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Self-esteem, also referred to as self-worth or self-respect, is an essential component of well-being. A low level of self-esteem can leave people feeling depressed or anxious, and can lead to bad choices, toxic relationships, or failure to live up to one’s full potential.
While low self-esteem can hold you back from succeeding at school or work, healthy self-esteem can motivate you to achieve more and navigate life with an optimistic attitude.
If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, it’s important to seek help. Working with a therapist can help you combat mental health challenges and reassess how you perceive yourself.
How common is low self-esteem?
Because low self-esteem is not a diagnosable condition, and the definition and concept of self-esteem vary, it’s difficult to tell how typical low levels of self-esteem are.
One longitudinal study on long-term global self-esteem changes in Americans found that:
- Women and adolescent girls suffered from lower self-esteem than men
- Self-esteem levels peaked around 60 years and then began to decline
In another study, 25% of adolescents in the United States reported struggles with low self-esteem.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Everyone lacks confidence from time to time, but people with low self-esteem feel like this regularly, or even all the time. Some signs that you may have low-self esteem include:
- Judging yourself harshly
- Lowered sense of self-efficacy
- Inability to identify positive qualities about yourself
- Comparing yourself to others
- Negative body image
- Social problems or relationship issues
- Talking or thinking about yourself negatively
- Finding it hard to accept and believe compliments
- Not taking credit for your achievements
- Feelings of worthlessness or depression
- Negative emotional valence
- Feeling irritated or agitated
- Feelings of stress and anxiety
Self-esteem issues also affect young children and adolescents. Young children with high self-esteem are confident to try new things and feel proud of what they can do. On the other hand, kids with low self-esteem feel unsure of themselves, give up quickly, and find it difficult to stand up for themselves.
If you’re unsure whether you’re struggling with low self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, which assess global self-esteem, are available online. It’s essential to keep in mind that self-esteem scale ranges are not a diagnosis, and the Rosenberg and Coopersmith measures of self-esteem should be shared with your mental health professional.
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Self-Esteem and Mental Health
The relationship between self-esteem and mental health is intertwined. According to recent research, individuals who based self-worth on external sources—such as appearance, approval from others, and socioeconomic status—reported higher levels of stress, anger, relationship issues, and higher levels of substance use. Meanwhile, individuals who based self-worth on internal sources—such as being a good person or adhering to morals—were found to have high self-esteem and were less likely to use drugs or alcohol or develop eating disorders.
Low self-esteem is associated with a variety of mental health challenges, including:
- Anxiety and stress
- Body image issues, such as eating disorders
- Substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol
The California Task Force on Self-Esteem also connected low self-esteem to issues such as violence and crime, academic failure, and responsible citizenship.
What should you do if you’re struggling with low self-esteem?
If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, there’s good news—there are several options to help you change how you think and feel about yourself. According to previous research, individuals with high self-esteem enjoy better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, and healthier lifestyles. Effective treatment options for low self-esteem include:
- Therapy: Psychotherapy and group therapy can help people improve their mental health and work toward healthy self-esteem levels.
- Accept compliments: When you’re struggling with low self-esteem or diminished feelings of self-worth, it can feel uncomfortable to accept compliments. However, accepting and giving compliments can play an essential role in how you think about yourself and boost your self-esteem level.
- Practice self-care: Practicing self-care by developing long-term healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a balanced diet and maintaining regular sleep patterns, can promote healthy self-esteem. Making time for activities you enjoy—whether that’s scheduling a virtual appointment with therapy dogs or spending time with friends—can also lead to a significant increase in self-esteem levels.
- Create time for physical activity: Physical activity sends endorphins to the brain, which helps combat depression and improve mood. Setting physical fitness goals, such as walking around the block once a day or enrolling at a local gym class, can help you work toward a more positive self-image.
- Find social support: Opening up to a trusted friend or family member can provide the opportunity to express your feelings. Your loved ones may show you that how they think of you is significantly different from your sense of self, which can help you change how you perceive yourself.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: We all have strengths and weaknesses. When you compare yourself to others, it’s easy to look for things in yourself about which you feel insecure. Spending too much time comparing yourself to others will only result in resentment. Counting your blessings and becoming conscious of social comparisons can help you look at your strengths and recognize your worth.
- Helplines: If you need immediate mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Finding the Right Therapist For Low Self-Esteem
If you’re struggling with mental health challenges related to self-esteem, it’s crucial to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. Standard therapeutic approaches to boost self-esteem levels include:
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: Research shows that psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective in increasing people’s self-esteem. In general, it helps people to understand the underlying causes of low self-esteem and begin to understand how past experiences impact one’s self-image.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals with self-esteem issues identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts by changing how they perceive themselves and developing more balanced beliefs.
- Mindfulness practices: According to a recent study, mindfulness helps individuals with self-esteem issues become more aware of thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and helps individuals work toward self-actualization and healthy self-esteem.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT incorporates components of CBT and mindfulness to help people take an acceptance approach, which can help promote healthy self-esteem levels.
If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a qualified therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the experienced therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you identify and challenge negative thoughts about yourself, develop a greater sense of self-efficacy, and boost your self-esteem levels.