What is Self-Esteem?

Everyone has their own opinions of their own person. These are the opinions that are at the heart of your self-esteem and these will have an effect on how you feel about and value yourself. Self-esteem is not static and fixed; your own beliefs about yourself can change throughout your life as a result of circumstance and experience.
If your self-esteem is low, then your thoughts and opinions on yourself will be negative. You may tend to focus on your weaknesses and mistakes that you have made, opposed to your strengths and triumphs.

"Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are" - Marilyn Monroe

If your self-esteem is high, then your thoughts and opinions on yourself will be positive.
Experiences can have an effect on your self-esteem. For example, losing a job, a break down of a relationship, or being bereaved can give your confidence a massive knock, but self-esteem can also act as a bumper, absorbing the impact of all of these experiences, helping you to bounce back.
Your own opinions are what make the difference between high and low self-esteem. It is important to realise that these are only opinions, and are not factual. They can be biased and inaccurate, and there are steps you can take to change this.


Linking self-esteem to mental health

Having low-self esteem is not a mental health problem in itself, but having low-self esteem can have an effect on your mental health. Holding negative beliefs about yourself will lower your resilience and ability to cope with the stresses of life. This can expose you to higher risks of developing mental health problems such as eating disorders, depression or social phobia, which are all closely related to your mood and self-belief. Low self-esteem can be triggered or made worse by existing mental health problems, such as a panic disorder or schizophrenia. You may find that the pressure of other symptoms and the stigma associated with mental health problems impacts on the way you see yourself.

What causes low self-esteem?

There are so many causes of low self-esteem that it is incredibly difficult to point to just one cause. Everyone is different and different experiences will effect us all differently. The formations of your own beliefs about yourself is a complex process. You own inborn nature or temperament will play a role, but your experiences and relationships with the people around you also have an important part to play. Negative experiences in childhood are often particularly damaging to self-esteem. In your early years your personality and sense of self is being formed, and harmful experiences can leave you feeling that you are not valued or important. You have no had a chance to build up any resilience, so this negative view can become the one that you believe about yourself. Significant or traumatic negative experiences in adult life can also shake core beliefs and cause them to change. This will normally happen over time and you may not fully realise that your own self-esteem is lowering. The experiences that effect people the most are:
  • Being a victim of a form of abuse, whether that is sexual abuse, emotional abuse or physical abuse and the loss of control associated with this.
  • Having your needs neglected when you were a child, both physical and emotional.
  • Failing to meet any expectations set out by your parents.
  • Feeling as if you are the "odd one out" at school.
  • Being a victim of prejudice due to your community such as asylum seekers, people living in poverty and people living with lots of wealth.
  • Peer pressure, going against what you agree with.
  • Bullying.
  • Trauma.
  • Physical ill-health which can have an effect on your quality of life.
  • Bereavement.
  • Facing redundancy or being unemployed.
  • Social isolation or loneliness.

The severity of the effect these experiences have on a person can vary and depend on many other factors. Negative opinions regarding your appearance, skills and your intelligence will be formed. When something happens that reminds you of any of the significant events you will expect the worse and will be expecting everything to end badly. Your low expectations are likely to be at the back of your mind all the time.

  • You will probably feel anxious and might shake, blush and/or panic.
  • You may also try to avoid the situation all together, or behave in a way that you think will keep you safe for example not going to a social even alone.

This reaction is likely to reinforce your own negative opinions or yourself and leave you feeling that you have less chance of coping.

What are the consequences of low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem can have a significant impact on your life, you can even find that all aspects of your life can be affected in some way and reinforce the negative beliefs you have of yourself. Low self-esteem can relate to and interact with mental health problems, making any existing conditions seem and feel a lot worse to you. This will make you more vulnerable to developing other problems. Low self-esteem may also have a negative effect on your day to day life.

Personal Relationships

If you are experiencing low self-esteem you may find that you form damaging relationships. You may feel that you are not deserving enough to be treated with love and respect and this can lead to people such as friends, romantic interests and family to take advantage or control you.

