Let’s start off with the big question- what even is self-esteem?! I’ll tell you; self-esteem is made up of the thoughts we have about ourselves and that plays a colossal role in almost everything we do in life. So some might say this is quite an important topic!
And the definition of low self-esteem? This is when someone lacks confidence about who they are and what they can do. This can look like someone feeling; inadequate, incompetent, and unloved.
It's important to distinguish the difference between doubting ourselves occasionally or feeling less positive about the choices we’re making in comparison to living in a state of low self-esteem. The low self-esteem state is less about how we experience our actions e.g. ‘I feel bad I made that choice’ and more about how we experience ourselves which can sound like ‘I am worthless, and that choice/decision/behaviour proves it’.
You can see how the difference here can often leave people feeling debilitated as it clouds how they see, experience, and express themselves in the world and it creates a toxic feedback loop, where thoughts, feelings and behaviours continue to reinforce who they falsely believe themselves to be.
Before looking at 8 ways to help increase self-esteem and confidence, it’s my job to share with you how I navigate the ‘why’ by starting with the ‘where has this stemmed from?’ approach.
Feelings of low self-esteem stems from opinions that we have about ourselves and a negative self-evaluation, which is usually rooted in childhood experiences. The way we were spoken to, treated, and made to feel as children has a significant impact on how we see and therefore relate to ourselves later in life. While this does not mean that a family was physically, sexually, psychologically, or emotionally abusive (though these will heavily contribute to low self-esteem), it means that a child’s emotional needs were not met to the degree they needed them to be by their caregivers.
Some of us may have grown up with parents who were not very confident and had low expectations of themselves and their children. Social class, culture, race, gender, sexuality, and disability are also societal and environmental contributing factors to how we self-evaluate.
Knowing where negative self-belief and low confidence comes from is the first step in effecting change. Feeling things that we don’t understand can be confusing and cause anxiety and depression, further perpetuating negative self-belief.
While I would always recommend going to seek help from a qualified therapist professional, here are 8 ways to help build up your self-esteem alongside that support:
1.Challenge your bad thoughts about yourself
Ask yourself, is that thought really true? Do I have proof about this? Then take some time to think of three things you do really well. Here you are questioning the negative thoughts actuality and swapping them with what positive thoughts you know to be true about yourself. This will help to bring back into a sense of reality about yourself.
Something I’m often bringing to my clients is an opportunity to change their mindset – for example going from ‘I know I’m bad at this’ or ‘they don’t really like me’ to ‘The story I’m telling myself is X,Y & Z- but do I really know this to be true?’.
2. Endorphin Boost
We’ve all heard how eating well and exercising can boost our endorphins and when the body releases those endorphins, they make us naturally feel good inside and stimulates a more positive mood.
However, I’m not suggesting that you must run 10k or can never have a biscuit again, but start with going for a walk around down the road, or to your nearest park and if that feels like a stretch too far, then maybe have a little dance around your bedroom to some fun music as this is a great way to get the body and endorphins moving.
Stress undoubtedly threatens our sense of self and not to mention it’s the cause of many potential and scary health problems, so it’s key to take some time out to do something that you find relaxing and that’s a great starting point to making yourself feel better.
This can be anything from taking a bath, going for a walk, meditation, indoor dancing, reading, singing. Find whatever it is that works for you (as long as this isn’t something which will incite further potential harm i.e., drugs, alcohol).
4. Set goals
Something which I find extremely helpful is to write down a list of tasks or goals for that day and then try and do what is going to be most realistic to accomplish. It’s so satisfying being able to tick off the tasks that have been completed and these can be as simple as tidying up, cooking a meal, writing that last email or finishing off a piece of work.
Don’t get bogged down by the list as it’s unrealistic to always manage to tick everything off it, but you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment when you’ve ticked off what you could do from your list on that day. Top tip- make the list short to being with, perhaps 3 or 4 things.
5. Help someone out
This can look like listening to a friend or family member or doing something for someone that maybe you wouldn’t normally do. It’s amazing how much our confidence can be boosted when we do selfless things for others and looking at doing this once a week or every other week, can help you feel good.
Although the aim of a selfless act is to do something without expecting anything in return, I’m sure a thank you from the people you give your time to will go a long way and help enhance your moral and sense of self and purpose.
6. Try something new
By nature, most of us are inquisitive beings and our brains are really good at learning new things and the more you look into new things to do, the more likely it is that you’ll find something you’ll enjoy and become passionate about.
It can be very satisfying having a creative outlet and that can include music, art, dance, games, sewing, cooking etc.
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at drawing or painting and am certainly no Picasso, but I really enjoy doing something creative so in lockdown, my hobby became paint by numbers for adults! Being able to see the end product after all of the (many) hours I spent on the paintings gave me a sense of achievement and one of the paintings even made it up on my wall at home!
7. Be with people who ‘fill up your cup’
Spending time with friends and others who you can be yourself around is priceless in my eyes and it’s generally this group of people who make you feel appreciated and cared for.
We know and may have someone in our lives who are quite negative and can leave your cup feeling more empty, so it’s best to not give all of your time to these people but to ensure that you’re surrounding yourself with the tribe you need and want around you.
By strengthening friendships and relationships you’ll most certainly feel a bit better in the present moment and a lot better in the long run.
8. Accept yourself and where you are currently at
No one has it together 100% of the time (or even 80% of the time) and absolutely no one is perfect- there is just no such thing! We all have flaws and imperfections and that’s what makes us all unique and special in our own ways.
The more you work on trying to accept and build up some of the areas you don’t appreciate as much as about yourself and where you feel least satisfied, the more love and connection you will build with yourself.
I share with my clients that the most important relationship is the one with themselves as it will be the longest relationship that they will ever have in their lives… so best to get working on it with love and compassion in mind.
If you’re wanting to have more support around understanding why you have low self-esteem and want help on increasing it, then my door is always open to you and you’re very welcome to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best