Pitfalls of Low Self-Esteem and Strategies to Build Self-Esteem


Pitfalls of Low Self-Esteem and Strategies to Build Self-Esteem

In very simple terms, your self-esteem is your overall sense of yourself as a person i.e. self-value. It is basically your own opinion about yourself and covers a vast range of issues- your sense of identity, self-confidence, feelings of worth, competence and belonging. Self-esteem plays an extremely crucial role in many areas of life e.g. achievement, task completion, success etc., which is why having a poor self-esteem can be a serious psychological problem.

Self-esteem is not only liking yourself in general; rather it also implies a belief that you deserve love, respect and attention and valuing your own thoughts, feelings, opinions, interests, and goals. Self-esteem not only affects how you feel about and treat yourself, it can also affect how you let others treat you. It impacts the levels of your motivation to chase the goals you want to achieve in life and your ability to develop healthy and  supportive relationships.

What is low self-esteem?

People with healthy self-esteem tend to think positively about themselves and life in general. Such people know they are valuable and can name at least some positive qualities they have like “I am a good co-worker”, “I am compassionate”, “I am honest”, or “I am good as a parent”.

On the contrary, people with poor self-esteem see themselvjes, the world and the future negatively and critically. They may be anxious, sad, low or unmotivated and upon encountering challenges, they doubt their ability to handle them. They may indulge in harsh self-talk: “I am stupid”, “I’ll never manage it”, or “I’m crap”.

A person suffering from low self-esteem may try to please others or go the extra mile to please friends and family. So long as they meet these standards, they feel OK, but there will be times when it’s not possible to do so, and it can leave them feeling low and anxious.

Self-esteem can be thought of as existing on a spectrum. Some such people find that it only affects them with certain people or in certain situations. On the other hand, other people may find that their self-esteem may be much more global and colors everything that they do.

Diagnosis of Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem should be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional. However, answering these questions can give you a good idea of whether you need to have a professional assessment for a proper diagnosis.

  1. I feel I’m worthy, at least as much as others are.

 Strong agreement    Agreement   Disagreement Strong disagreement

  1. Overall, I am satisfied with myself.

 Strong agreement    Agreement   Disagreement Strong disagreement

  1. I have never felt useless or worthless.

Strong agreement    Agreement   Disagreement Strong disagreement

  1. tend to give myself kind encouragement if things go wrong.

 Strong agreement    Agreement   Disagreement Strong disagreement

  1. I have many good qualities.

 Strong agreement    Agreement   Disagreement Strong disagreement

 They can’t provide a definitive diagnosis, but if you have selected ‘Strong disagreement’ for many of these questions, you may be having problems with low self-esteem. You may speak to a qualified mental health professional about it in order to get relevant help.

Low Self-Esteem- Signs and symptoms


Poor self-esteem affects thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior. Many a time, its signs may be apparent, but in some cases, they can be much more subtle and harder to detect. Some low self-esteem people talk negatively about themselves, while others go the extra mile to please others in life. In either case, the lack of personal worth can negatively impact a person’s life and wellness.

  1. Negative Social Comparisons

Social comparisons can work positively by enhancing a person’s sense of self and by motivating others towards greater, higher action. But such comparisons can also damage self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are more likely to do upward social comparison, or making comparisons with people who they think are better than them.

In fact, upward social comparison isn’t bad per se. In fact, these comparisons may provide information and inspiration for improvement but if people are left with feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness, it can inhibit self-esteem. Comparisons need to be made very tactfully and carefully so as to counter their possible negative consequences. In fact, it needs to be evaluated how the listener takes to such caparisons and how the said comparison is made.

The ubiquitous impact of social media may worsen the problems related to such comparisons. People who often compare themselves unfavorably to others on social media like Facebook and Instagram may experience a hit to their self-esteem.

  1. Low Confidence

People having low self-confidence have poor self-esteem. Having self-confidence and confidence in your abilities allows you to know that you can handle different situations. This self-belief makes you feel comfortable and confident while you navigate the different things in life, which plays an important role in success  and your overall well-being.

Low self-esteem contributes to a lack of confidence, but poor confidence can also cause or worsen low self-esteem. Therefore, finding ways to gain self-confidence and confidence in your abilities can help. Trying to practice and acquire new skills can boost your confidence and self-esteem.

  1. Feelings of lack of Control and Helplessness

Low-esteem people often have a feeling of having little control over their life or what happens to them. It may be attributed to their feeling that they have little ability to changes themselves or the world. With this external locus of control, they may feel powerless to do anything to solve the problems they are facing.

In situations where people have little control over what happens, higher self-esteem can help relieve some negative effects of this lack of control, which ultimately benefits their mental health.

So, for someone struggling with a feeling of having no control over life or situation, finding ways to improve self-esteem may help their well-being.

  1. Problems Asking for What You Need

A person with low self-esteem may have difficulty in asking for what they need. Because of their low self-esteem, they feel they don’t deserve help and in fact, may feel embarrassed or incompetent by expressing their need for help and support. Since they don’t prioritize their desires, they feel problems with asserting themselves while they are in need.

  1. Trouble Accepting Positive Feedback

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology says that people suffering from low self-esteem cannot accept or capitalize on others’ praise, approval or compliments. Due to the lack of  a positive self-opinion, such people have difficulties with accept compliments from others.

Interestingly, such positive feedback is often greeted with suspicion and distrust by them as these words do not align with their self-beliefs. Therefore, the low self-esteem people may feel that the other person is actually being flippant or even deceitful or cruel.

  1. Worry and Self-Doubt

Such people often worry about having made a wrong choice. They doubt their own opinions and may often defer to others’ opinions instead of following their own choices. It can often cause much second-guessing and self-doubting, which makes it even harder for them to make important life decisions.

  1. Fear of Failure

Due to the lack of self-confidence, such people doubt their own ability to achieve success. They fear failure and either avoid challenges or give up quickly without trying hard.

Such fear of failure is seen in acting out when things go wrong, looking for ways to hide feelings of inadequacy, excuses, blaming external factors and trying to downplay the importance of the task.

  1. Poor Outlook

Low self-esteem makes such people hapless in that there is little chance of future being any better. This hopelessness can make it hard for them to bring about positive changes in their lives.

Self-harm is also a common technique of coping with such feelings. By finding obstacles to prevent success, low self-esteem lets them find something else to blame for their shortcomings.

  1. Negative Self-Talk


Low self-esteem people often focus on their flaws rather than strengths. They always have something negative to say about themselves, blame themselves for things gone wrong and always find some fault with their appearance, personality or abilities.

  1. Trying to Please Others

Pleasing others is another common symptom of low self-esteem. Such people may go above and beyond to ensure others’ comfort and happiness and gain external validation. In the process, they neglect their own needs and say yes to things they may not want to do, and feel guilty about saying no.

Impact of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is linked to many mental health problems like:

  • Anxiety                          
  • Emotional distress          
  • Risky behaviors               
  • Substance use                 
  • lack of concentration
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Stress
  1. 1.Low self-esteem makes goal achievement and forming healthy, supportive relationships a difficult task. It can also contribute to mental health problems including anxiety and depression. Low self-esteem is also likely to make such people vulnerable to suicidal thinking.
  2. Low self-esteem makes people over-sensitive to criticism or rejection. While someone with a high self-esteem can shake off negative feedback, someone with poor self-value may take it more personally, who  is more likely to give up in the face of challenges.
  1. They often engage in behaviors designed to help preserve their limited self-worth i.e. acting sad or sulking to garner support from others. Unfortunately, such behaviors backfire and instead of getting the support they need to boost self-esteem, they end up with others’ negative reactions.

Coping with low self-esteem

Low self-esteem takes a heavy toll on emotional well-being. Thus, it’s important to address your sense of self and get the needed support. There are things you can do to protect and improve your self-regard:

  1. Hopeful Thoughts

Spend a little time daily having positive, hopeful thoughts. Notice the things you are good at and let  yourself feel proud of them. Think of the past when you made it through something really difficult and remind yourself that though you may not feel your best now, you have the ability to get through it.

  1. Care for Yourself

Investing time and energy in your own care and comfort isn’t indulgence —it’s vital to your mental health. Poor self-esteem can give a feeling like you don’t deserve care and consideration. Remind yourself that you need care and show kindness to yourself. Spend some time on things that you enjoy. Give yourself rest and relaxation.

  1. Outside Support

Share your struggles with someone – a friend or family member, a doctor, therapist, teacher, or an elder –  who can give you unconditional support. Caring people who value you and want you to value yourself can help you improve your self-esteem.

