Low Self Esteem

A woman with low self-esteem gives up on her task thinking she can not complete it.

Do I have low self esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the way you value yourself as a person. It encompasses not just confidence or liking yourself, but also your belief that you deserve love, that your thoughts and feelings have value, and that you are competent in the world. 

Low self-esteem can affect all aspects of your life. It impacts your relationships with others, your ability to define and achieve your goals, your social life, and your sense of belonging or feeling comfortable in your own skin.

People who lack self-esteem often have problems developing healthy supportive relationships, may have trouble flourishing in their careers, and can be oppressed by the feeling that they are never good enough.

Signs of low-self esteem

Low self-esteem can show up differently in different people. Sometimes it’s easy to identify. If you talk negatively about yourself to other people or put down your abilities, it’s likely you suffer from low self-esteem. In other people, it is more difficult to spot. Many people who suffer from low-self esteem have a constant stream of negative self-talk running through their heads which has a profound effect on their confidence and sense of comfort with themselves.

These are some common signs that you may suffer from low self-esteem:

Low Self-Confidence

Confidence is just one aspect of self-esteem. Low self-confidence means that you don’t trust yourself or your ability to navigate different situations that arise in life. You may feel overwhelmed by events and unable to manage by yourself. 

Negative Self-talk

Often people with low self-esteem have a negative chatter in their head, one that they may not even be aware of. That voice comments on things you do or fail to do, harshly criticizing you and saying things like, “you’re so stupid,” “you never do anything right,” “you’re going to fail.” This negative self-talk can undermine your belief in yourself and your abilities.

Lack of boundaries

People with low self-esteem often have trouble establishing healthy boundaries with others. Boundaries tell other people what you are willing to accept in order to feel safe and respected. If you have low self-esteem you may not feel entitled to establish or maintain those boundaries because you’re afraid that people will stop liking you or leave you.  

Trouble accepting positive feedback

Low self-esteem often makes a compliment or a positive comment seem untrustworthy. People who don’t have a high opinion of themselves can’t accept that others might not see them the same way. Positive feedback is often received with suspicion and distrust. Some people may even feel like they are being made fun of.

People pleasing

People who have a hard time valuing themselves often try to get external validation of their worth. They may put a great deal of effort into pleasing other people, sometimes to their own detriment. People pleasing often means ignoring your own needs in order to do what another person wants or needs. If you find yourself saying “yes” to things that you don’t want to do, or feeling guilty if you say “no,” you may have low self-esteem.

What causes low self-esteem?

Negative thoughts and beliefs

Negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself is one cause. These beliefs are often acquired in childhood when people receive negative messages about themselves from family members, teachers, or other adults in their lives. Children are especially vulnerable to absorbing these messages and integrating them into their identities. These messages can stay with you throughout your life unless they are challenged.


Physical, emotional or sexual abuse in childhood often leads to low-self esteem in adults. It is common for children to feel that they are to blame for the abuse and that the abuse occurred because they are bad. Other stressful experiences like the death of a parent or a difficult divorce can also contribute to low self-esteem. Children may feel that they are to blame for the divorce, or feel abandoned by the loss of a parent.

Lack of positive feedback 

You may not have had traumatic experiences in childhood but still suffer from low self-esteem. Sometimes children don’t receive sufficient attention, affection or encouragement from caregivers, leading them to feel they are not good enough or worthy of love. 

Coping with low self-esteem

Challenge negative thoughts

The negative chatter in your head can have a serious impact on your self-esteem.  These thoughts may become so automatic that you barely notice them. Try bringing your attention to these thoughts when they arise, notice how habitual many of them have become. When you start noticing these harmful thoughts, you can start talking back to them and challenging the ideas that lie behind them. These thoughts do not reflect who you are and can be replaced with positive self-talk.

Take care of your physical and mental health

Often people with poor self-esteem neglect themselves because they don’t believe they are worthy of care. If they are people pleasers, they may also be too  busy taking care of others to look after themselves. Exercise, time spent outdoors, rest and proper nutrition can all help you to feel better about yourself. Take time to pursue hobbies you enjoy and spend time with caring, supportive friends. When you look after your own needs, you are reminding yourself that you deserve to be well-cared for.

Invest in supportive relationships

Your relationships with others can have a huge impact on your mental health. Avoid spending time with people who make you feel bad about yourself or who don’t treat you with respect. Sometimes this means limiting contact with certain family members. Don’t be afraid to establish firm boundaries with people who negatively affect your self-esteem. Instead nurture relationships that are mutually supportive. Notice whether the people in your life appreciate you and treat you the way you deserve to be treated. 

Learn to be assertive

If you are accustomed to putting your own needs and desires last, it may take some practice to assert yourself. Your thoughts and feelings matter as much as anyone’s and deserve to be treated with respect. Speak up in a respectful manner about what you think or want in specific situations. Learn to say “no” without feeling that you are endangering your relationships. Healthy relationships are able to withstand difference and honesty. When you do say “yes” make sure it is because you want to, not because you are trying to please someone else. The Mayo Clinic has a great article on being assertive

Seek professional help

Psychological therapy can help you understand why you have low self-esteem and how to overcome it. At Tod Scott & Associates we have experienced counsellors who can offer individual, couples and family therapy. To read more about our individual therapy, please visit our individual therapy page

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute therapeutic advice.

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