Self esteem tends to rise as we approach middle age, and peaks at 60. Higher self-esteem is related to better health outcomes, less criminality, lower occurrences of depression, and increased lifetime success.
However, this doesn’t hold true for everyone. Regardless of age, some of us experience low self-esteem, which negatively impacts our lives.
While societal culture may frame low self-esteem as a weakness, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are many things we can do to boost self-esteem.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
- Being extremely self-critical
- Negative self-talk (ex. “I’m a loser”)
- Inability to accept compliments
- Feeling inferior to others
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Not acknowledging positive self qualities
- Excessive self-blame, even when not responsible for the outcome of a situation
Impact of Low Self-Esteem
- Depression and anxiety
- Fear of failure that leads to not trying new things
- Perfectionist behavior to compensate for perceived shortcomings
- Feelings of hopelessness and trouble coping with hardship
- Feeling unworthy of love
How to Boost Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem may stem from past experiences, ongoing issues, or unexpected events. Ex.
- Unexpected job loss
- Chronic illness
- Unhealthy upbringing (like overly critical caregivers, teachers, etc.)
- Poor academic or work performance
- Societal pressure (ex. one-dimensional beauty standards)
- Economic pressure
- Mental health conditions
- Relationship challenges (ex. divorce, family problems)
Pay Attention to Thoughts and Beliefs
Once we identify our triggers, we can take note of the thoughts that come with them. If we’re going through a breakup, we might think, “I’m a failure because I couldn’t make the relationship work. No one will ever love me again.” In this moment, we can consider:
- Our interpretation of the breakup and ourselves.
- The nature of our thoughts (whether they’re positive, negative, or neutral).
- The rationality of our thoughts. Are they realistic or false?
- How we speak to ourselves. Is our inner voice kind or overly critical? We should try to speak to ourselves the same way we would a friend.
Accept the Thoughts
Even though we don’t have to believe every thought we have, we should accept them. Fighting against our thoughts can be exhausting. Often, we want to suppress our negative thoughts because we think having them makes us inferior.
We may belittle ourselves for thinking that we’re a failure for ending a relationship. We may think, “I shouldn’t think like this. I should be stronger.” This is just another form of self-criticism and will make us feel worse.
Instead, we should accept our negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean we’re resigned to them. It simply means we can say, “Okay, I am experiencing difficult thoughts, and that’s alright.”
Challenge the Thought
As thoughts aren’t necessarily true, it’s important to question their accuracy. Our view of ourselves may be influenced by past relationships and events. Perhaps our caregivers told us we were difficult to get along with. Maybe they abandoned us as children, and we blamed ourselves.
We may internalize these events. So, when a romantic relationship ends, we may also blame ourselves. We may think we’re unworthy of love.
It’s important to ask ourselves whether our beliefs are true, and if there are more rational explanations. Maybe our relationship didn’t last because of different values, timing, etc.
Identify and Develop Strengths
Creating a list of all the strengths we posses can be a useful visual tool. Once we have our list, we can pick one item and write a paragraph about how and why it’s valuable. We can repeat this practice as frequently as needed.
We can work to master these traits, as proficiency helps us feel competent and capable. This raises self-esteem.
Practice Self Compassion
We shouldn’t kick ourselves when we’re down, but that’s often what happens when self-esteem is low. When we criticize ourselves, we only do more damage. Self compassion means practicing love and self-care during difficult moments.
- We can recall the breakup and the difficulties we’re experiencing.
- Take note of physical symptoms of those difficulties (ex. tight muscles, stomach ache, sore eyes from crying, etc.).
- Validate the experience (ex. “This is hard, and I’m sad. It’s okay to feel this way.”)
- Say something kind, internally or aloud (“I love myself, and I’ll give myself comfort when I need it.”)
Use Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations may help boost self-esteem. To be effective, it’s important that the chosen affirmations align with our values and strengths. We can focus on strengths we already have or create affirmations that reflect qualities we find worthwhile.
Focusing on affirmations that don’t reflect our values isn’t genuine or productive for self-esteem.
Positive affirmations may incl:
- I am worthy of love.
- I can deal with uncomfortable emotions.
- I am enough just the way I am.
Aside from the self-esteem boosting tips talked about in this article, it’s critical that we separate self from circumstance. Of course, we should take responsibility for our actions.
However, we should avoid attaching our identity to specific outcomes. If our relationship goes wrong, it doesn’t mean there’s something fundamentally wrong with us.
Our inherent worth doesn’t change, regardless of if we’re coupled, rich, pretty, super fit, etc. Our value isn’t in our accomplishments, it’s within us. So, let’s repair our self-esteem, and learn to value ourselves.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: