How to improve your self-esteem

How we see and value ourselves can have a huge impact on our outlook. We share ways you can explore to boost your self-esteem and start viewing yourself (and the world around you) in a more positive light

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

We’ve all been there; some days, you just can’t think of a single positive thing to say about yourself. It’s when those momentary periods of self-dislike turn into something more long-lasting and prevalent that it can be a sign that you may have low self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is, in essence, how we perceive and value ourselves. Our self-esteem can be influenced by a wide variety of things, from life events to our childhoods. When your self-esteem is low, you may begin seeing yourself, and the world around you, in a more negative light. This can also cause you to struggle with unexpected challenges, leave you feeling generally unhappy, unsatisfied and can create a negative impact on your overall mental health and wellbeing.

When you have good self-esteem you are more able to recognise your value and worth. Positive self-esteem can help you feel confident to try new things, take risks, step outside your comfort zone, and stand up for what you are passionate about. Low self-esteem can leave you taking each mistake to heart, could cause you to put other’s feelings and needs above your own, and leave you feeling unable to speak out and seek help when you need it.

As one counsellor explained, “You can’t touch it, but it affects how you feel. You can’t see it, but it’s there when you look at yourself in the mirror. You can’t hear it, but it’s there every time you talk about yourself.

“It’s knowing you are worthy of love and respect and accepting your limitations and boundaries. It’s how you see yourself, and how you feel about your achievements. Good self-esteem helps you to hold your head high and feel proud of yourself and what you can do.”

While we may all have times where we don’t feel good about ourselves, we can do our best to make sure that these periods don’t become a long-term problem. If you find yourself struggling to:

  • like and value yourself as a person;
  • assert yourself or make decisions;
  • recognise your strengths or try new things;
  • practice self-compassion or kindness;
  • take time to look after yourself and practice self-care;
  • move past mistakes without unfairly blaming yourself;
  • feel that you deserve to be happy.

These can all be signs that you may be struggling with low self-esteem; over time, these can lead to anxiety and depression.

Here are some ways you can take control and start boosting your self-esteem.

Identify and challenge negative thoughts

What negative beliefs do you have about yourself? Maybe you think you’re ‘not good enough’ to apply for that promotion, or that ‘nobody really cares’ how you feel. Keep track of these automatic negative thoughts by noting them down.

Can you remember when you first started to feel this way? Figuring out the cause of these thoughts can help you to challenge negative thinking and replace it with more positive thoughts and focuses.

Focus on your positives

Write down the positive things you can think about yourself, as well as the good things others have said about you. Tracking these can help provide a gentle reminder when self-doubt strikes, showing you that, no matter how you may feel in the moment, there are parts of yourself that you – and others – appreciate.

Recognising your ‘core competencies’ – and acting on these – can help to boost your mood while highlighting the areas you are good at. This can rebuild your confidence, encouraging you to branch out and try new things. Find opportunities to let yourself shine.

Start using positive affirmations

Trying to use positive affirmations when your self-esteem is at a low ebb can feel impossible. When you’re feeling bad about yourself, focusing on positive affirmations can seem too contrary to what you currently believe. If you’re struggling, try tweaking the affirmation to something a little softer, so ‘I’m going to be a success!’ becomes ‘I’m going to keep trying until I succeed’.

As NLP practitioner Nicola explains, we all use affirmations all the time, but they’re often negative ones focusing on why we ‘can’t’ or aren’t ‘good enough’.

“There is a myth that you can simply say an affirmation and it will somehow work its magic, but affirmations don’t work unless you do,” Nicola emphasises. “You need to repeat the affirmation in your mind, out loud or in writing regularly, and you have to try to evoke the feeling as you do it.”

Try hypnotherapy

It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but hypnotherapy can be extremely effective for improving low self-esteem and boosting confidence. With the help of a hypnotherapist, you can:

  • begin tackling avoidant behaviours and automatic negative thoughts;
  • reframe negative thoughts and bad behaviours;
  • reinforce positive thinking with self-hypnosis techniques;
  • develop a more assertive attitude;
  • practice more self-compassion.

As one hypnotherapist explained, “Having confidence and high self-esteem ought to be effortless and organic, not forced. Hypnotherapy will get to the root of what is causing you to be nervous, anxious and fearful and not have self-belief. Hypnotherapists ask thought-provoking questions to dig deeper and find out what is causing you to lack confidence.”

Learn to accept compliments

Often people find that the lower their self-esteem is, the worse they feel about themselves. This can lead to a reluctance in accepting compliments – despite this being when we need them the most. While accepting compliments may make you feel uncomfortable at first, by tackling your automatic reaction of countering these, or dismissing them, you may find, over time, the impulse to reject these compliments will fade – and may just make you, and the compliment-giver, feel more positive in the moment.

Replace self-criticism with self-compassion

Being critical is easy, but focusing on the positives? That can be the real challenge. Practicing self-compassion can feel impossible when we are used to criticising ourselves, or focusing on our faults and mistakes.

Next time your inner voice is being critical try asking yourself, ‘Would I say this to a friend or loved one if they made the same choice or mistake?’ If the answer is ‘No’, challenge yourself – what would you say to someone else? Could the same response be applied to your situation?

So, the next time your self-esteem is low, try some of these tips to help make yourself feel better.

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