Can’t shake the feeling that you’re just not good enough? If you find yourself constantly worrying about the way you look, second guessing how you act and questioning how others perceive you, you could be suffering from low self-esteem.
It’s perfectly normal to lack confidence in situations that are outside of your comfort zone, or to question your capabilities when you are faced with a new task. Low self-esteem affects all of us from time to time. But if your self-worth is so low that you’re struggling to function, it can have a negative impact on your mental health and your day-to-day life.
We speak to Harley Street psychotherapist Christine Webber about the most common problems caused by low self-esteem and how to overcome them, so you can start living your best life:
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem, also known as self-worth or self-respect, is the opinion people have of themselves. In psychology, your self-esteem is used to describe your sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you like yourself. Your self-esteem involves a variety of beliefs about yourself, such as how you look, how you feel and how you gauge your personal successes or failures.
If you have healthy self-esteem, you are likely to feel positive about your abilities and have a sunnier approach to life, in general. Whereas if you have low self-esteem, studies have linked poor self-image with a variety of problems that can affect everything from the way you view your career to how you conduct your relationships.
How do you measure self-esteem?
So how do you measure your self-worth and what constitutes low self-esteem? If you are feeling negative about yourself or your life to the extent that it's impacting your ability to function, we recommend speaking to your GP or considering talking therapy.
In the interim, try the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale. Developed by the sociologist Morris Rosenber, this scale is widely used in social-science research, using a scale of 0–30 where a score less than 15 may indicate low self-esteem.
If your feelings of low self-worth are rooted in childhood, addressing your problems might feel like an impossible task, but there are things you can do to raise your self-esteem and improve your mental health. To get started, we'll explore the most common low self-esteem symptoms and how to overcome them.
Low self-esteem symptoms
From self-doubt to body dysmorphia, low self-esteem comes in many guises. We look at 8 common symptoms of low self-esteem and explain how to address them:
1. Self hatred
While there are times when we all dislike who we are, loathing your thoughts and actions is a classic sign of low self-esteem. Self-hate is characterised by feelings of anger and frustration about who you are and an inability to forgive yourself for even the smallest of mistakes. To turn self-hatred around try the following tips:
• Switch up your internal dialogue
An internal critic fuels self-hatred, so step one is to silence the pessimistic voice inside your head. Try consciously making yourself repeat a positive response for every negative thought you have. Why be your own worst critic? If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself.
• Forgive yourself for your mistakes
No one is ever all good or all bad and we all have flaws. Doing something you regret doesn’t make you an awful person, just as doing something good doesn’t make you a saint. Forgive yourself and allow yourself to be beautifully human.
• Challenge your negative self-beliefs
Chances are your negative sense of who you are is either outdated or simply untrue, and has been passed to you from others such as your parents, ex-partners or colleagues. Try telling yourself that you are a good person and you are worthy of love and respect just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid to rewrite your own script – it’s your life.
A desire to be perfect is one of the more destructive aspects of low self-esteem. A perfectionist is someone who lives with a constant sense of failure because their achievements, no matter how impressive, don’t ever feel quite good enough. To combat perfectionism try the following tips:
• Set realistic expectations for yourself
Feel like a failure for not being a famous pop star, even though you've never had a singing lesson in your life? Consciously think about how reasonable and manageable your goals are before striving for them, remembering that life in general is imperfect.
• Failing doesn't make you a failure
There is a big difference between failing at something you do and being a failure as a person, so don’t confuse the two. Successful people fail all the time and use it as motivation to keep going. JK Rowling's original Harry Potter pitch was rejected 12 times before it was published, and now she's one of the most successful authors in the world. Use your knock-backs to develop strength and resilience to keep on trying.
• Don't sweat the small stuff
Perfectionists tend to nitpick at insignificant problems. They forget to view the bigger picture and take pride in that. Try not to be so consumed with your goals and fear of failure that you don't enjoy the journey.
3. Negative body image
A negative body image is often linked to low self-esteem and vice versa. This means it can affect everything from how you behave in relationships to how you project yourself at work. It can even prevent you from looking after your health, as you feel unworthy. To learn how to love yourself and your body, try the following tips:
• Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparison is the thief of joy, and leads only to insecurity. Accept that everyone is different and remember where your strengths lie. You might not be great at basketball but you make a delicious banana bread, and that is something to be celebrated!
• Look after your health
A healthy diet and daily exercise regime will not only make you feel physically more able, but also leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones, which will in turn help you learn to love yourself.
