Self-esteem is a psychological concept to describe how we see ourselves and the beliefs we have about ourselves. From childhood, our self-esteem begins to develop. We are given tools that either build or tear down our perception of who we are and our value within our families, communities and larger societies. Some people have high, or healthy, self-esteem, feeling very confident in their appearance and abilities in life, while others have low self-esteem, struggling to see the good in themselves. Our self-esteem can fluctuate from low to high depending on where we’re at in life.
Factors that Negatively Affect Self-Esteem
Our self-esteem is often affected by the society and communities we live in. We learn from an early age what others think of us and ultimately take on those thoughts as our own. This can be detrimental to our self-esteem if the images and thoughts we are being taught about ourselves are negative ones, whether by a parent, teacher or other adult in our life. For example, if you do not meet the beauty standards of the mainstream society you live in, you may grow up thinking you are unattractive and undesirable. Likewise, not meeting mainstream social standards such as class, race, weight, sexual orientation, etc., can also negatively affect how you perceive your self-worth and self-esteem.
Mental health conditions can also have a direct effect on your self-esteem. Even if you meet the social standards of your community, living with mental illness can cloud your vision of your own self-worth. Not being able to manage your mood and emotions at times can make you feel incompetent and create a negative view about yourself. It is important to recognize when your self-esteem is being affected by mental health conditions and seek the help you need if you are not able to manage it on your own.
How to Build Self-Esteem
Though self-esteem is greatly affected by outside factors, building our self-esteem is an inside job. Whether you typically have low self-esteem, or life has recently made you question your self-worth, here are a few tips to help boost your self-esteem when it feels low.
1. Recite Affirmations
Affirmations are short, encouraging sayings that are great for boosting self-esteem. Regardless of how you may feel about yourself, you are enough! Affirmations help remind you of that fact. Repeating simple sayings like “I am loved,” “I’ve got this,” “I can do this,” “I am beautiful,” etc., can positively affect how you feel about yourself. I like to find affirmations that counteract the negative thoughts I’m having about myself to build my self-esteem. If I am feeling intimidated or scared about a situation, I will tell myself that I am strong and confident. If I’m questioning my appearance (whether I’m having a bad hair day or not liking the way my body looks), I will look in the mirror and tell myself that I am beautiful. Affirmations help you to practice being your biggest fan! It’s great to hear encouraging words from others, but always remember that the most important voice in building your self-esteem is your own. Here is a list of a few affirmations you can practice if you need help getting started.
2. Engage in Hobbies/Activities that Bring You Joy
We are happiest and most confident when we are being ourselves and doing the things we love. What is it that you love to do? When I was younger, I was always a quirky child. My taste in music, food and activities was always different than my sisters and my peers. No matter how hard of a time they gave me about my interests, when I found time to do the things I really enjoyed, I always felt good about myself. Even at a young age, I intuitively knew that finding my happy space was helping to build my own self-efficacy and worth. As adults, our passions sometimes get buried under responsibilities. Work, relationships, etc., leave us so busy that we forget to take time to do the things we love. As a result, we begin to lose our identity. No matter how big or small your hobbies may be, find time to do things that bring you joy. Your desires are there for a reason and they are part of what makes you unique. Tapping into those passions are a great way to boost your self-esteem.
3. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is a magical elixir that can help so many areas of your life. Not only does it help us make others feel good by sharing our gratitude for them, it also helps us focus on the positive aspects of our lives. Gratitude helps put our lives into perspective and see the beauty in ourselves. Sure, we may not have all the things we desire, but what we have is often more than we realize, and can be the very thing others less fortunate than us desire. Find a few things each day to be thankful for to help build your self-esteem. Most importantly, thank yourself! No matter what comes your way, you show up to life every day. Your body supports you as you go through your day. Your mind, though it may seem overwhelmed at times, works hard to help you function through the worst of days. You are always there for you, and that deserves appreciation!
Seeking Outside Help for Self-Esteem
Sometimes we need a little extra help to build our self-esteem. We did not get to this point in our self-esteem journey on our own. Others have help to either negatively or positively influence how we feel about ourselves. Sometimes the negative influences are too heavy for us to care on our own, and we need help building ourselves back up. Discovery Mood & Anxiety Programs offers both counseling and support groups to help you build your self-esteem. You deserve to feel good about yourself and there is no shame in getting assistance to develop positive self-esteem in your life.
April Cox is a permanency specialist II at Professional Family Care Services in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about the mental health of individuals and families and prides her work on providing practical ways to promote mental health wellness. April has a BA in sociology and has worked as a therapeutic staff support, family-based counselor, and drug and alcohol counselor before transitioning to child welfare, where she helps foster children and foster families process past traumas. April is passionate about the arts and spends her evenings teaching dance classes to all ages.