for better mental health

Confidence and self-esteem – for young people

Information for young people about confidence and self-esteem, what can affect them, and tips to help you feel better about yourself.

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Confidence and self-esteem

If we have high self-esteem, we feel good about ourselves. And if we feel confident, we feel like there are things we’re good at. But sometimes, our confidence gets knocked, or we don’t like ourselves very much.

We can all feel like this at times, but when we feel like this for a long time, it can become a problem.

Whatever affects your confidence or self-esteem, it's important to remember that you have the right to feel good about yourself. We’re here to help you find a way.

This page has information on:

What is self-esteem?

Your self-esteem is how you think and feel about yourself. Your self-esteem can affect how much you:

  • like and value yourself as a person
  • believe in yourself and the things you can do
  • stand up for yourself when under pressure
  • are willing to try new or difficult things
  • move on from mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
  • believe you matter and are good enough
  • believe you deserve happiness.

If you have high self-esteem, the way you think and feel about yourself is likely to be positive. But if you have low self-esteem, you may find that the way you think and feel about yourself is more negative, and you may feel less able to stand up for yourself.

Example

When Matt’s self-esteem was low, he didn’t feel like he was clever and he worried about the way he looked. He stopped trying in Maths lessons, as he thought he’d never be any good at Maths. He also stopped wearing clothes he liked, because he thought no-one would be interested in him.

Matt then found a couple of new friends who dressed how he liked to. When he told them he was struggling with Maths, they offered to help him with any problems he was stuck on.

Now Matt dresses how he wants, and feels good about it. He also finds it easier to keep trying in Maths lessons, even when he’s finding things difficult.

“Something that can really affect our self-esteem and confidence are the people we surround ourselves with, especially our friends.”

What is confidence?

Confidence is about:

  • Believing in yourself, your abilities and ideas – this could be knowing a suggestion you have in class is a good one, feeling like you can learn a new song your band wants to perform, or knowing you can ask someone out without getting cold feet.
  • Understanding and accepting yourself for who you are – like being proud of your sexuality or hair colour, being okay with not being great at sports, or not wanting to change yourself to fit in with others.

Confidence doesn’t mean being ‘outgoing’. You can be quiet or shy and still be confident. And even when someone’s the loudest person in the room, that doesn't always mean they’re feeling the most confident inside.

Example

Aneesa used to have little confidence in herself. Her mum and her friends all said she had a gift for writing but she felt embarrassed by it. She used to hide her stories and hope her English teacher wouldn’t read her work out loud.

Now Aneesa is building up her confidence and it’s making a difference. She sticks motivational messages and pictures on her walls. She also keeps a list of nice comments anyone makes about her writing – so she can read them when she feels unsure of herself.

Although Aneesa still doesn’t want to read her stories out loud in class, she feels confident enough to submit a story to a national competition. She’s really proud of how much her confidence has grown.

“I think accepting who you are and being proud of anything which makes you different is very important, there is only one version of yourself.”

What can affect my confidence and self-esteem?

Negative experiences can lower your confidence and self-esteem, like going through a breakup or being teased about your appearance. And positive experiences can boost your confidence and self-esteem, like doing well on a test, getting a compliment on how you look, or doing something nice for a friend or neighbour.

What affects your confidence and self-esteem can be different for different people. These experiences might affect our confidence or self-esteem positively or negatively:

  • your results at school or college
  • social media or adverts
  • the level of support you receive from people you trust
  • your body image and how you feel about your appearance
  • your achievements or skills.

But other experiences may only negatively affect our confidence and self-esteem, like:

  • physical or mental health problems that affect our ability to do certain things or be understood by others
  • peer pressure to fit in
  • pressure to achieve in exams, sport or other hobbies
  • being bullied or abused
  • experiencing stigma or discrimination
  • moving away from where we feel safe, like away from family or friends
  • family problems
  • relationship problems.

You may be affected by other experiences that aren’t in these lists. Or you might have had low confidence or self-esteem for a long time, which can make it hard to understand why you're feeling this way.

“Seeing other people choose to spend time with me helped me to realise that there are lots of things I like about myself, and to worry less about what they thought about me.”

Changes to your confidence and self-esteem

You may feel like your confidence or self-esteem changes from day to day, or that there’s been a more noticeable change over time.

