improve your feelings. However there are many ways to combat low self-esteem.

Identify Triggers

When you start to feel the effects of low self-esteem try to focus on what caused your low emotions on a case-by-case basis. Often the causes of low self-esteem can become tangled together unconsciously. Try to spend time assessing what it was that triggered your dip in emotions. It may be a relationship or an experience at work. It may be that an experience reminded you of another situation. It may even be that you made a mistake. It is only when you realize what is causing your low self-esteem that you can start to prevent it.

This is similar to the process known as ‘mindfulness’ in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Acknowledge When You Feel Low

If your negative self-esteem is always bubbling away under the surface it can feel normal to be upset or depressed. Instead when you start to feel low make a note of it and acknowledge how you feel. This can help you to identify what it is that is causing you to feel low. It can also give you an opportunity to challenge your negative behavior. Remember: it is not ‘okay’ to feel like this.

When you start to feel low, challenge yourself as to why you are feeling down. Defend yourself from slipping into a low mood. Ask yourself whether the situation you are in is worth your change in mood. When you are aware that a situation is changing your mood in such a dramatic way it can be easier to challenge this.

This is known as ‘thought challenging’ in cognitive behavioral therapy.

You might also take this opportunity to make positive steps to cheer yourself back up or to inflate your own esteem again.

Focus on the Positives

Reminding yourself of your positive attributes can often be easier said than done, particularly when your self-esteem is low. However it is important to remind yourself about your good qualities as these can often be overlooked in favor of your negative sides. If you are feeling low try to think of three good things about yourself. If this is difficult, ask a close friend or family member to support you in this – perhaps just by calling up for a chat. Recalling your good characteristics at a low moment can help to return you to a more balanced frame of mind. You can also keep a log of positive things people have said about you. Repeat these to yourself often as ‘positive affirmations’ – or even leave them on post-it notes around your house as reminders!

Do Things That You Enjoy

Breaking the cycle of low self-esteem can also be done by treating yourself or organizing things to look forward to. Having a small treat, such as a nice meal or relaxed moment, can help to return you to a happier, more positive, state of mind. It can also help you to feel that you have more control over life. Likewise arranging enjoyable events, such as a party, an outing or a holiday, can break the normal cycle of life and help to give you something positive to look forward to.

Remember, our thoughts are often controlled at least to an extent by neurotransmitters. Doing things we enjoy can alter these neurotransmitters helping us to think much more clearly and to overcome a pattern of negative thoughts.

Look After Yourself

Low self-esteem can also be raised by taking time to look after yourself. Ensure that you get plenty of sleep. Exercise can help to put you into a more positive frame of mind, as can eating a balanced healthy diet. When your body is feeling stable and supported your mind will start to follow the same track, helping you to combat your low self-esteem. Again this all helps to support healthy neurochemistry and brain function. Remember: healthy body, healthy mind!

If none of this helps then make sure you speak to a health professional and consider getting therapy. This can help a great deal and in turn have positive effects in many aspects of your life.

Keith Hillman

Keith Hillman is a full time writer specializing in psychology as well as the broader health niche. He has a BSc degree in psychology from Surrey University, where he particularly focused on neuroscience and biological psychology. Since then, he has written countless articles on a range of topics within psychology for numerous of magazines and websites. He continues to be an avid reader of the latest studies and books on the subject, as well as self-development literature.