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Self-esteem can shift from moment to moment, and day-to-day. Sometimes, your sense of self-worth is high — you’ll feel like nothing can bring you down. Shortly afterward, your mind may become flooded with negative thoughts.
Maybe you start scrolling through social media with ample self-confidence after a great post, but soon after, you feel it plummet. You can feel this change in your self-esteem several times a day, even within the same hour.
Having high self-esteem takes energy every single day. It can be exhausting. And research shows that the constant pursuit of high self-esteem isn't healthy. Commit to improving your well-being by learning how to improve self-esteem without making it your top priority.
What is self-esteem?
Before you can care for your self-esteem, it helps to define the term. According to Kristin Neff, who writes and talks extensively about her research on self-compassion as an alternative to self-esteem, the way self-esteem can fluctuate is a big part of its problem. So, too, is how it focuses on judgment of ourselves and others.
Self-esteem refers to the degree to which we evaluate ourselves positively. It represents how much we like or value ourselves, and is often based on comparisons with others.
Dr. Kristin Neff
Self-esteem revolves around your opinion of yourself and what you have accomplished. When we’re surrounded by social media and inundated with lifestyle content, our opinion of ourselves can't help but be relative. Self-esteem can take a hit every time you open your newsfeed.
Self-esteem can affect how you practice "self-talk." If you assess yourself and find yourself lacking, you may focus on negative thoughts and self-criticism. However, the opposite can happen for people too concerned about preserving their self-esteem. They might focus on building themselves up and putting others down to feel better.
While saying positive things to yourself helps counter automatic negative thoughts, check in on whether that interior voice is constantly comparing, whether favorably or not. If you constantly think you aren't good enough, it can affect your relationships, physical health, and how well you do your job.
There's a difference between self-esteem and confidence. Your self-esteem affects how you see yourself. In contrast, your self-confidence dictates how you perceive your own skills and talents.
Your self-esteem results from your life experiences, beginning in childhood. Any trauma you've experienced, dramatic life changes, and your environment impact your self-esteem. Even at a young age, your self-esteem begins to fluctuate and develop.
You build self-confidence in a specific situation by developing and using your own skills and prior experiences related to the task. Believing in your abilities to complete a task while doubting your self-worth is an example of having high self-confidence but low self-esteem.
Why is it important to pay attention to it?
Take time to pay attention to how you speak to yourself. It's a good indicator of how well you take care of yourself.
Yes, self-esteem fluctuates — but lower self-esteem can signal something in your life is harming your well-being. And if you have high self-esteem, you could be practicing some excellent self-care.
Self-esteem issues can creep up on you. It doesn't take much out of your day to take a moment and notice how events affect your mood and self-esteem.
Pay attention to other people's self-esteem, too. If you notice a loved one or a coworker is voicing a lot of self-doubt, they might need your support. Once you've identified where you want to improve, it’s hard to figure out your first steps.
If you're looking for help getting started, our BetterUp can support you with personalized coaching to help you find your self-esteem and cultivate your self-compassion.
What can lower self-esteem?
Many different factors lower your self-esteem. Those factors might be things like people in your life or your environment or mindset. Understanding what causes your self-esteem to drop helps you make an action plan on how you will help it thrive and build your self-awareness.
Perhaps you're unsure about what factors we're talking about. To give you a better idea, here's a list of things that can cause your self-esteem to lower:
- Abuse: Abusive and difficult relationships with your parents, either during childhood or adulthood, can harm your self-esteem. Research has found that physical and emotional abuse by parents or other adults is a major factor in low self-esteem.
- Mindset: A pessimistic attitude and fixed mindset lower self-esteem because it overwhelms your mind with negative thoughts. You're reminded that you aren't good enough or that nothing positive will happen to you, and your confidence suffers.
- Life events: While some life events uplift you, others lower your self-esteem. An example is if you're taking a hard course at school and have failed a few assignments. You start criticizing yourself and the opinion your accomplishments are poor. Graduating from school, changing jobs, or moving cities could all affect you personally.
- Social standards: One survey of college freshmen found that 65% of them said they base their self-worth on their appearance. External sources like approval of others and body image cause your self-esteem to lower at any time, and it might be difficult to regain it.
- Goal setting: Setting goals is great if you know how to set them properly. When you set goals that are unattainable and unrealistic, it makes you think poorly of yourself when you don't achieve them. Even if those goals weren't achievable in the first place, your self-esteem takes a hit.
What are the effects of low self-esteem?
When you have low self-esteem, your mental health can suffer. Frequent negative self-talk can harm your mental health.
People with poor self-esteem are very critical of themselves. They have difficulty moving past challenges and mistakes. It may lead to people isolating themselves because they want to protect their self-esteem.