If your confidence or self-esteem have been low for a long period of time, you should talk to your doctor. They will be able to see if your low confidence or self-esteem is linked to a mental health problem, like depression or anxiety. They will also be able to talk you through some different support options, like counselling, to see what’s right for you.

How can I build my confidence and self-esteem?

Building your confidence and self-esteem can take time and practice. And what helps you now may not be the same thing as what helps in the future. But there’s lots of things you can do to improve the way you feel about yourself and your abilities.

It might feel like a big step to make changes. Start by trying a couple of new things each week, until you find what works for you. Go at your own pace and don’t put too much pressure on yourself – small changes can make a big difference.

  • Recognise and challenge your unkind thoughts. Try to do this by talking to yourself as you would to a good friend. You could ask yourself: ‘How might someone else see this?’, ‘Is there anything that suggests this might not happen?’, or ‘What would I say to a friend who was thinking this?’ Answering these questions may help you to think more rationally and calmly.
  • Remember it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s also important to forgive yourself when you do make a mistake.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others. For example, try to remember that the pictures people share on social media have been carefully chosen or filtered. And they often don’t show what people’s actual lives are like.
  • Repeat positive statements to yourself. For example, you could say ‘I am enough’ or ‘I am worth it’ to yourself in the mirror every morning.

These things might not always feel easy, but they can be powerful ways to help change how you think and feel about yourself.

Try to sleep well, eat a balanced diet, stay active, spend time outside in nature, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

By looking after your health you could feel better inside. For more ideas, see our page on looking after your wellbeing.

You could celebrate your successes.

"I have an achievements jar where I write at least one thing I achieved that day (and date it) and put it in the jar."

You could also make a list of things that you and other people like about yourself, that you could read later. This could include any compliments you get, even if you don’t believe them at the time. Over time you could begin to see yourself differently.

Have fun with family or friends, or connect with someone you identify with and trust, and be kind to others. These are the people who will like you for who you are.

Using your skills and time to help a friend or family member, or to volunteer somewhere, can also help you to feel good about yourself.

Asserting yourself, or ‘being assertive’, means giving your opinion, or saying what you want or need, or how you feel, without being rude. It's about standing up for yourself while also being respectful of other people’s views and feelings.

This can be tough at first, and it may take time for you to feel confident doing this. You could try by thinking about your own boundaries, and practice saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when you’re making a choice. Don’t put pressure on yourself to try too much at once.

Childline has more information and tips on being assertive that you can try.

This could be listening to music, playing video games, swimming, or something else. Let yourself have fun without feeling guilty, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.

You could start by practising talking or a pose in your mirror, and work up to acting confident in front of others. But if you can keep it up, you may find after a while that you’re not acting any more.

Trying something new can help you develop a skill and meet new people. It could be something like learning some new phrases in a different language, learning how to play an instrument, painting or drawing, or joining a class or sports club.

You could set yourself goals as you go to see how you improve, or just do it for fun.

Here’s some more tips that young people have shared with us:

  • “Know your limits” and don’t push yourself too hard.
  • “Make an online board or blog of motivational quotes and images.”
  • “Meditation, having a clear headspace.”
  • “Keep a box or diary of achievements” and things you’re proud of.
  • ”Don't be afraid to unfollow accounts which make you feel bad about yourself, promote unhealthy ideas about food or don't create real images.”
  • “Identify what’s unhelpful for you”, like tips that don’t work, or things that have a negative effect on your self-esteem or confidence.
  • Practice self-care” – take time for yourself, and do the things you need to do to look after your mental and physical health.
  • “Think back in time to how we felt when we made similar mistakes when we were younger, and how little it affects us now, that might help us put everything in perspective.”

“I think ‘forgive yourself’ is really important.”

I have to present in front of my class, what can I do?

Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • practice in front of your mirror, and then in front of your family, a friend, or your pet
  • act confident, even if you don’t feel it
  • be honest with how you think you’re doing
  • try not to compare yourself to others, or think about what they think of you
  • see it as a way of learning, not a chance of failing
  • remember that it’s normal to feel nervous
  • enjoy yourself in the moment, and celebrate afterwards!

“Think about what you expect from yourself, not what others expect from yourself.”

Where can I go for help and support?

If you’re worried about how you’re feeling, or your low confidence or self-esteem is affecting your relationships and everyday life, it’s okay to ask for help. You could:

For a list of other organisations who might be able to help, go to our useful contacts page.

This information was published in August 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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