Social Life

For people with low self-esteem, it can be hard to respond to criticism, leading you to be emotional and sensitive to other people's judgement more easily than others. This might cause people with low self-esteem to start avoiding activities where they are open to judgement or stopping socialising, leading you to become isolated and feel a sense of loneliness.


If your low self-esteem gives you negative beliefs about your own intelligence or work ethic, you may start to struggle with school work or other types of work. You may start to avoid tasks that you believe you won't be able to complete to a good standard. When trying to find work, you may find it difficult to finish a job application or attend an interview as you may feel that you are not good enough to succeed. Another problem that relates to work is workplace or school bullying. This can have a negative effect on your self-esteem causing you to lose confidence in your work place.

Negative Behaviours

You may find that your ways of dealing with your self-esteem can be damaging to you and others around you. You may find yourself attempting to find an escape from life and start taking part in risky and dangerous activities such as drug abuse, heavy drinking, and unprotected sex. You can also develop issues with your anger resulting in the development of an aggressive or violent personality. This is because you are trying to hide your vulnerabilities or protect yourself. We all know that no-one is ever happy all of the time, and having high self-esteem doesn't always mean that you will always be confident about yourself, work or relationships. However, if you have high or positive self-esteem and a good emotional and mental health, then you have strong predictors of being happy. If your opinions of yourself are positive, you may still associate with some of the behaviours previously mentioned, but you will find that you can cope with them a lot better!

Self help

How can I build my own self-esteem?

As you have seen previously, your self-esteem is reflected from your own beliefs and opinions on yourself and how you value yourself as a person. Increasing your self-esteem means going against these negative beliefs and attempting to change them. To you it may seem impossible at the time, and there a many different ways for you to go about it. Below are some ways that you can change these negative opinions.

Identify your negative beliefs!

If you are going to improve your self-esteem, then first you need to understand what is making you feel so negative about yourself and why you feel like this. This can be a painful process, therefore it is important that you take your time and try not to push yourself too hard. You may want support throughout this process, you can ask a family member, a friend, or you can talk to an one of us here at Teenage Helpline using the "Live Support" feature or the Contact Us page. If this is not helping, then you may find it better to seek more professional help, maybe a teacher at school, or a counsellor. When trying to find your inner beliefs and opinions, you may find it beneficial to take notes, here are some questions that can help you channel your thoughts.

  • What do you feel are your weaknesses or failings?
  • What negative things do you think other people feel 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 certain negative thoughts recur on a regular basis?

You may also find it beneficial to keep some form of diary over a period of time. In this diary you should write down relevant details of situations where you have felt that you are not good enough, as well as situations that you succeeded in. You should use the following sections to structure your diary:

  • Situation - What were you doing at the time, for example delivering a speech, handing in some homework or hanging out with some friends.
  • Reaction - How did you feel when you realised you had to carry out this task? Were you concerned, anxious, worried, scared, confident? Did you accept the task, show reluctance or decline.
  • Underlying belief - In this section you should write why you think you reacted the way you did, for example you were scared that someone would laugh at you, or you were scared that you were going to fail, or you were confident you would be able to succeed. Keep this diary over a period of about 2-3 weeks, and write down as much as you can, after you have finished you will be able to outline your main underlying beliefs, and therefore identifying your main negative opinions of yourself. As you are identifying them you can start to challenge and change them.

A way that we recommend you challenge your opinions is to write evidence against your beliefs. For example if you feel that no-one likes you, then you can write down everything that shows people like you, for example:

  • Your mum called you on your birthday.
  • Your brother doesn't answer the phone but later announces he was busy showing it wasn't anything personal.
  • You have been invited to a big event.
  • Had a nice conversation with someone.

Although at the time they may feel small and insignificant, when you look at your list after 2 weeks, you will notice that actually your opinions are completely wrong and this will build up your self-esteem.

