In this article
Each year in England 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression each week in England. Research suggests that people with low self-esteem may be at a greater risk for developing depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm.
What is self-confidence?
Self-confidence is a state of mind where you have a positive and assured belief in your own abilities. It is the feeling of being capable in various aspects of your life. This can vary depending on the situation you are in. You may feel very confident in one area and not so confident in another area; it is completely normal and healthy for self-confidence to fluctuate depending on the situation.
Having self-confidence is a positive character trait. It is a healthy and balanced sense of self-assurance that comes from recognising your strengths and acknowledging that you can face challenges, even if they are unfamiliar or difficult. Some people may naturally have higher levels of self-confidence, while others might struggle with self-doubt. Difficult life experiences can impact upon a person’s self-confidence; however, self-confidence can be developed and improved through self-awareness, setting realistic goals and achieving them, learning from failures, seeking and absorbing positive feedback, and practising self-compassion.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is based on our values and beliefs about ourselves. It is how we perceive ourselves, how we feel that other people perceive us and how much we value ourselves.
Your self-esteem can affect your everyday life, and whether you:
- Can make decisions confidently and assert yourself.
- Can recognise and have confidence in your own strengths.
- Like and value yourself as a person.
- Can take care of yourself and your own needs.
- Can show understanding and kindness towards yourself.
- Feel able and confident to try new things.
- Can forgive yourself for making mistakes.
- Believe you are good enough.
- Believe that you and your feelings matter.
Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. The people around us, including family, friends, teachers and social media, all send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. Stress and difficult life events can also impact on how we see ourselves. Your personality can also affect self-esteem, as some people will naturally be more positive in their approach to life than other people.
There are many reasons why someone may have low self-esteem, including:
- Having physical health problems.
- Having mental health problems.
- Being abused or neglected.
- Being bullied.
- Experiencing relationship and friendship issues.
- Experiencing childhood trauma.
- Experiencing trauma as an adult.
- Having difficulties at work.
- Losing your job or having difficulty finding employment.
- Financial worries.
- Housing issues.
There are also many other life events that can impact on your self-esteem, and people also respond to things differently depending upon things like coping mechanisms and support networks. We all have times when we lack confidence and do not feel good about ourselves; however, when low self-esteem becomes a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health and our day-to-day lives.
What are the differences between self-confidence and self-esteem?
Self-confidence is when you believe in your own abilities, whereas self-esteem is about valuing yourself as a person regardless of your achievements. Both self-confidence and self-esteem are important for mental well-being and they can have influence over each other. Someone with high self-esteem may find it easier to have self-confidence.
A healthy amount of self-esteem is necessary in order to have the self-confidence to face life’s challenges and participate in things you find enjoyable and fulfilling.
How low self-esteem can affect you
Low self-esteem can have a significant impact on various aspects of your life, affecting your emotional, mental, and even your physical well-being.
Some of the ways low self-esteem can affect you include:
- Mental health issues – prolonged low self-esteem can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and even eating disorders. Negative self-perceptions can become deeply ingrained and contribute to a negative cycle of thoughts and emotions that can be hard to escape from. Breaking the cycle from such thoughts is not an easy task and will often require the help of a mental health professional.
- Developing unhelpful coping strategies – this can include things like smoking or using drugs or alcohol.
- Physical health – low self-esteem can cause some physical symptoms. These could be stress-related conditions, for example having trouble sleeping, and even a weakened immune system. Having low self-esteem can impact on how well you look after yourself in terms of having a healthy diet and doing regular exercise. Your emotional well-being can impact on your physical health.
- Negative emotional impact – low self-esteem can lead to negative emotions such as sadness, worry, frustration and anger. You might doubt your abilities and self-worth, leading to a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings. If you have low self-worth, you are unlikely to feel content and fulfilled in your day-to-day life.
- A negative impact on your relationships – low self-esteem can impact on your ability to form and maintain relationships with those around you. It may lead you to avoid being in social situations or have less contact with family and friends. If you feel socially isolated, this can impact on your self-esteem even further.
- Performance at work or school – low self-esteem may impact on your self-confidence, therefore you may doubt your ability to achieve. This may mean that you do not do as well as you could have done if you had more faith in yourself.
- Decision-making – low self-esteem can impact on your confidence to make decisions. You may be fearful of making the wrong decision which may mean that you miss opportunities.
- Perfectionism – due to having low self-esteem, you may feel the need to be perfect in everything you do. This can be mentally and emotionally exhausting and the inability to live up to your own high standards can lead to even more negative thoughts and feelings towards yourself.
- Body image issues – low self-esteem can lead to negative body image issues which can lead to unhealthy attempts at changing these.