Causes of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem results from the negative beliefs and opinions you have of yourself. But none is born with such beliefs and they develop from life experiences – How others treat you, particularly during early years can greatly affect how you see yourself. Some experiences that contribute to poor self-esteem are:

Punishment, abuse, neglect

Punishment, abuse, and neglect are very powerful negative experiences. Children affected by them often mistakenly conclude they are bad and deserve such experiences.

 Inadequate warmth, affection, praise, encouragement

You may not remember anything visibly traumatic happening but wonder why you feel this way about yourself as you can develop low self-esteem without any specific negative experiences. It can happen through a deficit of enough positive ones. Lacking enough reinforcement that they are good, special, or loved, children can form an impression of being not good enough.

 Failure to meet others’ expectations

Not meeting someone else’s expectations may cause you to feel you are not good enough. It doesn’t matter whether the standards were fair or balanced, what stays is their failure to meet them.

Inability to fit in with your peer group

The feeling of belonging to a ‘group’ is important in life and is a human survival need in a social sense. Being different or the ‘odd one out’, and therefore, being cast out, especially during adolescence when a personal identity is being created, can impact the sense of self.

How to build self-esteem

Life Coaching

Notice Your Thoughts

Pay attention to the automatic negative thoughts you have. Identify your cognitive distortions and replace unhelpful thoughts with positive thinking.

Forgive Yourself

If you always ruminate over your failures, learn to forgive yourself and move on. It can keep you focused on the things you can do better instead of the negative things in the past.

Practice Self-Acceptance

Forget that you have to be perfect to have value. Accept yourself as you are today. Of course, it  doesn’t mean you don’t want to make any changes in yourself, but it is important to recognize that you deserve  love and esteem from yourself and from others.

Value Yourself

Think of the things you have accomplished and take pride in. Appreciate your worth and talents without making comparisons. You don’t need to become better to value yourself, but learning to value yourself can help you work towards your goals.

It can also help to think of yourself as you would a friend. How would you treat someone you care about who is in a similar situation? You may find that you would try to offer them understanding, patience, empathy and kindness. So it is important to show yourself the same unconditional support.

Practical Tips to Build Self-Esteem

Here are some practical tips on how you can build self-esteem:

  1. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
  2. Stay physically active as exercising can help improve your mood.
  3. Think about something you are good at to build self-esteem.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal.
  5. Challenge a negative thought.
  6. Spend time with people who make you feel good about you.
  7. Volunteer to help others; it helps you feel good about yourself.
  8. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, learn from them and move on.
  9. Celebrate your accomplishments, both big and small ones to build self-esteem.

Treatments for low self-esteem

A number of psychological treatments have been developed to directly target low self-esteem or self-criticism. The ingredients of effective therapy for low self-esteem include:

  1. Identifying core beliefs
  2. Identifying your rules for living
  3. Developing healthier rules and beliefs for healthy living
  4. Testing negative predictions using behavioral experiments
  5. Facing fears and tackling anxiety-provoking situations
  6. Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion
  7. Living according to new core beliefs

In general, no medical treatments are prescribed for low self-esteem. Wherever low self-esteem accompanies other problems like anxiety or depression, medical treatments may be recommended.

Read: Dealing with Depression

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for low self-esteem. CBT therapists are more focused on what sustains it and what they can do to put it out. If we can grasp what keeps a problem going, we can treat it by interrupting this cycle.

Throughout life, you form negative beliefs about yourself on the basis of how you have been treated i.e. ‘core belief’- how you feel about yourself deep down, for example “I’m useless” or “I’m a flop”. Since confronting such core beliefs is unpleasant, we develop rules of living that protect us from our core beliefs and guide how we live. So long as the rules don’t get broken, the core belief remains dormant. For example, people with poor self-esteem often have demanding and rigid rules like “I must please other people”, or “As long as I’m not criticized, I’m OK”.

But the moment a rule is broken, it can create great anxiety. If one of your rules is “I’m fine as long as all others are happy”, it may cause anxiety if people around you are not happy. You may feel like a failure.

Whenever there is a danger of the rules being broken, you might get anxious about what might happen and fear the worst outcome or might self-talk critically or avoid tricky situations and use coping strategies.

You make rules to protect yourself, but they are often inflexible and stop things from getting better. Although these safety strategies can make you feel good in the short-term, they keep your core belief from changing, thereby keeping your self-esteem poor.

Social Icons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed