Low Self Esteem
About This Course
Learn evidence-based scientific ways to build self-esteem
In this six week course, you’ll learn different ways to build self-esteem.
Course created and written by
Dr Joseph Kekulawala is a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. His last public appointment was at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He is passionate about improving access to quality mental health care globally.
About this course
Learn evidence-based scientific ways to build self-esteem
In this six week course, you’ll learn different ways to build self-esteem. We believe how to improve low self-confidence can be taught to anyone willing to learn and practice the skills.
By taking this self-help course, you’ll develop a foundation of skills to build self-esteem and improve how you relate to people. Week 1 is an introduction before we dive into more advanced topics. We will cover core beliefs, becoming aware of your feelings, thought challenges, self-compassion, toxic friendships, assertive behaviour and so much more. Read on to learn more.
Why we created this course.
Low self-esteem is prevalent, especially among young people. We don’t speak enough about it. Millions of people suffer in silence, alone and struggle to get help. How to improve low self-confidence, build self-esteem we believe can be taught. With the advances in technology, we think it can now be effectively taught online.
How this course is different
Each week of this course is divided into five parts:
- Educational lessons at the start,
- Quiz to aid self-reflection in the middle,
- Aided self-reflection questions to get you thinking more,
- Tailored suggestions,
- Action plans and worksheets.
Depending on how you answer the questions in our quiz, you will get specific feedback and suggestions each week. The feedback and suggestions you take away from this course will be unique to you.
If two people were to do this course, the chances that they would get the same feedback and suggestion would be about 1 in 100,000.
Our IT professionals and mental health experts have worked together to create a system that provides specific feedback and suggestions.
Why do we do this?
You are unique. We want to give you answers, feedback, and solutions that best suit you.
The reasons why you and someone else might struggle with low self-esteem will be different. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t feel good about themselves, which is why we want to give everyone the answers that best suit them.
Key aspects of this course
Discover how to improve low self-confidence by breaking down unhealthy assumptions and negative core beliefs. Learn about radical self-acceptance, a DBT skill, self-compassion and positive qualities journaling. Troubleshoot the common roadblocks to improving friendships and moving away from toxic relationships.
We also cover perfectionism, unwinding negative core beliefs and moving away from a critical mindset. The course ends with early warning signs, self-care plans and how to manage setbacks.
Is that this course will help improve your self-esteem. Form part of your wellbeing plan and be a tool alongside other supports you get. We want to get you thinking, and understanding yourself. Our hope is for you to experience lasting change when it comes to your self-esteem and confidence.
Good News! We have opened access to Week 1 of the learning material
- Who is this course for?
- What to expect from this course?
- Introduction to self-esteem
- Origins of low esteem
- Self-esteem models & theories
- Factors that influence self-esteem
- Impacts of having a low self-esteem
- Self-esteem & mental health, overlap
- How professional support can help
Who is this course for?
This is a self-help program for anyone wanting to build self-esteem. Learn how to improve low self-confidence? Do you feel incompetent, unloved, or inadequate? Do you struggle with criticism and rejection? Do you hide away from social situations, avoid trying new and challenging things, or put yourself down a lot? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, this course is for you.
As long as you have basic reading skills, this course is appropriate for you, regardless of your sex, ethnicity, and nationality. Low self-esteem often co-occurs with many other mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders,and alcohol and drug problems. If you suffer from any of these conditions, we recommend that you seek professional support before embarking on this course. However, keep in mind that you can still take this course as a form of supplementary treatment, along with other forms of support and therapy.
If you are under 18 years of age, we advise you to take this course under adult supervision, as you may find some of the content complex and/or triggering.
What to expect from this course?
The main concepts within this course come from therapeutic techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Humanistic Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
CBT is the most common type of therapy used to build self-esteem. It is a short-term therapeutic approach, which is based on the idea that people can change their behavior by changing the way they think. CBT can support you to build self-esteem by helping you recognize the limiting beliefs you hold about yourself, your worth and your abilities. In the long run, CBT can help you challenge these negative beliefs and replace them with more balanced, helpful thinking patterns.
Humanistic Therapy is based on the idea that all individuals already have the qualities that they need to flourish inside them. This therapeutic approach encourages curiosity, creativity, empathy, and intuition to help people reach their full potential. In turn, this process also boosts self-esteem. On the other hand, Mindfulness-Based Therapy makes use of mindfulness techniques, such as mindful movement (e.g., yoga) and meditation, to help build self-esteem.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioral therapy that combines mindfulness techniques with self acceptance and a commitment to values-driven action. ACT encourages people to accept their own thoughts and feelings, instead of fighting against them. ACT also promotes awareness of one’s core values and teaches skills to help people take action towards creating a rich, full and meaningful life.
Throughout the entirety of this course, we will draw on skills from each of these treatment modalities, whilst guiding you to create and try out your own self-care plan. Remember that just reading the course content alone won’t do you much good, apart from broadening your theoretical knowledge on self-esteem. To get the most out of this course, you’ll need to practice and persist with the skills to make a true difference in your life.
We want to emphasise to you that change is a gradual process, especially when it comes to mental health. Don’t expect major results straight away and you can bank on there being barriers and setbacks as you progress on this journey. However, don’t let this turn you off. If you fully engage in this course from start to finish (and beyond), we are confident you will be able to make positive changes to your self esteem. Note that full engagement involves drawing on the knowledge and skills you learn from this course and applying them in your day-to-day life.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball
This course should help you to…
- Understand self-esteem and the factors that affect it
- Identify the negative thoughts and beliefs that you have about yourself and learn how they impact your self-esteem
- Identify troubling situations and conditions that impact your self-esteem, such as a toxic school environment or unhealthy relationships
- Challenge negative thoughts about yourself that are keeping you stuck
- Forgive yourself
- Gain a balanced perspective, focus on the positives more and encourage yourself
- Accept your limitations and who you are as a person
- Improve your confidence
All this sounds great, but it is no easy feat. Of course, we acknowledge that this self-esteem stuff is challenging and takes a lot of hard work. We are here to help and support you as you progress through this course and work towards developing healthier self-esteem. We will guide you, help you set realistic goals and encourage you to accomplish them. Your job is to put in the work and try your best to have an optimistic mindset. You can do this!
The course runs for 6 weeks in total. Each week has its own set of goals to work towards:
- Understand what this course is about.
- Get an introduction to low self esteem.
- Understand how low self esteem develops and how it is maintained.
- Increase awareness about self esteem and mental illness.
- Intro to CBT.
- Learn how thoughts, behaviours and feelings are connected.
- Learn how to improve low self-confidence using acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) skills.
- Stop conscious comparisons that bring you down.
- Learn how to improve low self-confidence using dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) skills.
- Add journaling a simple self-care tool to help build self-esteem.
- Learn about core beliefs
- Try to figure out what yours are.
- Find out ways to challenge your core beliefs.
- Challenge perfectionism.
- Learn ways to use mindfulness to manage critical thoughts.
- Making connections.
- Presenting yourself well.
- Assertive behavior.
- Body language.
- Saying no.
- Negotiation techniques.
- Building confidence in others.
- Personal action plan.
Introduction to low self-esteem
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is the way we look at, think about and value ourselves. In other words, it refers to our overall opinion of ourselves and is separate to the situation we are in. Self-esteem is determined by many factors including:
- Life experiences
- Sense of belonging
Your Self-esteem can determine whether you:
- Show kindness towards yourself
- Believe that you matter and that you are good enough
- Have good mental health
- Are able to form healthy and secure relationships with other people
- Have realistic expectations and goals
- Are resilient and cope well with stress
- Make good decisions and set healthy boundaries
What is low self-esteem?
Self-esteem exists on a continuum and can be measured. If you rank low on a self-esteem measure or scale, that means you have ‘low’ self-esteem. This can have serious impacts for your health and wellbeing and is therefore something to address. Low self-esteem is often defined as …
As mentioned in the sections above, low self-esteem is often associated with a lack of self-worth and confidence. We all feel a little low at times or upset with ourselves because of certain situations, however, low self-esteem is more than that. People with low self-esteem hold a negative view of themselves almost all the time.
Some common characteristics of people with low self-esteem are:
- Low mood or constant feelings of sadness
- Persistent nervousness or anxiety
- Avoiding social situations
- Feeling inadequate and neglecting their own needs, whilst putting others’ needs before theirs
- Difficulty trusting their own judgement
- Comparing themselves negatively to others
Having a good dose of self-esteem is important. However, having really high self-esteem is not that great either. People with really high self-esteem scores tend to overestimate their skills and abilities. They think that they are entitled to succeed. As a result, they suffer from a lot of relationship and social problems because they rub people up the wrong way and aren’t willing to work on their own shortcomings. This is a perfect example of the proverb “too much of anything is good for nothing”.
Self-esteem and mental health overlap
Often, persistent low self-esteem is either a precursor to or the result of other psychological disorders. This does not mean that you have a psychological problem if you have low self esteem. However, we do recommend that you speak to a mental health professional about it, as you may be at a higher risk of developing one in the future. In addition, really high self-esteem can also have roots in psychological problems.
Some conditions associated with self-esteem include:
Low self-esteem and depression share many similar characteristics, but they are not the same. Depression is more than just feeling sad or having low confidence and self-worth, it is a clinical condition that often depletes you of energy and makes everyday activities harder to complete. However, it is important to keep in mind that low self-esteem can be a risk factor for depression. Depression can also lead to low-self esteem, as people withdraw from their usual activities and think more negatively about themselves than they otherwise would.
Some similarities between depression and low self-esteem are:,
- Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
- Substance abuse
- Social withdrawal
- Aggression and irritability
- In extreme cases, thoughts of suicide
Anxiety refers to feelings of unease, worry, or fear. These feelings can range from mild to severe. People with anxiety disorders often have low self-esteem as well. Anxiety, by its very nature, can lead us to doubt ourselves and our ability to cope with threat. This can result in an overall negative view of the self (aka low self-esteem). Research has indicated that adolescents with low self-esteem were significantly more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, compared to those with healthy self-esteem.
Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, ranging from major depression to an extremely elevated state called mania. Similar to depressive disorders, the low moods associated with bipolar disorder often come with low self-esteem. On the other hand, the manic episodes come with elevated self-esteem, which can be just as harmful. In these elevated states, people often have an inflated or ‘grandiose’ view of themselves, which can lead them to engage in risky behaviours with serious consequences (e.g. gambling, promiscuity, substance use, reckless driving etc.).
Just like the name suggests, personality disorders affect a person’s personality. People with personality disorders have a fixed pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving. They find it difficult to perceive and relate to other people or situations. This causes major problems in their normal day-to-day lives, relationships, social activities, work, and school.
Low self-esteem is often seen with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a personality disorder where people experience intense, uncontrollable emotions for an extended period of time. On the contrary, elevated self-esteem is associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a condition where people have an intense need for attention and admiration from others.
Origins of low self-esteem
Early life experiences
Often, the beliefs you have about yourself come from early life experiences. Learning happens in a variety of ways. Direct encounters, the media, witnessing what others do, and listening to what others say can all contribute to the learning process. This continues throughout life, although self-perceptions and aspects of our personality are mostly formed earlier in life. This means that your childhood experiences, family, culture, the schools you attended, and the interactions you had with your classmates probably shaped your deeply held attitudes and opinions about yourself.
If you have developed particularly negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself, you have probably had several negative experiences that have led to it. Take a moment to think of any experiences or events, both positive and negative, that have clearly shaped how you see yourself today. What comes to mind? Are the memories mainly pleasant or unpleasant? How have these life events shaped who you are? Let’s talk about some common negative childhood experiences that can damage self-esteem.
Punishment, neglect, or abuse
Children who are mistreated, punished frequently, neglected, abandoned, or abused often experience an array of psychological problems later in life. These children likely grow up believing very negative things about themselves, which undoubtedly takes a huge toll on their self-esteem.
Not living up to parents’ standards
Punishment doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. Verbal criticism can also take a toll on self-esteem. For instance, if your parents always criticized you as a child for your weaknesses, instead of acknowledging your strengths, you are more likely to have grown up focusing on your flaws and holding negative views of yourself.
Being the odd one out
Have you ever felt like you are the odd one out in your family, school, or friendship group? Being different is completely okay. After all, we are all unique in our own ways. However, being different may not work out well for some children. These children may grow up overshadowed by their other siblings, classmates, or friends. Their talents and positive attributes may go unacknowledged, unnoticed or even ridiculed. In the long run, children who feel overshadowed and ignored, grow up with negative beliefs about themselves such as “I’m weird” or “I’m inferior”.
Children need praise for their good behavior, as this provides them with motivation and helps them develop important life skills. Without this praise, children can feel unworthy.
Not fitting into beauty standards
Most children get really concerned with the way they look during late childhood and adolescence. They become influenced by beauty standards that are promoted in the media or even by their family or peers. This becomes problematic when these standards are not realistic or even healthy. As a result, many children grow up thinking they are unattractive or even unlikeable.
Family’s place in society
The way your family is seen or treated by others in society can influence your self-esteem or the way you see yourself and your value. For instance, if your family or the group you belong to is or has been subjected to racism, prejudice, or hostility, you are more likely to have damaged self-esteem.
Childhood trauma can include a range of extreme experiences such as psychological trauma, neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, witnessing the abuse of a sibling or parent, or having a mentally ill parent. It can also involve bullying and chronic stress due to social and environmental factors (e.g. parental conflict, family financial stress etc.). These events can significantly damage a child’s self-esteem. Research has indicated that childhood trauma survivors often grow up with negative feelings like shame, guilt, and poor self-image.
Furthermore, childhood trauma is also a risk factor for mental illness. Evidence has shown that people with histories of childhood trauma are significantly more likely to develop a mental disorder, in comparison to others.
Negative core beliefs
The experiences we talked about in the previous section were all things that occurred during childhood. This brings us to an age-old question in the field of mental health, that is,‘why and how does the damage from negative childhood experiences persist, even when the situations and problems change’. In other words, why might someone with childhood trauma, who goes on to lead a successful work and family life, still feel inadequate and unlovable?
A major reason for this is the concept of negative core beliefs. These are conclusions about ourselves that we arrived at when we were young, largely as a result of what we went through. For instance, a child who has been criticized a lot would most likely develop the core belief “I am not good enough”. This will make sense to them during that time because they are unable to think of any other explanation for why they are being criticized. Subsequently, negative core beliefs like this one get strongly implanted into the child’s mind and persist into adulthood unless challenged. Ultimately, they become evaluations of self-worth and self-esteem.
Some common examples of negative core beliefs are:
- “I am ugly”.
- “I am not good enough”
- ”I am incompetent”
- “I am unlovable”
- ”I am unimportant”
Self-esteem models and theories
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs
Maslow’s theory is not exactly a theory of self-esteem, instead, it is a theory of motivation. However, it talks about self-esteem quite a bit.
The Hierarchy of Needs Theory is a classic psychological theory from the 20th century that attempts to explain what motivates human beings. Maslow proposed that human needs can be organized into a pyramid or a hierarchy. The bottom of the pyramid starts with basic needs, or what Maslow called “psychological needs”, such as food, water, warmth and clothing. The next level relates to safety, and includes needs such as personal security, employment, and property. The third level consists of love and belonging, including the need for sexual intimacy, friends, and family. Self-esteem appears in the fourth level of the hierarchy, whilst the final level is called self-actualization.
According to Maslow, self-actualization is the highest stage of psychological development a person can achieve. It refers to feeling fulfilled or feeling that one is living up to their full potential. To reach this final stage, each of the other previous stages, including self-esteem must first be accomplished.
This is an evolutionary psychological theory. This means that the theory tries to explain self-esteem as a product of natural selection. According to the Sociometer Theory, self-esteem is a measure of effectiveness in a person’s social relationships and interactions. Furthermore, it also tracks acceptance and rejection from others.
How professional support can help
If you think you have a mental health condition that is affecting your self-esteem, such as depression or anxiety, we recommend that you see a mental health professional who can treat you. Even if low self-esteem alone is your main struggle, a mental health professional, therapist or counsellor might still be of benefit to you.
Your therapist will work with you on how to improve low self-confidence by helping you reduce negative self-talk, promote self-compassion, and set realistic goals. In addition, there are other techniques that are unique to each therapeutic approach. However, it is important to keep in mind that your therapist can only assist you through the process. You need to work on implementing the strategies outside of therapy sessions, be committed to change, and be patient.
Reducing negative self-talk
We all have that little voice inside of our head that comments on everything we do. At times it can be helpful. For instance, imagine you are trying to improve the quality of your diet and you suddenly start craving some fast food. That voice inside your head will probably remind you why you shouldn’t go act on your cravings. Sadly, however, this is rare for most of us. Most often, the voice in our heads tends to say negative things. It can be really harmful for people with low self-esteem, as it reinforces their core beliefs, ignites difficult emotions and makes their condition worse. This voice is what we call ‘negative self-talk’.
Therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Therapy can help people become fully aware of these negative thoughts and learn how to manage them effectively. Therapists will help you learn techniques that will aid you in the process of developing healthier self-talk. Learning how to improve self-confidence involves incorporating these techniques. Stay tuned for more on these skills later.
Learning self compassion
Self-compassion is the ability to love, accept and understand yourself. This is the foundation of self-esteem. Therefore, it makes sense to improve on it. There are three main components to self-compassion.
- Showing kindness to yourself
- Recognizing that no one is perfect
- Building awareness of painful emotions
According to research, people who work on their self-compassion have lower rates of depression and anxiety. In addition, they also have higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction. To help clients build self-compassion, therapists help them to change the way they look at and evaluate themselves. Many people compare themselves to others, which can take a negative toll on their confidence and self-esteem. For instance, seeing unrealistic beauty standards promoted on social media can make you feel unattractive and ‘lesser than’.
To help clients learn self-compassion therapists use a technique called unconditional positive regard (UPR). UPR is where the therapist shows unconditional acceptance, warmth and support to the person, no matter who they are or what they say and do. This means that the therapist will support the client regardless of whether they are expressing “good” thoughts, emotions and behaviors, or “bad” ones. Ultimately, the person will learn how to accept themselves by modeling the therapist’s behavior.
Another technique that therapists use for clients who have self-esteem and self-compassion problems is animal-assisted therapy (AAT). AAT is a complementary type of therapy that includes animals in the process. Often animals and human beings form emotional bonds with each other. These bonds can be used to intensify emotional wellbeing. For instance, animal affection can help patients build self-esteem.
Goal setting is another technique that therapists use to help people build-self esteem. Goal-directed therapy assists people in complying with their priorities. The therapist works with the person to set realistic and satisfying goals. They may also teach time management skills.
Goal-directed therapy starts with the therapist helping the patient make a list of short-term objectives they want to achieve. However, the goals on the list will all be realistic and fulfilling. For example, daily exercise or a daily 30-minute mindfulness session. The goals are broken down into smaller steps to make them easier to achieve. When a specific goal is completed, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine which is associated with happiness and motivation. The person feels a sense of achievement and gains some new evidence that challenges their negative core beliefs. Accordingly, self-esteem can be boosted by achieving goals.
So you’ve learnt a bit about body image. Our education modules are long, so well done!
At Epsychonline, we believe that getting better also involves learning a bit about yourself. So our aided self-reflection page helps you do just that. You’ll encounter these pages each week as you go along.
The following three questions will help you to prepare for this course. In addition, they will help you understand what barriers stand in your way to getting the most from this course.
Depending on your answers, we will provide tailored feedback. This specific feedback or suggestion is available at the end of each week.