Self-esteem is how we think about ourselves and the confidence we have in our abilities – an emotional evaluation or opinion of our self-worth or personal value. When we have positive self-esteem, we’re more likely to think and feel positive about life, meaning we’re usually better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.
With low self-esteem, we tend to see ourselves in a more negative or critical way, which can affect how we interact with others and can sometimes stop us from doing things we might otherwise enjoy. Understandably, we might find it more difficult to overcome day-to-day challenges, take feedback from colleagues or family, and talk ourselves out of opportunities for fear of failure. We often let this negative self-talk undermine our confidence to achieve our goals – we might tell ourselves ‘I’ll be no good at this’ or ‘I can’t’, before we’ve even tried. Or if we’ve failed at reaching a particular goal in the past then it can lead to low self-esteem and we can develop a negative mind-set about trying again.
Many of us are silently dealing with low self-esteem, something which can manifest in so many ways and affect how we treat ourselves. From blaming ourselves when things go wrong to comparing ourselves to others who seem more successful, and even avoiding certain situations because of how we feel about ourselves. If this sounds familiar, or if someone you know struggles with their self-esteem, it’s worth knowing there are things you can do to help shift this mind-set.
Emma Mudge, Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner at AXA Health, explains:
“It’s important to consider your self-esteem as it’s how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Positive self-esteem helps us make healthy, constructive and adaptive life decisions, resulting in a happier, healthier you. But negative self-esteem stops us from doing what our heart’s desire because of (sometimes irrational) fears. However, it is possible to harness these fears and use them as a driving force to make positive choices for a happier, healthier life.”
Tips to help improve low self-esteem
Making changes to improving your self-esteem is going to take time, patience and effort but there are small things you can do on a regular basis to help.
Be aware of your inner critic and challenge it
If you notice unhelpful thoughts, such as comparing yourself unfavourably to others or being negative towards yourself and your abilities, give yourself time and space to assess these thoughts. Who are you comparing yourself to, how much do you really know about their lives or circumstances? Would you talk to a loved one in the same way you talk about yourself? Identifying a more realistic, balanced or helpful way of thinking about things can help shift your belief about yourself. It’s also worth bearing in mind that other people’s seemingly perfect lives on social media are a carefully curated representation of what they want you to believe. There’s social media, then there’s reality…
To help remove these negative thoughts, why not try deleting social media apps, taking a break from them over a weekend, or switching off your phone in the evenings. These could all help with combating feelings of low self-esteem if you find yourself comparing your life with others’.
Use positive self-talk
It might feel uncomfortable to start with but persevere with using affirmations and positive coping statements; for example, ‘I am capable’, ‘I am worthy’, ‘I am successful’, ‘I’ve got this’. Saying these out loud is ideal, but if it’s easier to start with thinking them in your mind, it’s a great first step. These types of statements actually help to alter the way our brain works and can help it to focus on the many positive aspects that make you who you are.
Become the change you wish to see
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Fake it until you make it’? Well, it applies here! Act out the behaviours, experience and thoughts you anticipate the higher self-esteemed version of you would have. That confident person delivering the keynote speech? Your colleague nailing a big meeting? The actor on stage? They’re probably feeling, or have felt the same way as you at some stage.
Consider your body language. Standing or sitting up straight and being aware of your posture can be very helpful to alter your attitude to yourself. If you change your posture for two minutes to take up a bigger space, such as with a superhero stance (head up, hands on hips), this leads to hormonal (testosterone and cortisol) changes in the body and mind to help us feel comfortable, confident and less reactive to stress.
Talk to someone
Sometimes we all need to talk. It’s really important that we don’t ignore how we are feeling – and remember, everyone’s feelings are valid. Keep in contact with your close family and friends or speak to a professional. Having the opportunity to chat about your feelings with others can make a huge difference and help you feel less alone in your thoughts. Read these 5 tips to help you talk about your mental health.
Accept yourself and be kind
This is probably the most important point to make. There really is only one ‘you’. It might be helpful to remind yourself of the skills, qualities and attributes that make you the unique and valuable individual that you are. Men are more likely to find it difficult to be compassionate to themselves in a society that has, over the years, dictated men should be ‘tough’ or ‘man up’. While this is gradually changing, societal pressures on both men and women to be, or look, a certain way, can very much affect our self-esteem. Treating yourself like you would treat a friend can go a long way to helping you to improve your self-esteem.
Tips to stop worrying – AXA Health
Harness the power of positive thinking - AXA Health
Self care - AXA Health
It's cool to be kind - AXA Health
References and sources of information
Reilly, E. D., Rochlen, A. B., & Awad, G. H. (2014). Men’s self-compassion and self-esteem: The moderating roles of shame and masculine norm adherence. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(1), 22.