Positive thinking exercises:

There are many different ways that you can exercise your mind in a positive way, there is a simple exercise listed below: You need to start by listing everything that you like about yourself, even people with low self-esteem find things that they like about themselves. Here are some examples of what you could write:

  • Things about the way that you look, for example your eye colour or your smile.
  • Your personality and characteristics, for example loving and caring.
  • Things that you do, for example charity or voluntary work.
  • Skills that you have, for example strong subjects at school or other qualifications you have gained.

First aim to write 10 things about yourself, once you have written 10 try and write 10 more. Try to aim for a total of 50 things in your list. Keep the list on you all the time, and read it throughout the day. If you find yourself being particularly worried about something, then take the time to read the list beforehand, this will reinforce your thinking that you are good enough to succeed.

Challenge yourself:

Set yourself realistic challenges that you can achieve. Start will small challenges, but they have to mean something to you. For example, you might decide that you are going to write a letter to your local paper, or post a comment on a blog that interests you. Let someone know about the challenge you have set yourself, let them know when you have succeeded and then accept the praise they are offering. Continue setting yourself challenges, making them slightly harder each time.

Be assertive:

Being assertive does not mean that you need to be aggressive, violent or difficult, but it will help you to define your own boundaries and make others aware of these boundaries. It will show you that you can value both yourself and other people around you, and that you can communicate with a mutual respect. To show assertiveness, you will need to keep your body language open and confident, and you will need to start expressing how you feel, especially if you have been upset. You need to learn to be able to say "no" to anything you feel you is unreasonable, or to be able to ask for extra time and support for tasks that you feel challenging.

Friends and Family:

If you have low self-esteem there may be people around you that encourage these negative opinions, these could be family or friends. It is incredibly important that you identify who these people are and take action to stop this. Sometimes family and friends like to tease and make jokes, and mean no harm by what they say, however you may see their comments as something more serious that just a joke or a tease so you need to confront them and explain how what they say makes you feel. To take action on what they are doing you might attempt to become more assertive and confront them, or you might try to limit your time with them. You should try to associate yourself with people who don't criticise you and people that praise you and make you feel better about yourself. You should be able to talk to people you associate yourself and express your feelings with them. Having someone who listens to you will make it easier to build your self-esteem and express yourself.


Hobbies can be anything that you enjoy, from learning a language, to music, to arts and crafts. Try to find a hobby where you might have some natural ability, this means you are more likely to succeed in your chosen activity. You could also try something that you have always wanted to try, so that when you succeed you will feel a greater sense of achievement. If you log onto the internet, you will be able to find details of local classes or clubs that you can take part in. Try not to find activities that are too challenging for you as if you don't succeed you will not be building up your confidence.


Taking part in physical activity is good for your mental health, it has been proven to improve people's opinions and images of themselves and gives them a sense of well-being. Here are some example of some exercise that you can do:

  • A short walk around your local park or green area.
  • A longer walk, more of a hike taking more time.
  • Cycling.
  • Swimming.
  • Running.
  • Sit-ups/Press-ups. (Make sure you do these outside)

You will almost always feel better after having done some exercise.


You need to make sure that you go to sleep at a reasonable time and wake up after a reasonable amount of sleep. If you are tired and irritable then your negative feelings about yourself are likely to be exaggerated and your confidence will decrease.

Other Support:

If you are experiencing more severe symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress then you should seek more professional help. Talking Therapies - If you are experiencing more severe symptoms then you should talk to a doctor or a counsellor about a more professional approach. There are different types of talking therapies and your doctor will help you to find the best method for you. Online Self-Help - Searching online, you will be able to find many self-help websites and books that will look more deeply into the psychology behind why you are feeling the way you are and how you can change that. Of course, it will mean being completely honest about how you are feeling and why you think you are feeling that way. Our own support - We have many different ways that you can contact usu sing the Live Support feature or e-mail us at help@teenagehelpline.org.uk. We can talk to you and you can explain your symptoms and we can discuss whether we think its best for you to see a doctor or not. Remember it is entirely your call and you can do what you feel is best for yourself.