Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Self-esteem is a concept used to describe the way a person feels about themselves. Most of us don’t give much thought to our self-esteem, but Virginia Satir, who is thought of as the “mother of family therapy,” considered self-esteem or self-worth to be “the source of personal energy” (Satir, 1988). It makes sense that when we feel good about ourselves, we are more willing to work hard at our jobs, treat others with kindness and dignity, and take initiative for caring for our physical and mental health. That being said, if a person’s self-esteem is consistently low, it’s not all that surprising for them to be careless or indifferent at work, be harsh or emotionally distant with loved ones, and to neglect their own needs.
It’s also important to realize that self-esteem fluctuates, meaning that we all have days when our self-esteem is lower than we’d like it to be. However, this also means that we can take steps to increase it, even if we’ve been dealing with low self-esteem for a long time. If we think about self-esteem as being “the source of personal energy,” like Satir suggests, it makes sense that we would want to increase it as much as possible and find ways to keep it high. Below are a few ways that may help you to do that:
Challenge negative thoughts about yourself. This includes putting yourself down and comparing yourself to others. It’s easy to get caught up in our flaws or the mistakes that we make, but it’s important to remember that nobody is perfect. When you start having a negative thought about yourself, such as “I’ll never be able to do this” or “I can’t get anything right,” recognize that you are having that thought, and challenge it. A few ways to challenge these kinds of thoughts include asking yourself a few questions to conduct a quick “reality check,” putting the negative thought into perspective, and identifying other explanations for undesirable outcomes or situations.
Identify and utilize your strengths. We all have strengths, but chances are they are at the back of your mind when you are dealing with low self-esteem. There are many ways to identify your strengths, including thinking about the things you’re good at, asking your loved ones what they think your strengths are, or taking any number of online surveys, like this one: https://www.viacharacter.org/ Once you know what your strengths are, finding ways to use them regularly can help you remember your value.
Connect with others. Even though it can be hard to do this when you’re not feeling so great about yourself, being around positive people or loved ones can often give your self-esteem a boost. Doing things like meeting up with a friend, helping a colleague, volunteering, calling a family member to catch up, or doing something kind for a stranger are just a few ways that you can connect with others in a positive way and begin feeling better about yourself.
Identify the priorities and values in your life. Knowing what is important to you and making those things a priority can be refreshing and inspiring. Find a way to manage your time so that things that are important to you, such as family, friends, spirituality/religion, physical and mental health, safety, and career, among other things, have adequate time in your life. This may also be a good way to rid your life of things that are taking up too much of your time and energy that aren’t important.
Take care of yourself. This may seem obvious, but relatively easy to neglect ourselves and push our needs to the back burner when we have low self-esteem. If you start treating yourself like you are valuable and worthy of being taken care of, you’ll likely start believing it too. Accomplish this by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, going to therapy when you need it, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries with others, and engaging in hobbies, to name a few ideas.
Improving self-esteem requires work, but it doesn’t have to be hard if you attend to it regularly. Even if you’ve had low self-esteem for a long time, you can start doing things differently so that you start liking yourself again. Incorporating activities into your daily life that boost your self-esteem will make it easier to remember your value, even on the hardest days.
Satir, V. (1988). The new peoplemaking. Mountain View, CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.
Claira Hart is a therapist who enjoys working with children, families, and couples to help them overcome depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and family conflict. She is passionate about using a strengths-based approach in her work. received her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University and her bachelor’s degree in Family Studies and Psychology from the University of New Mexico.