Ask a Therapist: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

How to Improve Self-Esteem and Boost Confidence

Your self-esteem affects the way you see yourself.

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Thursday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

I have struggled with low self-esteem for a really long time. Sometimes, I don’t think I have what it takes to succeed in life. But I know that attitude isn’t helpful. What can I do to start feeling better about myself? 

Amy's Answer

You’re smart to want to address self-esteem issues. Building a healthy sense of self will take work and it will likely feel uncomfortable, but it’ll be worth it.

Create a Healthy, Supportive Environment

Feeling bad about yourself can hold you back in life. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to improve your self-esteem

When we believe something, we constantly look for evidence (and create more evidence) that our belief is true. So if you believe you’re unworthy, you’ll view every mistake, mishap, and rejection as proof that you’re not good enough.

When you succeed at something (like you get an award), you’ll likely chalk it up to “good luck” rather than take credit for your effort or skills. You also might unintentionally create an environment that reinforces your low self-esteem.

A 2018 study found that people with low self-esteem tend to surround themselves with people who put them down. When others put them down, their words are in line with what the person with low self-esteem thinks about themselves. And it gives them a twisted sense of comfort as they believe, "You see me the same way I see me."

Additionally, the study found that people who don’t feel good about themselves are more likely to seek support with indirect methods, like whining, sulking, and complaining. Those strategies increase the likelihood that others will respond poorly, which again reinforces their beliefs that no one cares and they aren’t good enough.

So clearly, it’s important to evaluate the people around you. Are you surrounding yourself with people who subtly put you down? Take a look at your physical environment too. Do you live in a cluttered, crowded space? Perhaps a messy place reinforces to you that you aren’t worthy of living in a neat environment.

Make it a priority to surround yourself with people and things that send a message that says you are good enough. It will feel uncomfortable at first but as your self-esteem improves, it’ll get easier.

Recap

Changing your environment and the people you surround yourself with can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself. Work on making changes to your environment that will help support your sense of self-worth.

Utilize Positive, Supportive Self-Talk

Monitor the conversations you have with yourself. If you repeatedly tell yourself, "This will never work," or "Everyone is going to laugh at me," you’re going to feel bad about yourself.

When you catch yourself being overly critical or making negative predictions about your chances of success, stop and ask, "What would I say to a friend who was thinking this?" Chances are, you’d likely offer some compassionate words of encouragement. For some reason, it’s much easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to ourselves.

But self-compassion can be key to helping you feel better about yourself. Speak back to those negative thoughts with a kinder, more compassionate statement, like "You can do this! Do your best and look people in the eye!" Changing your inner dialogue can shift your mindset over time so your brain will begin to recognize that you’re more capable and competent than you give yourself credit for.

Act as If You Feel Confident 

Changing the way you think isn’t always enough to change your deep-rooted beliefs and feelings about yourself. It’s also important to change your behavior. A common therapy strategy is to "act as if." So in your case, it would be to "act as if you felt confident." 

Ask yourself, "What would a confident person do right now?" It might be as simple as shaking hands, introducing yourself, or volunteering to go first. 

When you take action first, your feelings often follow. Acting confident shifts your mindset and can help you feel more confident about yourself. 

Make sure you’re doing things that help you feel good in the big picture, too. Try new things, meet different people, and challenge yourself in healthy ways. And remind yourself, you don’t have to wait until you feel confident to get out there and do it. 

Consider Talking to a Therapist

If you’re struggling to create changes on your own, talk to a therapist. A mental health professional can help you address the factors that affect your self-esteem so you can feel better. And feeling good about yourself is the key to reaching your greatest potential and living your best life.

Summary

Having a strong sense of self-esteem is important for your well-being. Take steps to make sure your surroundings and the people in your life help support your sense of self-worth. Treat yourself with the same kindness and encouragement that you would a close friend. Also, work on acting confidently even if you don't feel confident in the moment.

Finally, consider talking to a mental health professional about your self-esteem issues. A therapist can help you address some of the thinking patterns that contribute to poor self-esteem and develop new coping mechanisms that support a positive sense of self.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies that can help you learn to truly believe in yourself, featuring IT Cosmetics founder Jamie Kern Lima.

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  1. Don BP, Girme YU, Hammond MD. Low self-esteem predicts indirect support seeking and its relationship consequences in intimate relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2019;45(7):1028-1041. doi:10.1177/0146167218802837