• Take care of your appearance
People with a poor body image often stop making an effort, believing there is ‘no point’. Do three positive things for yourself today and see how it makes you feel. Taking care of your appearance is an act of self-care and a good haircut, a manicure or even a new jacket can work wonders for your self-esteem.
4. Feeling worthless
We all doubt our ability in certain areas of our lives, but a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness comes from believing that somehow we are not as valuable as others. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to understand that feeling worthy isn’t something given to us by others, but something we have to build ourselves. To feel confident in your abilities, try the following tips:
• Accept we all have unique talents
We have to take pride in our unique talents to believe we are worthy people, so celebrate what makes you special. You don't have to be a concert pianist to be a worthy human being; being a good friend, a reliable sibling or a trusted employee is worthy of celebration too.
• Stop thinking others are better than you
While it’s fine to think highly of your peers or even your favourite celebrities, it’s irrational to translate this as meaning they are ‘better’ than you. Admire others’ traits, but not at the expense of your own. There is room for everyone to shine.
• We teach others how to treat us
People believe what you tell them, so if you project failure and inadequacy your friends and colleagues might start to agree. Practise projecting yourself as someone whose opinions are just as valid as others, and your sense of self-worth will begin to rise.
Being too sensitive is one of the more painful aspects of low self-esteem. Whether you’re angered by criticism or literally feel demolished by any comment that’s directed at you, it's important to desensitise yourself. To learn to take constructive criticism, try the following tips:
• Really listen to what’s being said
Developing listening skills can help you learn to evaluate whether a comment is true or not, before deciding how you feel about it.
• Stand up for yourself
If the criticism directed at you is unfair, say you disagree. You don't have to accept everything everyone says to you as the truth.
• Be proactive
If there is some truth in it, learn from what’s being said, rather than beating yourself up about it. Constructive criticism can be exactly that, provided you take the comments on board and make changes for the better.
• Know when to move on
Ruminating obsessively and replaying something that has upset you over and over again in your head only anchors the memory to you – which won’t help. Imagine putting your worries in a box on a shelf and walking away.
6. Fear and anxiety
Fear and a belief that you are powerless to change anything in your world are irrefutably linked to low self-esteem. To combat anxiety and fear try the following tips:
• Are your fears genuine or unfounded?
Challenge your anxieties with the facts. For instance, you may feel it’s pointless to go for a promotion because you don’t think you can get it. How true is this statement when you look at the evidence?
• Build confidence by facing your fears
Draw up what’s known as a fear pyramid, placing your biggest fear at the top and your smallest fears at the bottom. The idea is to work your way up the pyramid, taking on each fear and boosting your belief in your abilities as you go.
7. Anger and rage
Anger is a normal emotion, but one that gets distorted when you have low self-esteem. When you don’t think highly of yourself, you start to believe your own thoughts and feelings aren’t important to others. Repressed hurt and anger can build up, so something seemingly small can trigger outbursts of fury. To express your anger in a healthy way try the following tips:
• Learn how to keep your cool
One way to remain calm is to not let your feelings simmer away until you explode. Instead, express how you’re feeling at the time. Verbalising your problems can help you process your emotions before they have a chance to flare up.
• Breathe deeply
Another proven relaxation technique is to step away from the situation and breathe in long slow breaths to reduce your heart rate and bring your body back to a relaxed state. Try these breathing exercises to help you find inner calm.
• Don’t over do it
People with low self-esteem often over-commit and then feel bitter when they struggle to cope. Try to take on only one task at a time and be realistic about your workload. From a work project to coffee dates, even small things can build up if you take on too much, so carefully manage your diary and don't be afraid to say no if you have too much on.
8. People pleasing
One of the most common low self-esteem symptoms is feeling like you have to please others so that they like, love and respect you. As a result many people-pleasers end up feeling aggrieved and used. To learn how to set personal boundaries try the following tips:
• Learn how to say no
Your worth doesn’t depend on others’ approval – people like and love you for who you are, not what you do for them. If something doesn't feel right, say no.
• Be selfish sometimes
Learn how to put number one first, or at least think about your needs for a change. People with a healthy self-esteem know when it’s important to put themselves first and so should you.
• Set limits on others
Feeling resentful and used stems from accepting things from friends and family that you personally feel is unacceptable. Develop healthy boundaries by placing limits on what you will and won’t do and your resentment will ease.
Mental health support
If you think you might be suffering from depression or have any mental health concerns your first port of call should be your GP. For additional support, try one of the following resources:
Shout: Text 'SHOUT' to 85258 if you are struggling and a crisis volunteer will text you back. It's completely free 24/7.
Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
Mind: making sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.
Papyrus: contact for help and advice around thoughts of suicide.
Last updated: 11-01-2021
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