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How to increase your self-esteem

Explains how to increase your self-esteem, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Your stories

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Posted on 22/09/2014

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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

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. (See Mind’s booklet How to be mentally healthy at work for information about looking after your mental health while in paid employment.)

Hobbies

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 criticise 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 (see ‘Learn to be assertive’ below) 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:

  • Pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you say – try to be open and confident.
  • Try to express your feelings if you have been upset – wait until you feel calm and explain clearly how you feel.
  • Say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests.
  • Tell people if you need more time or support with tasks that you find challenging.
  • Try to speak in the first person where possible – e.g. ‘When you speak to me like that, I feel… ’. This allows you to explain what you want to happen without appearing aggressive or scared.

Assertiveness can be a difficult skill to learn, and you may need to practise 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. (See Mind tips for better mental health: physical activity for ideas on how to get active.)

Sleep

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. (See Mind’s booklet How to cope with sleep problems for help establishing a good sleep routine.)

Diet

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. See 'What other help is available?' for more information.

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

  • What do you feel are your weaknesses or failings?
  • What negative things do you think other people think about you?
  • If you could sum yourself up, what word would you use – ‘I am…’?
  • When did you start feeling like this?
  • Can you identify an experience or event that might have caused this feeling?
  • Do you find you have certain negative thoughts on a regular basis?

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:

Situation

Reaction

Underlying belief

Asked to deliver a presentation at work Felt very anxious, but told boss it was fine No-one will want to listen to me because I am not engaging
I was invited to a party I lied and said I had something else to do I can't say anything interesting and I'll look stupid dressed up
I saw a job that I liked in the paper I got angry and tore it up I'm not clever enough for that sort of work or someone would have offered me a job like that 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:

  • My mum called me on my birthday.
  • My brother didn’t answer my call, but then later told me he had been really busy at work – it wasn’t personal.
  • I have been asked to go to a friend’s wedding next summer.
  • I had a really nice conversation with my colleague over our coffee break.

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.

You could make a list of negative thoughts with the evidence against them, in two columns:

Negative thought Evidence against it

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:

  • things about your personality
  • things about the way that you look
  • things that you do
  • skills you have developed.

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.

You might like to make a list of positive things about you.

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. The Be Mindful website has more information and details of local classes around the UK (see Useful contacts). There are also many mindfulness self-help books and CDs available.

Self-help resources

10 tips to increase your self-esteem

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

  • Do activities that you enjoy.
  • Spend time with positive, supportive people.
  • Be helpful and considerate to others.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other people.
  • Try to do regular exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep.
  • Be assertive – don’t let people treat you with a lack of respect.
  • Use self-help books and websites to develop helpful skills, like assertiveness or mindfulness.
  • Learn to challenge your negative beliefs.
  • Acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at.
  • Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself.

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