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  • Writer's pictureAntonia Higgins

What is self-esteem anyway?

In my job, I have a lot of conversations about self-esteem. It plays a big part in mental health and emotional wellbeing. I’m guessing it’s a word you will have heard before, but what is it? How can we describe this - sometimes elusive - trait? And how can we build self-esteem to strengthen our self-belief and improve our mental health and emotional wellbeing?

What is self-esteem

Self-esteem is a term used to describe a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself.

It’s a complex concept that is influenced by a variety of factors, including your personality, your experiences, and your relationships. It’s worth remembering that self-esteem isn’t a fixed state - it ebbs and flows and sometimes feels more present than others. It might be helpful to think of your self-esteem as a spectrum rather than as a binary idea of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Why is self-esteem important?

When your self-esteem is high, you’ll tend to feel confident in yourself and your abilities. You’ll believe that you are worthy of love and respect, and are sure of your own judgment. People who feel higher self-esteem generally are more likely to be successful in life. They are more likely to be happy and healthy.

When you have low self-esteem, on the other hand, you are more likely to feel down on yourself and unsure of your abilities. You may believe that you are not good enough, and you may be hesitant to take risks or try new things. People with lower self-esteem are more likely to experience problems in their relationships, their careers, and their mental and physical health.

What can I do to improve my self-esteem?

There are many things you can do to improve your self-esteem, and the suggestions here are just some places you can start. They may seem like a huge undertaking at first, particularly if you have not been used to thinking of yourself in these ways. They might not come naturally to you, and may even feel a bit uncomfortable. If going it alone feels too hard, try reaching out to a friend, family member, or mental health professional who can help.

Identify the negative beliefs you hold about yourself

Once you know what these beliefs are, you can start to challenge them. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support these beliefs. Is this evidence actually real and true, or are you being hard on yourself? Maybe this is a belief that has been put on you by someone else, and not really one of yours at all. Reframing these beliefs with more positive and compassionate ones can help you to change how you think about yourself. For example, if you haven’t done all the chores you planned to do today, and your negative belief is ‘I’m just so lazy’ a kinder and more compassionate way of framing that could be ‘I’m tired. I’ve worked hard all week and it’s ok for me to rest today. Tomorrow is another day’.

Focus on your strengths

Everyone has strengths, even if you don't always feel like it. Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments, and read it over whenever you start to feel down about yourself. If you are not sure of your strengths you could ask some trusted people what strengths they see in you, or you could search for one of the numerous strengths lists online to help you think about which strengths apply to you. My particular favourites are the VIA Strengths Test list and one on the Therapist Aid website.

Be kind to yourself

I sometimes call this ‘taking the Best Friend Test’. Treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding that you would treat a friend. When the negative self-talk creeps in ask yourself ‘Would I talk to my best friend like this?’. If the answer is ‘no’ then it’s time to reframe that negative self-belief and and speak kindly to yourself. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, and don't compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their own journey, and there is no right or wrong way to live.

Set realistic goals

When you set goals that are too difficult to achieve, you are setting yourself up to feel failure that can keep you in a cycle of negative self-talk and self-loathing. Instead, set realistic goals that are challenging enough to feel worthwhile, but not so difficult that they are unachievable. Knowing you’ve achieved what you set out to do can be a real self-esteem boost!

Look after your body

Eating healthily, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are all important for your physical and mental health. Taking steps to care for your body from the inside out can improve your health and emotional wellbeing, making you feel better about yourself overall.

Spend time with positive people

The people you spend time with can have a big impact on your self-esteem. Surrounding yourself with

people who make you feel good about yourself, who support your goals and want the best for you will be far more helpful to your outlook on life than spending time with ‘energy vampires’ and critics.

Be grateful for what you have

Taking the time to appreciate the good things in your life can help you focus on the positive aspects of yourself and your life. This can boost your self-esteem and help you feel more content. These don’t have to be huge things either - small, everyday moments can have an impact. Why not try keeping a

gratitude journal for a few weeks. Before you go to bed, write down three things you’ve been grateful for that day. Stuff like your morning coffee, the sun shining or a chance meeting with a friends can be happy moments that are easily lost in our memories, but can be really uplifting.

Improving your self-esteem is a journey, not a destination. It takes time and effort, but with persistence, and perhaps with the help of therapy it is possible.There will be ups and downs along the way, but it is important to remember that you are not alone.

I hope you find these blogs interesting and helpful. If you’d like to read more of my musings you can subscribe to my blog at and follow me on Facebook at

Useful Resources

VIA Institute on Character ~ check out the Strengths Survey

Gratitude Journalling ~ free printable templates

Contact me

Contact me at to discuss how counselling might be helpful for you. I am currently working face to face from my therapy room in Falkirk, and online.


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