how to build self-esteem

How To Increase Your Self-Esteem

What is self-esteem?

We use the phrase self-esteem to talk about the beliefs you have about yourself – what you think about the type of person you are, your abilities, the positive and negative things about you and what you expect for your future.

If you have healthy self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will generally be positive. You may experience difficult times in your life, but you will generally be able to deal with these without them having too much of a long-term negative impact on you.

If you have low self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will often be negative. You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made, and may find it hard to recognize the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have.

“People think I am confident because I can address a room full of people. The reality is that I spend most of my time thinking that I’m not good enough. If I give a speech, I spend the next few days thinking about all the mistakes I made.”

What causes low self-esteem?

It is not possible to identify one cause of low self-esteem for everyone. You form your beliefs about yourself over a long period of time and this process is likely to be affected by a range of different things.

Some factors that can contribute to low self-esteem include:

How is low self-esteem related to mental health?

Low self-esteem is not a recognized mental health problem, but self-esteem and mental health are closely related.

Low self-esteem can lead to mental health problems

“Low self-esteem has severely limited my career development. It has kept me in a place of low confidence, so that I’m less willing to take on challenges at work.”

“I’m my own worst enemy at times… When I feel low, I hide myself away so I don’t do or say anything I regret… I just ride it out in the hope I’ll feel better the next day.”

Mental health problems can cause low self-esteem

Cycle of low self-esteem and mental health problems

Low self-esteem and mental health problems can reinforce each other,

creating an unhelpful cycle.

Cycle of low self-esteem and mental health problems

“Low self-esteem contributed to my developing depression – and the depression made my self-esteem worse, as I thought that if I were a more worthwhile person, I’d be better able to cope.”

What can I do to build my self-esteem?

In order to increase your self-esteem, you need to challenge and change the negative beliefs you have about yourself. This might feel like an impossible task, but there are a lot of different techniques you can try to help you.

Do something you enjoy

Doing something that you enjoy, and that you are good at, can help build your confidence and increase your self-esteem. This could be anything from paid work, volunteering, caring or a hobby.


Work can provide identity, friendship, a steady routine and a salary. Some people thrive in a busy environment and enjoy working to ambitious targets. Other people see their job as a means to an end or work in unpaid, volunteering roles. Whatever you do, it is important that you feel confident and supported in your role, and that the balance between your work and your home-life feels right for you.


This could be anything from learning a language, to singing, to a painting class. Think about where you feel you have some natural ability, or things that you have always wanted to try. Try to find activities that will not challenge you too much to begin with so that you can feel you have achieved something and have a chance to build your confidence. The internet, your library and adult education colleges should have details of local clubs and classes that you might want to go along to.

“What helps me feel more positive about myself is crafting things. When I see what I created and I feel good about it, I automatically feel better about myself because I feel I found something I’m good at.”

Try to build positive relationships

Try to associate with people who will not criticize you, and who you feel able to talk to about your feelings. If you spend time around positive and supportive people, you are more likely to have a better self-image and feel more confident.

In return, if you are caring and supportive to other people, you are more likely to get a positive response from them. This will help you feel better about yourself and how other people perceive you.

If you have low self-esteem, there might be people close to you who encourage the negative beliefs and opinions that you hold. It is important to identify these people and take action to stop them from doing this, perhaps by becoming more assertive or

by limiting how much you see them.

Learn to be assertive

Being assertive means you value yourself and others, and can communicate with mutual respect. It will help you to set clear boundaries. 

The following things will help you act in a more assertive way:

Assertiveness can be a difficult skill to learn, and you may need to practice by talking in front of a mirror or with a friend. Many adult education institutions, such as colleges or universities, also offer assertiveness classes. There are also several self-help books with practical exercises and tips available to buy or use online.

Look after your physical health

Looking after your physical health can help you feel happier and healthier, and improve your self-image.

Physical activity

Physical activity helps improve people’s sense of wellbeing and image of themselves. Exercise releases endorphins – ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help improve your mood, particularly if you do it outside. 


Lack of sleep can cause negative feelings to be exaggerated and means you can feel less confident, so it’s important to make sure you get enough sleep. 


Eating a well-balanced diet at regular meal-times with plenty of water and vegetables will help you to feel healthier and happier. Stopping or reducing your alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco and recreational drugs can also help improve your general wellbeing.

