What is low self esteem and tips to improve it by The Skill Collective psychologists and counsellors in Subiaco Perth.png


Self-esteem is an evaluation of our self-worth, which can be how we see ourselves across most situations (i.e. global self-esteem), or in certain areas (i.e. specific, as in the case of how you perform at work, or how you are as a partner).[1] Self-esteem is highly subjective – after all, it’s how we think and feel about ourselves – in essence, how much we value ourselves.[2] As a fundamental part of our being, it’s easy to see how self-esteem affects so many areas of our lives, from our body image to how interact in relationships, how we show up at work and whether we feel comfortable speaking up.[1]


Low self-esteem occurs when we judge ourselves negatively, and this can either be global (“I’m a loser”) or a specific (“No one will want to date me”) in nature. [2] It tends to develop in childhood in response to a build up of negative experiences (e.g. bullying, or poor relationship with parents), and it is often maintained by constant self-criticism over the years.[1]


Over the years we’ve worked with countless individuals who experience low self-esteem, and how low self-esteem ‘looks’ varies widely. Some characteristics of low self-esteem include:

  • Feeling dissatisfied, or unhappy, about yourself.

  • Seeing the glass as half full, particularly where you’re concerned.

  • Having negative automatic thoughts about being weak, not good enough, flawed, useless, worthless, a failure, unattractive, or unlovable.

  • Constantly scrutinising yourself (appearance, actions, achievements).

  • Fearing that others will disapprove or criticise you.

  • Feeling insecure.

  • Being self-protective and avoiding stepping outside your comfort zone due to a fear of failure or of making any mistake.

  • Having a low sense of self-worth.

  • Reacting more severely to failure compared to most people.

  • Lacking confidence around others, and often appearing as shy, withdrawn, quiet, awkward, or unable to adequately express yourself.

  • Limiting interactions with others, including avoiding invitations, not contributing to conversations, or giving brief answers to deflect attention away from you.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.


Low self-esteem can have a wide-ranging impact on an individuals’ physical, psychological, and social functioning, and dragging down your overall quality of life. Below are just some ways in which you may be affected.


PHYSICAL IMPACT OF low self-esteem [1]

  • Constantly working to please others and avoid negative judgement can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout.

  • Constant stress and anxiety can also lead to muscle tension and headaches.

Check out our blog post for more information about unhelpful thinking styles!



  • When you have a low opinion of yourself, thinking errors can keep you locked in a negative cycle. You end up paying more attention to signs you’re not good enough, and you can be dismissive of praise and positive feedback wherein you view positive outcomes as being due to luck, or because someone is taking pity on you.

  • In our work we also often see social comparison, and perfectionistic coping styles commonly co-occur with low self-esteem theskillcollective.com/blog/low-self-esteem-perfectionism.

  • Low self-esteem is linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and suicide. [1] [2]

  • The onset of mental health issues itself may also lower self-esteem (e.g. doubting one’s ability to work if experiencing debilitating anxiety). [1]

  • Poor coping styles (e.g. alcohol and drug misuse, self-harm) may be utilised to distract from feelings of inadequacy, and reinforcing negative beliefs about yourself. [1]


Low self-esteem can have a significant impact on your social life:

  • Procrastination may creep in – not only at school or work, but also when it comes to making plans – due to a fear of disapproval from others.[3]

  • Worrying about what others think of you and not feeling good enough can lead you to hold back when socialising, or adopt a version of you that you think is more likeable and acceptable. This can lead to feelings of loneliness when it seems that no one knows the real you, or you may withdraw from interacting with others because you feel unworthy of their company


Low self-esteem touches so many areas of life, and can really impact on your everyday experience. The good news is that there are options when it comes to improving self-esteem; be prepared though to work on for a period of time – we often find that low self-esteem has built up over several decades, and we are working on shifting how you fundamentally see yourself.


So much of self-esteem is derived from your beliefs, judgements, and attitudes about yourself and your abilities. Thus, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – or looking at the link between your thoughts and your feelings – is an ideal starting point for improving low self-esteem.[1][3][4]

As part of CBT you may look at changing the critical self-evaluations you make of yourself, building skills to become more assertive, and developing kindness to yourself.[1][4][5]

There is also increasing research into variations of CBT that are demonstrating positive impact when it comes to improving self-esteem; these are anchored on the premise that negative beliefs and perceptions of self are critical in the development and maintenance of low self-esteem. Examples include Schema Therapy, Self-Compassion Therapy, Mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


Schema therapy explores how early maladptive schemas (pervasive self-defeating memories and emotions) developed during childhood/adolescence and have elaborated over life. These lead to maladaptive coping styles and modes that serve to reinforce the maladaptive schemas. Schema therapy focuses on helping individuals reduce maladaptive coping styles and modes, and decreasing emotions and shifting cognitions connected to the early maladaptive schemas.[6]

compassion-focused therapy, mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy (act) for low self-esteem

These three approaches are discussed together as there are common factors in how they improve self-esteem.

Compassion-focused therapy focuses on helping individuals experiencing high levels of shame and self-criticism develop a kinder view of self and others, and on openness to compassion from others.[7]

Mindfulness can help individuals develop healthier self-esteem through adopting a non-judgemental and non-reactive stance towards critical thoughts, feelings, and sensations.[8] By remaining present and in the moment, it can draw an individual away from ruminations about past negative events and self-critical thoughts. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been identified as having overlap with Compassion-Focused approaches, which in itself draws on mindfulness.[9] including self-kindness being closely linked to self-acceptance, acceptance of emotional experiences, and common humanity (central to self-compassion). Mindfulness is a feature of both Compassion-focused and ACT, as they emphasise defusion from self-criticism, acceptance of strong negative emotions.

If low self-esteem is becoming a problem for you, why not Contact Us for a tailored approach? Our team has years of experience working with low self-esteem and its linked mental health conditions (e.g. social anxiety, depression, substance use).



[1] Guindon, M. (2010). Self-esteem across the lifespan: Issues and interventions. Routledge.

[2] Rosenberg, M., Schooler, C., Schoenbach, C., & Rosenberg, F. (1995). Global self-esteem and specific self-esteem: Different concepts, different outcomes. American Sociological Review60, 141. https://doi.org/10.2307/2096350

[3] Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Westbrook, D. (2017). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.

[4] Taylor, T., & Montgomery, P. (2007). Can cognitive-behavioral therapy increase self-esteem among depressed adolescents? A systematic review. Children and Youth Services Review29, 823-839. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2007.01.010

[5] Warren, R., Smeets, E., & Neff, K. (2016). Self-criticism and self-compassion: Risk and resilience. Current Psychiatry15(12). Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Self-Criticism.pdf.

[6] Young, J.E., Klosko, J., & Weishaar, M.E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. Guilford.

[7] Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic benefits of compassion-focused therapy: An early systematic review. Psychological Medicine, 45, 927-945. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/6E1FB22CFABD2B96AC7DE0B473774F9F/S0033291714002141a.pdf/psychotherapeutic-benefits-of-compassion-focused-therapy-an-early-systematic-review.pdf

[8] Randal, C., Pratt, D., & Bucci, S. (2015). Mindfulness and self-esteem: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1366-1378. doi 10.1007/s12671-015-0407-6  

[9] Yadavaia, J.E., Hayes, S.C., & Vilardaga, R. (2014). Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to increase self-compassion: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Contextual Behavioural Science, 3, 248-257. doi: 10.1016/j.jcbs.2014.09.002