Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. People with healthy self-esteem like themselves and value their achievements. While everyone lacks confidence occasionally, people with low self-esteem feel unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time (1).

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If you have positive self-esteem it means that you believe you are as "OK" as everyone else. If you have poor self-esteem you believe that you are not "OK" or that you are inferior to others (2). This can be remedied but it takes attention and daily practice to boost self-esteem.

Typically, a person with low self-esteem:

  • Is extremely critical of themselves
  • Downplays or ignores their positive qualities
  • Judges themselves to be inferior to their peers
  • Uses negative words to describe themselves such as stupid, fat, ugly or unlovable
  • Has discussions with themselves (this is called ‘self talk’) that are always negative, critical and self blaming
  • Assumes that luck plays a large role in all their achievements and doesn’t take the credit for them
  • Blames themselves when things go wrong instead of taking into account other things over which they have no control such as the actions of other people or economic forces
  • Doesn’t believe a person who compliments them.

How does your self-esteem affect your life?

Your self-esteem can affect how you feel, how you relate to other people, how you deal with challenges and how relaxed and safe you feel in your day to day life (2).

The way you feel

In order to be happy you need to like yourself. If you believe that you are not OK or if you are always putting yourself down, you are more likely to feel depressed, anxious or miserable than someone who has a positive view of themselves.

Your relationships

Low self-esteem can influence the way you behave with other people. For example: you might find yourself not saying what you really think, feel or want, and doing things that you don't want to do. Or you might find yourself trying too hard to please other people - agreeing with them and offering to do things for them in order to 'earn' their friendship (2).

Low self-esteem might also cause you to seek out reassurance from your friends because deep down, you may not be sure that they really like you. You might allow people to 'walk all over you' because you believe you have no rights and your needs don't matter. Being treated badly by others can in turn reinforce the belief that you are not good enough, and can lower your self-esteem even more.

Your willingness to move out of your comfort zone

Trying new things and moving out of our comfort zone is important for growing and developing as a person. Low self-esteem can hold you back from new experiences because you can become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.

How relaxed and comfortable you feel in the world

When your self-esteem is low, it can be difficult to feel relaxed and comfortable in day to day situations. For example: If you believe that you are not Ok, you might feel awkward and self-consious in many situations. You might worry too much about what others think of you, and might be constantly looking for signs that people don't like you. If someone doesn't acknowledge you, you might immediately assume that they don't like you.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of self-esteem

Low self-esteem can become a bit of a vicious circle. For example: If you don't feel OK in yourself you might withdraw from people, give out unfriendly vibes, not look people in the eye and not smile or initiate conversation. This kind of behaviour might make you appear cold and distant to others, and as a result they might make little effort to be friendly to you. You would then probably detect that people are not very friendly towards you, and then your belief that you are not very likeable would be reinforced.

This is called a "self-fulfilling prophecy".

      BELIEF - "I am not OK"

      BEHAVIOUR - Don't initiate conversation or look people in the eye

      FEEDBACK - Other people make little effort to be friendly towards you

      PERCEPTION - People don't like me; I am not OK (therefore the origional belief is reinforced)

Some people mistakenly think that good self-esteem means being "full of yourself" and arrogant, but this is not the case. People with good self-esteem don't need to be telling others how good they are, because they already feel OK about themselves.

Unfortunately it is often people with low self-esteem who boast or bully others. It can be their way of trying to build themselves up because they want to convince other that they are superior (if someone has to prove that they are superior, it is often because they do not feel OK about themselves) (2).

There are many benefits associated with good self-esteem - feeling good, taking up appropriate challenges, relating to people as equals and feeling relaxed in our daily lives.

Good self-esteem is not something you can achieve overnight but it is something you can work on over time. This is particularly important in situations where you are faced with setbacks or difficulties.

Click here for information about Improving Self-Esteem


1. Better Health Channel (2012)

2. Reach Out (2012)

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