When you have low self-esteem, it can have negative effects on virtually every aspect of life, including your relationships, job and health. Boosting your self-esteem takes work and probably won’t happen overnight, but mental health counseling can often have a very positive impact on how you feel about yourself.
Here are a few strategies based on different types of mental health counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy you can use to increase self-esteem:
1. Identify troubling conditions or situations
Think about situations or conditions that have a history of deflating your self-esteem. Once you’ve identified troubling situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. Common triggers might include:
- A work or school presentation
- A crisis at work or home
- A challenge with a spouse, loved one, co-worker or other close contact
- A change in roles or life circumstances, such as a job loss or a child leaving home
2. Become aware of thoughts and beliefs
Once you’ve identified troubling situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes what you tell yourself (self-talk) and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas. Ask yourself if these beliefs are true. Would you say them to a friend? If you wouldn’t say them to someone else, don’t say them to yourself.
3. Accept your thoughts
Instead of fighting, resisting or being overwhelmed by negative thoughts or feelings, try accepting them. You don’t have to like the thoughts, just allow yourself to feel them. It’s okay to have negative thoughts without needing to control, change or act upon them. Once you’ve accepted their existence, it can help to lessen the power of negative thoughts and their influence on your behavior.
4. Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
Your initial thoughts might not be the only way to view a situation and testing the accuracy of your thoughts can be helpful. Try asking yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logics, or whether other explanations for the situation might be possible. When you start, it may be hard to recognize inaccuracies in thinking because your long-held thoughts and beliefs feel normal and factual—even though many are likely simply opinions or perceptions.
As you work to challenge negative or inaccurate thinking, it’s important to pay attention to thought patterns that erode self-esteem. This type of thinking includes:
You see things as either all good or all bad. For example, “If I don’t succeed in this task, I’m a total failure.”
You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation. For example, “I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I’m not up to this job.”
Converting positives into negatives
You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don’t count. For example, “I only did well on that test because it was so easy.”
Jumping to negative conclusions
You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it. For example, “My friend hasn’t replied to my email, so I must have done something to make her angry.”
Mistaking feelings for facts
You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts. For example, “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.”
You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. For example, “I don’t deserve anything better.”
5. Focus on constructive thoughts
The next step is trying to replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Here are a few strategies to help you get started:
Use hopeful statements
Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Instead of thinking your presentation won’t go well, try telling yourself things such as, “Even though it’s tough, I can handle this situation.”
Everyone makes mistakes, however, mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. They’re isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
Avoid ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements
If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you might be putting unreasonable demands on yourself or others. Removing these words from your thoughts can lead to more realistic expectations.
Focus on the positive
Think about the parts of your life that work well. Consider the skills you’ve used to cope with challenging situations.
Consider what you’ve learned
If it was a negative experience, what might you do differently the next time to create a more positive outcome?
Relabel upsetting thoughts
You don’t need to react negatively to negative thoughts. Instead, think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, “What can I think and do to make this less stressful?”
Give yourself credit for making positive changes. For example, “My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged, which means that I accomplished my goal.”
Step back from your thoughts
Repeat your negative thoughts many times or write them down in an unusual way, such as with your nondominant hand. Imagine seeing your negative thoughts written on different objects. You might even sing a song about them in your mind. This can help you observe and assess thoughts and beliefs that often seem automatic.
Practice makes perfect
These steps might seem awkward at first, but they’ll get easier with practice. As you begin to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem, you can begin to counter them or change the way you think about them. This will help you realize and accept your value as a person. And as your self-esteem increases, your confidence and sense of well-being are likely to soar.
In addition to these suggestions, try to remember on a daily basis that you’re worth special care. To that end, be sure to:
Take care of yourself
Follow good health guidelines, like trying to exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables into your diet, and limit sweets, junk food and animal fats when possible.
Do things you enjoy
Start by making a list of things you like to do and try to do something from that list every day. Spend time with people who make you happy, and try not to waste time on people who don’t treat you well.