Set yourself a challenge

If you set yourself goals and work towards achieving them, you will feel satisfied and proud of yourself when you achieve your goal, and feel more positive about yourself as a result.

Make sure the challenge you set yourself is one that you can realistically achieve. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly large but should have meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a letter to your local paper or start going to a regular exercise class.

Learn to identify and challenge negative beliefs

If you are going to improve your self-esteem, it may also help to understand more about your negative beliefs about yourself and where they came from.

This could be a painful process, so it’s important to take your time, and perhaps ask a friend or partner to support you. If you are feeling very distressed, it might be better to seek professional help from a therapist to help you do this. 

It might be helpful to write down notes, and questions such as these could help to structure your thoughts:

It might be also helpful to keep a thought diary or record over a period of several weeks. Write down details of situations, how you felt and what you think the underlying belief was. 

For example:

SituationReactionUnderlying belief
Asked to deliver a presentation at workFelt very anxious, but told boss it was fineNo one will want to listen to me because I am not engaging
I was invited to a partyI lied and said I had something else to doI can’t say anything interesting and I’ll look stupid dressed up
I saw a job ad that I liked in the paperI got angry and tore it upI’m not clever enough for that sort of work or someone would have offered me a job likethat already

As you identify what your core beliefs about yourself are, and where they come from, you can begin to challenge and change them. One way you can do this is to write down evidence to challenge each belief and begin to explore other explanations of a situation.

For example, if you think that no one likes you, you can start to record situations that show a different pattern:

These might feel like small examples, but as your list gets longer over time you can look back at it and challenge the negative opinions that you have been holding on to.

“A therapist once set me a task. Every time somebody said something that hurt me, [I had] to try and put myself in their shoes and think of reasons why they might have said that, so I didn’t interpret it as aimed at me. His advice really did help.”

Focus on positive things

If you have low self-esteem, it can take practice to get used to thinking more positively about yourself. One way you can do this is by making a list of several things that you like about yourself.

You might include:

Take your time and aim for 50 different things, even if this takes several weeks. Keep this list and look at a different part of it each day. If you are feeling down or worried about an event that is coming up, such as a job interview, you can use it to remind you of the good things about yourself.

If you struggle to come up with a list of good things, you could ask your partner or a trusted friend to help you begin. This may also help you to see how others may have a higher opinion of you than you do yourself.

Another technique is to write down at least three things that went well or that you have achieved that day before you go to sleep. Some people also find it helpful to keep objects, such as photos or letters, that make them feel good about themselves.

“I have a feel-good box, and in it I keep happy memories, positive affirmations and just little things that make me feel good.”

Try mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. It has been shown to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, it is easier to manage them. 

What other help is available?

If you are unable to resolve your low self-esteem yourself, or if you are concerned about the impact it is having on your mental health, you might want to seek further support or treatment.

Self-help groups

Self-help groups can show you how other people have coped with similar feelings, provide support and advice, and make you feel less alone. To find out what groups are available in your area, you can search online

Online communities can also be a good source of support. Websites of support organizations. Sites like these can offer peer support but are monitored to make sure they are safe. 

Talking treatments

If you are finding it hard to cope with low self-esteem, you might find a talking treatment helpful. A talking treatment can help you explore and understand the reasons behind your low self-esteem and develop possible solutions to deal with it.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often offered for low self-esteem. It aims to identify connections between thoughts, feelings and behavior, and helps you to develop practical skills to manage any negative patterns that are causing you difficulties. 

“It was only with CBT that I realized I had this habit of negative thinking. It got me to gradually think of an alternative mantra – ‘I’m not perfect but I’m OK’.

If your problems are based in early experiences, you might find that other talking treatments, such as psychotherapy or counseling, can help you address these experiences more thoroughly. 

What can friends and family do to help?

This section is for friends and family who want to support someone who has low self-esteem.

If you have a friend or family member who has low self-esteem, there are

some things you can do to help.

Self-help resources

10 tips to increase your self-esteem

Remember these top tips to help you build your self-esteem.

Positive things about me

Write a list of positive things about you 

Challenging negative thoughts

Write down negative thoughts and give examples of how they aren’t true (Evidence against it)  

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