Although low self-esteem is not a mental health problem in itself, it can be closely linked to having mental health difficulties. Having mental health difficulties can cause you to have low self-esteem. It may be harder to build your self-esteem if you have a mental health problem, and you may find it more difficult to cope and take proactive steps to improve your self-esteem. Some of the common signs of having low self-esteem can also be signs of a mental health difficulty. These can include:
- Worrying about being unable to do things.
- Feeling hopeless or worthless.
- Blaming yourself for things.
- Feeling negative feelings about yourself
How low self-confidence can affect you
Low self-confidence can affect you in a number of ways, including:
- Contribute to low self-esteem – people with low self-confidence can often have a negative perception of themselves. They may believe they are not good enough, not attractive enough, or not capable enough. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness.
- Anxiety and stress – low self-confidence can contribute to heightened levels of anxiety and stress. Worries about judgement from others and constant self-doubt can impact on your mental well-being. Anxiety in itself is common, and according to Anxiety UK more than 1 in 10 people are likely to have ‘disabling anxiety disorder’.
- Impact on physical health – stress and anxiety can contribute to physical health issues, including headaches, digestive issues, and weakened immune function.
- Social isolation – as with having low self-esteem, having low self-confidence can lead you to feel that people may judge or reject you. This can make social interactions difficult which may lead you to avoid being around people. Feeling socially isolated can then increase the negative feelings you hold about yourself.
- Limited opportunities – when you have low self-confidence, this can make you feel that you will fail at anything you may try. This may mean that you avoid opportunities that could lead to personal growth.
- Fear of failure – this fear can prevent you from taking on challenges which may lead to success.
- Underachievement – if you have low self-confidence, you may underachieve both professionally and personally as you do not have the self-belief to try new things.
- Negative self-image – if you have low self-confidence, you may have a negative perception of yourself. You may believe you are not good enough, attractive enough, or capable enough, leading to feelings of unworthiness.
- Lack of assertiveness – if you lack self-confidence, you may feel unable to be assertive in having your needs met or setting boundaries.
How to build your self-confidence and self-esteem
Many people experience low self-esteem or low self-confidence. Some people are only affected in certain situations, but for others it can impact on their day-to-day life and even be debilitating. When we have a healthy level of self-esteem, we usually feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.
There are things you can do in order to build your self-esteem and self-confidence, including:
- Get to know yourself and your thought patterns – take notice of experiences or thoughts that seem to increase or decrease your self-confidence or self-esteem. Focus on your abilities, strengths and achievements. Focus on the things that you are proud of, no matter how small these may seem.
- Think of yourself and speak to yourself as you would to a good friend – think of what you would say to a friend if they were speaking negatively about themselves and show yourself the same level of compassion you would show to them. You can do this by reprogramming your way of thinking. Think about the language you use when you talk about yourself, try to use more positive language when talking about yourself and use affirmations, for example “I am good enough”. Repeating positive statements about yourself can gradually shift how you see yourself.
- Practise self-acceptance – try to be more accepting of yourself in your day-to-day life. Rather than internally criticise yourself, try to praise yourself instead. Acknowledge your mistakes and accept them, learn from what you don’t like and you can try to make changes without being so critical of yourself.
- Being more assertive – this includes not being afraid to say no to things you do not want to do and setting boundaries with the people around you. If you are always trying to please other people, you are likely not prioritising your own needs.
- Identify goals that will challenge you – make sure these goals are achievable and also something that you will enjoy. Learning new skills or building on existing ones can boost your self-confidence. It could be related to your hobbies, career or personal interests.
- Look after yourself physically – engage in regular self-care activities, for example exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and practising relaxation techniques. When you feel good physically, it often helps to improve your overall self-esteem.
- Practise mindfulness and meditation – mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps you to be intensely aware of your senses and the feeling of being present in the moment without judgement. Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is going on inside our bodies and in our immediate environment, moment by moment. When we become more aware of the present moment, this can help us to enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves and other people better.
- Spend time only with people who make you feel good about yourself – make sure that the people you spend time with like you for who you are. Avoid people who are negative or critical.
- Celebrate your achievements – make time to treat yourself to experiences and activities that you value.
- Share your journey with other people – share with people that you trust the changes you are making. Their encouragement and feedback could be a good source of support for you.
If low self-esteem is deeply rooted or causes significant distress, you may find it difficult to improve your self-esteem on your own. If this is the case, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and strategies tailored to your specific needs.
Talking therapies can help, for example counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. Counselling is a talking therapy that involves a trained therapist listening to you and helping you find ways to deal with emotional issues. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems. CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a negative cycle. This can ultimately affect how you view yourself as a person, meaning that you will have low self-esteem.
If you feel that you need some help with your mental health, you can find out how to access NHS mental health services and where to get urgent help here.