They neglect standing up for themselves because they'd rather stay quiet and put space between themselves and their challenges.
In reality, self-imposed social isolation only hurts them more. It keeps people deep within their comfort zones instead of seeking new opportunities or hobbies.
Low self-esteem can also contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Negative ways of thinking can halt efforts to build confidence or self-worth, and negative thoughts also hinder efforts to develop a growth mindset.
8 tactics to improve your self-esteem
It's no easy task to build self-esteem, but achieving a healthy level of self-esteem can make a difference to your well-being.
Take a look at these eight tactics to help bolster your self-esteem. Think about which ones you'd like to start implementing in your daily life. But don't stop there: remember that the best way to achieve healthy self-esteem is to focus less on esteem and more on practicing self-compassion and improving self-confidence.
1. Write out a list of things you admire about yourself
It can be challenging to sit down and think about our admirable traits — even awkward. But acknowledging your skills or things you like about yourself can improve your self-talk.
Try keeping a journal of things you've done that you enjoyed or admired. Gratitude journals also work wonders for improving your outlook on life and recognizing what you have to be thankful for.
Don't just write down any positive affirmation you come across. Instead, look for relevant affirmations and consider how to accept yourself. What is it that you appreciate and admire? Remember these attributes when you notice your mind fills with negative thoughts. Avoid generic mantras and focus on phrases meaningful to you.
2. Stop being a people pleaser
People with poor self-esteem can feel obligated to say yes to requests. They often put helping others before their own mental health. This can lead to being easily overwhelmed, whether that’s at work or in your personal life. That, in turn, causes a lot of stress.
It's nice to be helpful and supportive when you can, but your self-esteem eventually suffers when you tie your self-worth to how much you do for others. Learn how to say no to others.
3. Step outside your comfort zone
Those with low self-esteem tend to avoid challenges and new opportunities. This can be due to fears or self-doubt. But when you succeed in any big or small way, you show yourself that you can persevere through rough moments.
Stepping outside your comfort zone doesn't mean that you have to throw yourself into highly uncomfortable situations. It means you're willing to try new things even if you enter difficult situations.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others
Your progress and self-worth shouldn’t be connected to how well other people are doing. There will always be someone better at something than you, but that doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do, or good enough.
It's not easy to stop comparing yourself to others. But staying away from social media can help this effort. If you do scroll, remind yourself that people only share the best, most flattering parts of their life online. Don't let likes on a photo dictate your self-worth. Practice an occasional digital detox to reduce your exposure.
Appreciate your differences compared to others, but remember that you’re not in competition with anyone else’s progress.
5. Forgive yourself for your past thoughts
As you work to build your self-esteem, you need to forgive yourself for how you treated yourself before. You can't move forward with your progress without accepting that you used to judge yourself and others harshly. It's a hard habit to break.
Acknowledging this weakness exercises self-compassion and resilience by helping you see yourself clearly. You’re building a more solid foundation when you choose to have a healthier relationship with yourself.
6. Set boundaries in your relationships
Think about what your boundaries are in your personal and professional life. To have higher self-esteem, you need to understand what your boundaries look like and how they align with your values.
Plus, you'll need to think about how you'll respond when people cross them because that'll happen — intentionally or not. Setting boundaries is a way of not letting others control or take advantage of you and practicing assertiveness.
Learning how to set boundaries at work may look different than in your personal life. You can mute notifications when the workday ends to maintain your work-life balance, but you can’t avoid your friends when you don’t know how to be firm with them. Be patient, and be honest.
7. Celebrate your wins
Victories come in all sizes, and you should celebrate them all. Did you practice some positive self-talk today? Did you banish some negative beliefs or face one of your fears? Acknowledge those feelings of confidence and pride, and embrace them. It'll help your self-confidence grow and show you that building self-esteem helps you feel more comfortable with yourself.
8. Let go of negative people
It's one thing to let go of negative thoughts, but have you thought about letting negative people go? The people you surround yourself with have a big impact on your mood and level of self-esteem.
If people constantly remind you of your flaws, make fun of your mistakes, or fill you with self-doubt, you'll have poor self-esteem. But letting those influences go will allow more positive encouragement and kinder thoughts to help grow your self-esteem. And once you identify someone’s toxic traits, it’s hard to see past them.
Get support on your journey
While you’re learning how to improve your self-esteem, you’ll experience setbacks. You’ll have days where your poor self-esteem seems overpowering. Be patient with yourself. Progress doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t always linear.
Celebrate that small stuff. If you find even just one tactic that makes a difference in your well-being, that’s something to be proud of.
At BetterUp, we’re all about finding ways that make you feel proud of yourself and your accomplishments. This helps you feel more motivated to guide your progress forward. Plus, it builds your self-confidence when you encounter any challenges.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC