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

Strategies to boost your confidence and help you feel good about yourself.

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 an Environment That Helps You Feel Good

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 individual with low self-esteem thinks about themselves. And it gives the individual a twisted sense of comfort as they believe, “You see me the same way I see me.”

Additionally, the study found that individuals 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 the 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.

Changing your environment can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself.

So make it a priority to surround yourself with people and things who 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.

Talk to Yourself Like a Trusted Friend

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 to offer some compassionate words of encouragement. For some reason, it’s much easier to be kind to others than it is 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, however. 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. 

Get Help If You Need It

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.

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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