by Cosentino BW

IMAGE Do you berate yourself for things you do or say? Are you afraid to make a mistake? Relax. Chances are you are not a bad person, and most likely, you do at least one thing well. Perhaps it is time for a self-esteem tune-up.

Yale University researchers found that a "bad hair day" can be hazardous to your mental health. If something as insignificant as an out-of-control coif can "diminish your self-esteem and inspire feelings of incompetence, self-doubt, and even self-hatred," what might happen if you were late for work? Or had a fight with your boss?

How we feel about ourselves effects all aspects of our life. Feeling good can give confidence and motivation to meet challenges and seek out fulfillment. Feeling bad about oneself can hold you back and keep you back from successful. Either way, self-esteem can have a big impact on wellness.

The Foundation of Self-esteem

Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. It is what you think of yourself and how you value yourself. It can include how you feel about your physical appearance, behavior, ability, intelligence, or emotions. Self-esteem grows and changes over time. It is shaped by the individual and those around them. Things that can influence self-esteem include:

  • Critical, abusive, or neglectful family can lead to low self esteem
  • Supportive positive family can lead to higher self-esteem
  • Bullying, social isolation, or problems fitting in with peers in school or work
  • Medical illnesses especially those that cause physical or mental limits
  • Thought patterns and personality
  • Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
  • Genetics—determine how the brain develops and works

The base of our self-esteem develops in childhood but it can change throughout our lifetime. It is important to watch for periods of lower self-esteem and know that we have the ability to change it back to positive.

Positive Self-esteem

People with positive (high) self-esteem have the following characteristics:

  • Confidence in opinions and thoughts; ability to speak up and share and express their needs
  • Feel comfortable saying no
  • Aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and accepts them, even if they are working to change them
  • Resilient and better able to cope with bad experiences or events
  • Able to have loving and respectful relationships, romantic and other
  • Appreciate themselves and other people
  • Don't dwell in the past or over past mistakes
  • Accept challenges and learn from mistakes when they fail

Negative Self-esteem

Negative (low) self-esteem can disrupt your sense of well-being. It can make you feel disconnected from your own feelings and needs. It also limits your ability to make healthy choices in love, work, and play. Negative self-esteem can lead to:

  • Feeling like they have to have high accomplishment to deserve love, rather than simply for who they are—overachievers, perfectionists, or control freaks
  • Chronic fear of abandonment—which can cause relationship problems
  • Difficulty making decisions, feeling that a wrong decision will lead to the loss of love or respect
  • Overeating, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or compulsive shopping as a way to avoid unpleasant feelings of alienation, insecurity, or self-loathing
  • Trouble accepting compliments
  • Negative self-talk and all or nothing thinking "I did not succeed in this one thing so I am a failure in everything"

Leaning Toward Positive

Negative self-esteem can have such a large influence on your life it seems odd that it can be fixed by thinking differently. However, this is where it starts. The exact steps will look different for each person. To help raise self-esteem, consider the following:

  • Be aware of negative thought patterns. This includes only seeing the negative, jumping to negative conclusions, turning a positive into a negative, or undervaluing yourself with statements like "I don't deserve better". Take a step back and see if you are judging yourself only from emotions or facts. Awareness can help you stop these patterns and substitute healthier thoughts.
  • Understand what may be contributing to negative self-esteem. It may be childhood issues or current relationships or work environment. Knowing where it started may help you better understand how to address the negativity.
  • Replace negative thoughts with facts and positive thoughts. Examples:
    • Instead of kicking yourself for failure or mistakes understand that this happens to everyone. Look for things you have learned that will help you next time.
    • Encourage yourself. "This will be tough but I can do this."
    • Avoid unrealistic demands like you "must" do something.
    • Use negative thoughts as a signal to say positive thing to yourself. This may help you develop new thought patterns to replace negative ones.
  • Look for counseling if you are struggling to make changes. They can help you better understand what may be causing negative thoughts and how to address them. There are many different types of therapy. Talk to counselors to see which may be best for you.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy is one that works to identify negative thoughts then distance yourself from them. It works on taking the power out of the negative thought instead of replacing or feeling overwhelmed by them.

Some may mistakenly believe that actions like being more successful, losing weight, making more money will fix self-esteem. However, negative thought patterns will continue not matter what success is made. Negative self-esteem is not concerned with reality. Steps that may help include:

  • Take care of yourself. Chose healthy foods and exercise on most days of the week. Feeling good will put you in a better frame of mind to take care of yourself.
  • Find things you enjoy doing. It may be putting aside time for a hobby, spa day, or time with friends.
  • Be aware of people you surround yourself with. Avoid those that do not treat you well.

Raising a Child With Healthy Self-esteem

Seeds of self-esteem are planted in childhood. Parents cannot give their children self-esteem, but they can create a home that feeds a child's innate sense of being worthy of love and care. Self-esteem develops well with emotional attachment to parents who are loving, nurturing, and responsive to their child's needs. This has to happen within a sense of structure and consistency.

This does not mean a child needs constant praise, in fact that can backfire. True self-esteem comes from within, from:

  • Mastering new tasks—using the potty, tying one's shoelaces
  • Developing impulse control—sharing toys, waiting for your turn on the slide
  • knowing your strengths and weaknesses—"I'm good at throwing a ball but not such a good ice-skater"
  • Learning how to solve problems
  • Making and keeping friends

The real sense of inner pride comes from the child knowing he has done a good job and worked hard for it. Tips for parents include:

  • Accept your child as a separate human being with emotions that are important.
  • Respond to your children's successes with small celebrations. Comfort and encourage them when they fail.
  • Tell your children you love them just the way they are and hug them often.
  • Speak to your kids with respect and loving kindness.
  • Teach your children decision-making skills appropriate to their age.
  • When disciplining, differentiate the behavior from the child. Do not label the child with name calling. Focus on the child's unacceptable actions.
  • Show interest in your child's thoughts, feelings and daily activities.

A Rewarding Journey

Learning to feel good about who we are takes time, patience, self-awareness, and an ability to forgive ourselves. As difficult as that may be, the rewards of self-confidence are greater.


Mental Health America 

National Association for Self-Esteem 


Canadian Psychological Association 

Healthy Canadians 


Self-Esteem. Psychology Today website. Available at: Accessed May 21, 2020.

Self-esteem: Take steps to feel better about yourself. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: Created July 12, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2020.

Signs of Healthy and Low Self-Esteem. Verywell Mind website. Available at: Updated Septemer 30, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2020.

What is Self-Esteem? A Psychologist Explains. Positive Pschology website. Available at: Updated April 16, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.

3 Steps Towards Improving Your Self-Esteem. Positive Pschology website. Available at: Posted April 28, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.