In today’s world, perfectionism has now become the norm — be it in school, at work or even when it comes to the way we look. Many of us are, in some way or the other, focussed on the need to be the best, without realising the negative impact it has on our self-esteem. 

Self-esteem is a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. Having a healthy self-esteem is important, as it can help you see the glass as half full and focus on the positive aspects of yourself. On the other hand, when self-esteem is low, you might tend to view yourself more negatively. This can make it harder for you to deal with difficult situations in life. 

Once in a while, all of us experience bouts of self-doubt, where we engage in negative thinking about our abilities. However, if you find that you criticise yourself repeatedly, it is possible you are living with low self-esteem. 

If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, here are some signs you might be showing:

  • Doubting yourself and your abilities frequently.
  • Seeking reassurance from others to feel better about yourself.
  • Having a negative outlook in life.
  • Experiencing excessive shame, depression, or anxiety.
  • Feeling worthless or incompetent.
  • Struggling to express your needs.
  • Having an intense fear of failure or not doing well.
  • Difficulty accepting positive feedback. 
  • Believing that others are better than you — and sometimes, withdrawing from others as a result.

If these are things you experience and feel often, then it might be time to take a step back and change the way you think about yourself and talk to yourself. Before we dive into strategies for building healthy self-esteem, let’s learn a little more about some factors that can lead to low self-esteem.

Early childhood experiences

Early childhood experiences that are characterised by traumatic encounters, bullying, or even conflict and abuse within families can cause an individual to develop low self-esteem. In such circumstances, a child might grow up feeling and believing that they are powerless. This belief often carries into adulthood. 

Dysfunctional parenting

Healthy parenting plays an important role in the development of an individual’s self-esteem. Individuals who have had parents who are either too critical or too busy to give them any attention may have lost confidence in their own abilities, and might end up feeling like they are not valuable enough for people to want to be around them.

Messages from the media

Advertisements are created to tell people they’re missing out on something in order to make them desire it. T.V. shows and movies also create unrealistic standards for how a person should look and behave, causing individuals to believe that they do not measure up. People are constantly surrounded by these messages which inevitably have a negative impact on their self-esteem.

Long-term health issues

Ongoing medical issues such as chronic pain, illnesses, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, auto-immune diseases and physical disability can also cause low self-esteem. A person who has such health issues may have difficulty completing simple everyday activities and may be reliant on others. They may consider themselves a burden and dislike their bodies for not functioning the same as others.

Unhealthy friendships

Who a person spends their time with affects the way they view themselves. Having friendships with people who are negative or toxic may drain a person emotionally and make them feel uncomfortable. To avoid conflict in such friendships, a person may stop expressing their opinion, not put up boundaries and may frequently apologise. Having such friendships can lead to low self-esteem. 

Boosting Your Self-Esteem

Engaging in strategies to build your self-esteem can significantly improve your well-being. Moreover, having a healthy self-esteem can help you experience more positive emotions which can, in turn, help you build stronger relationships. Here are some recommendations for giving your self-esteem a boost.

Practise affirmations

Affirmations are positive messages that you can repeat to yourself in order to replace the negative messages you might constantly hear from yourself or those around you. Try making a list of three or four of these messages and repeat them to yourself every now and then. For example, “I am worthy of love and respect,” “I am a good and supportive friend,” “I like myself just the way I am.”

Identify your strengths

If your self-esteem is low, you may focus on your negative qualities and overlook the positive ones. Try keeping aside a few moments of your day to think about how you contributed to your life and other peoples’ lives in a positive manner. You could think of how you always try to be your best self, or how you have been there for your loved ones in times of need. You could even acknowledge the small things you do for others — like holding the door for a co-worker or making someone laugh with a joke.

Celebrate small wins

Reward yourself each time you achieve a goal. The reward doesn’t have to be something big; even small rewards can go a long way in helping you feel more accomplished. For instance, you can treat yourself to your favourite meal or watch a movie you have been wanting to see for a while. Celebrating your wins can enable you to give yourself the opportunity to recognise your effort and appreciate yourself.

Be open to compliments

Research shows that when your self-esteem is low you are more likely to resist compliments. But imagine how happy you would feel if you didn’t resist them? When someone says something nice about you, acknowledge it and allow yourself to feel good about yourself. It might be uncomfortable at first but eventually, it will be worth it!

Avoid comparing yourself to others

While some level of healthy competition is OK, repeatedly comparing yourself to others is only going to make you feel worse. Instead, maintain a success journal and make a note of all that you have accomplished in life. On days when you feel down, your journal can serve as a positive reminder and motivate you to keep going. You can also identify any negative thinking styles you might be engaging in and overcome them with scientific techniques. 

Build a network of positive people

It’s important to have people in your life who value and respect you just as you are, instead of constantly attacking or blaming  you. This doesn’t mean that they overlook your flaws, but that they are able to communicate their issues with you in a constructive manner that leaves room for improvement.

Changing the way you look at yourself and feel about yourself is not easy — it requires time and patience. If you make a conscious effort to work on yourself each day, eventually you will see the results you’re looking for.