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44 Tips to Boost Your Self-Esteem

I've written a lot about low self-esteem all over the internet. I thought it might be useful to collect some of the most popular tips in one place. So first... What is self-esteem? To put it simply, it's a measure of how you think and feel about yourself in relation to other people.

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If you always imagine other people are 'better' than you, you will be likely to lack confidence, feel anxious, and generally think negatively. This is actually unfair – to you! It means that you can't really give off your best, and may find life more of a struggle than it needs to be.

Onto Tip #1...

1. What causes low self-esteem?

There are more theories about self esteem than there are leaves on the tree outside my window, but if there's one thing I know after 10+ years of helping people with low self esteem, it's this:

Low self-esteem almost always results from how we are conditioned by other people.

If you were systematically diminished, insulted, criticized, or bullied, then you are more likely to have absorbed the negative messages about yourself from other people. Particularly if you were young when it happened.

Think about who these other people were and when you feel bad about yourself, take a moment to ask yourself: 'Hold on. Whose voice is that in my head?'

I bet it belonged to someone else originally.

Starting to override other people's conditioning of us is the first step to psychological independence; the real 'you' (that you should be listening to) can be much kinder and more reasonable about yourself.

2. But what is low self-esteem?

Please take a moment to read this next sentence:

Low self-esteem is a false perception of oneself.

OK. Now please go back and read it again.

Did you get that?

If you have low self-esteem, then you are better than you think you are.

This is the definition of low self-esteem.

When your self-esteem improves, it's because your self-knowledge has improved; just as the ugly duckling in Hans Christian Andersen's famous tale had to learn its true nature before it could become fulfilled.

But how do you tell if your self-esteem is too low?

We'll get to that next tip. For now, go back and read that one more time.

3. What are the signs of low self-esteem?

Contrary to popular belief, healthy self-esteem doesn't mean loving yourself no matter what you do. Shame, guilt, and self-reproach do have a place if we behave badly.

It's just that those with true low self-esteem tend to feel these things even when they don't behave badly.

People with genuine low-self-esteem tend to treat themselves badly, so ask yourself, do you feel:

  • You are morally worse than most other people?

  • That you have less appeal than most other people; that you are uglier?

  • You are stupider than most other people?

  • You are unlovable?

You might also feel:

  • Like never spending money on yourself or your looks because you feel you 'don't deserve it'.

  • Your opinions aren't as valid as other people's opinions.

  • Your low self-esteem is holding you back from really doing what you want to in life.

4. A diamond doesn't know its value to others

I wonder if you can identify with Joy...

The doorbell rang. She was perfectly on time. The first word she uttered was, 'Sorry!' She said the S-word three more times before we even got to my consulting room. Later, Joy told me she sometimes felt apologetic for existing.

She'd had therapy before and been diagnosed with low self esteem, but had unhelpfully been told to 'start loving yourself'. She told me (apologetically), 'The trouble was, he kept telling me to love myself but he didn't really tell me how to.'

Joy needed practical help.

I'm going to tell you how I helped Joy over the next few tips. But for now, remember one thing: a diamond doesn't know its value to others.

5. Are you spreading bad stuff about yourself?

Here's one thing that almost every person I've treated for low self esteem does (including our friend Joy above):

They take a specific negative incident, situation, or trait and generalize it to everything.

This is important to understand so you can spot yourself doing it, so here are 3 examples to fix it in your mind:

Example 1:

A) Suzy burns a meal she's prepared for her kids

B) She generalizes to: 'I'm such a lousy mum, I can't even cook a meal!'

Example 2:

A) Jake fails a maths test

B) From this he negatively generalizes to: 'I'm so stupid!' - (then, even worse) - 'I can't do anything right!'

We've magically gone from failing a maths test (specific) to being a failure at everything (pretty general!).

Example 3:

A) Samantha really likes a boy in her class but is too shy to speak to him. She is mortified when he asks her best friend out.

B) She generalizes this specific incident to: 'I'll never get a date; no one will ever like me!'

In psychology speak, this is known as 'globalizing' and if you do this for negative things, you'll feel bad about yourself.

Knowing you are doing it is the first step to challenging it.

If you catch yourself doing this then force yourself to find examples that contradict your own negative blanket statement. It's an effort, but it's so very worth it.

6. Will you please be fair to yourself?

Low self-esteem makes us magnify failures and personal faults. It also makes us minimize or completely discount successes and personal strengths.

Don't do this. Be fair. If other people say you are attractive, clever, kind, fun, or whatever, respect them enough to at least consider that what they say is a probability.

Remembering and dwelling on criticisms while discounting and forgetting compliments (or any positive feedback) is a very biased, off-balance way of travelling through life.

7. Are you sucking the satisfaction from success?

Is there any chance you feel like this sometimes?

'If it's not perfect then it's a total failure!'

In my years as a therapist I've found this is a very common approach to life taken by people with low self-esteem and general anxiety.

The idea that something is 100% useless unless it is 100% perfect, is a trap.

Low 'self-esteemers' often see things in very all-or-nothing terms. 'That family is just perfect! I'm just useless!'

Of course nothing in this world is perfect and no one is entirely useless. To stop this destructive black-or-white thinking, do this:

Think, 'If 100% is perfect and 0% is 'total failure' or 'totally useless!', how do I rate the meal I cooked?' This forces realism.

You might only give yourself 20% for the meal or your speech or whatever, but then look at that 20% and ask yourself: 'What enabled that 20%?'

And 'how can I build on that to get to maybe 25%?' This breaks down the perfect/disaster thinking which drives and maintains low self-esteem.

Learning to assess yourself in a more balanced way is vital for ongoing solid self-esteem.

8. What makes up solid self-esteem?

We've been talking a lot about low self-esteem, but we really need to know what makes for solid self-esteem. After all, if you don't know the destination, how are you going to get there?

Healthy self-esteem consists of:

  • Honest respect for your own abilities, potentials, and value.

  • Knowing your strengths and trusting in them.

  • Appreciation and open acceptance of your limitations.

  • Acceptance of these limitations whilst understanding that some limitations can be overcome.

  • Freedom from being overly concerned with what we imagine others think of us. Whilst accepting these perceptions do play a part in everyday life, remember they do not determine who we are.

As I mentioned before: a diamond doesn't know its own value, but it is still a diamond nonetheless. Remember that.

9. Disapprove of others' disapproval

Have you noticed that some people use disapproval as a weapon?

If you've had what amounts to a phobia of disapproval, then such people will scare and therefore control you if you play their games.

Seeing reality through a narrow and prejudiced lens of 'does this please or displease me?' makes people pretty tyrannical.

People who are quick to disapprove (even if they just imply disapproval) can make you on edge, to say the least.

Focus on what YOU think and want. If someone seems to disapprove, call them out on it. Ask them what their problem is. As weird as it sounds, you have every right to disapprove of their disapproval!

Ultimately, disapproval fails to deliver what it threatens. When the 'bomb drops', you learn there is no bomb. When you let people disapprove of you if they want and cease to worry, a whole new world of personal possibility opens before you.

10. Are you comparing your inside to others' outsides?

Here's a really common thing - feeling like you're not as good as others.

Do you think that perhaps the people you think of as the 'best' also have people that they feel inferior to?

Here's one way around this trap:

We need to distinguish between knowing and feeling.

For example, I know I am inferior to Bill Gates financially, or to Stephen Hawking intellectually; but this knowledge doesn't bother me one iota. Knowing you're inferior in some ways is very different from feeling inferior.

Knowledge that you might sometimes compare unfavorably to others may just be insight and perception. It's crazy to try to pretend that we are all as good as each other in all ways. (The 'self-esteem industry' has been guilty of this ridiculous artifice.)

There's one little quote I like to remember for this problem: "Don't compare your inside to other peoples' outside"

11. Here's how to stop feeling inferior

As I said above, one way to get over feeling bad because others are 'better' than us is to realise that this is no bad thing. We can know we're inferior in some ways without this making us feel bad.

So here's what to do if you find yourself feeling inferior to someone. Ask yourself: "Okay, exactly who do I feel inferior to?" Narrow it down. Emotional thinking is always sloppy, so tighten it up to make it less emotional.

There are close to 7.5 billion people on this planet (last time I counted). What kind of person do you feel inferior to? Rich people? Good looking people? Very academic people? People you view as accomplished? Most people aren't these things.

Now get even more specific; name names to yourself. "Actually, I feel inferior to Bob down the street." Why? How, specifically, is Bob better than you?

So from 'feeling inferior' we've gone to 'feeling inferior to specific types' to 'feeling inferior to Bob down the street'.

Now ask yourself in what ways Bob isn't superior to you. Does he have your humility? Wit? Life experience? Compassion? Emotional intelligence?

If we are too narrow with what constitutes 'good' or 'successful', then we're more likely to come off feeling worse. Believe me, 'Bob' has issues of his own.

12. Are you really being you?

It's so freeing when you give yourself permission to be yourself.

No one has written on his tombstone: "Here lies Ralph; he was quite like John."

All Ralph can be is Ralph (or the best possible version of himself); he ain't ever gonna be John.

Wanting to be someone else is okay(ish) when you're fifteen. But how can an impersonator ever be true to themselves? Being inspired by someone else means assimilating some of their traits into who you are. It doesn't mean trying to have their exact same life.

Low self-esteem thrives on people wanting to be someone they're not. This doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves as to what we can do, but it does mean that we can get by much better when we don't try to be someone else.

13. Square peg, round hole?

Do you remember Andersen's tale ‘The Ugly Duckling’? In it, a young swan felt a failure as a duckling because, well, it wasn't really a duckling, was it? How could it be a successful something that it was not?

If you feel inferior, imagine for a moment how you'd need to be to feel great about yourself. What would you need to look like, to own, to be doing?

Now reflect: Would all of that really be you? Or would it be like a swan posing as a duck?

14. Why perfectionism wrecks self-esteem

  • "If only my nose was straighter... then I'd be confident and happy!"

  • "If only I earned ten thousand more a year...then my life would be good!"

  • "If only I could be exactly the same as Bob...then I'd feel great about my/himself!"

Have you ever thought like that? Of course life doesn't work like that. Because much of what we feel inferior about is relatively superficial; the non-superficial part of us will always feel left wanting by external band-aid remedies.

Sure, you might have more confidence with a straighter nose for a while, but you are much more likely to forget about comparing yourself to others (either favorably or unfavorably) when you live your life in a sustainable way that utilizes your real core character strengths, values, and personal ideas.

15. Is self-forgiveness a problem for you?

Many people I have helped with self-esteem issues have problems with guilt, or shame over something they've done in the past. And so I have had to help them forgive themselves in order to move on.

Self-forgiveness doesn't mean making excuses; rather, it's about finding understanding. So ask yourself: What state were you in when you did that thing? When we are very emotional, we are, for a short time, 'not in our right mind'.

Were you:

  • Unduly stressed?

  • Not in full possession of all the facts?

  • Acting from the position of having suffered a very difficult past?

Again I'll emphasize mitigating circumstances aren't excuses but possible causes for past actions.

16. Are you being blackmailed?

Continuing on our topic of self forgiveness, think whether you've found it hard to forgive yourself because other people have had trouble forgiving you.

Consider: Are they using this as psychological blackmail with which to manipulate you?

One couple I helped involved a husband who himself had been unfaithful many times throughout his marriage. He found out his wife had had a brief affair and now, years later, still used it against her daily, pushing her 'guilt buttons'.

Have you found it difficult to move on because someone else is trying to stop you? Remember you were and are only human. The world will be a better place if you can move on from guilt and use your freedom to make more of a contribution to your community.

17. Are you going to 'pay' forever?

If you feel guilty for something you did, ask yourself: "Did I mean to cause pain to others or myself?"

None of us can always foresee consequences to our actions. Consider whether you meant to harm others, because we can all make mistakes.

What you meant to do and the effects of what you did may have been sharply at odds. If you did mean to harm others, then consider this: When's your release date?

If you had been 'convicted' of what you did, what would your punishment have been? And when is your punishment due to end, do you think?

18. Reinventing yourself

No matter what you've done, you can make a good life for yourself and others. Here's a story that shows what I mean...

In the 1960s, British politician John Profumo caused the so-called 'Profumo affair', which led to his own resignation and possibly the fall of the government at the time. But in the decades after this scandalous disgrace, all the way to his death, he did so much good.

Shortly after his resignation, Profumo began working as a volunteer, cleaning toilets at a charity hall in London.

He worked there for the rest of his life, eventually becoming chief fundraiser, raising large sums of money for the organization and totally turning it around.

The social reform campaigner Lord Longford said he "felt more admiration for Profumo than for all the men I've known in my lifetime".

We don't have to be defined by one act or even one period of our lives. In the same way that a person shouldn't rest on their laurels after one heroic act of goodness, feeling that now they don't have to make any efforts, a person shouldn't base everything on one action or one part of their life.

19. What would happen if you spoke your mind?

The next few tips are going to be along the theme of 'approval seeking' (or always wondering what other people think of you).

Some approval seeking is inevitable of course – after all, we all need friends.

But if we are led through life doing what we've come to believe is 'expected of us', then, in a way, we cease to exist, to live, and be real.

One way to make a start on this is to try speaking your mind. Not always, of course, but why should it always be you who has to 'tread carefully'? Start practicing speaking your mind a little more and let the 'consequences' sort themselves out.

What you'll find is that most of the time no one is offended at all – and, as long as you don't set out to hurt others, if they are upset it's only because you've started behaving in a way that lets them feel they have less 'power' over you.

20. Are you “comparanoid”?

Let's face it, most of us compare ourselves to others. Mass media beams in the finest looking, richest, and most talented people into our lives 24/7. This creates the illusion that we 'know' all these beautiful, clever, younger, athletic, rich, able people.

Because we compare ourselves to people we know, this illusion of knowing air-brushed 'have-it-alls' can make us feel correspondingly worse about ourselves.

The trouble is, we may compare ourselves unfavorably. Yes, I know Eleanor Roosevelt suggested that no one can make us feel inferior unless we allow them to, but...oh, great! Now I feel inferior and it's my fault because I'm allowing it to happen...

For now, you can catch yourself when you do this, and start to avoid the sources of the problem, like certain TV shows and magazines.

And remember this line from the beautiful poem Desiderata... “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

There's simply no way to win the comparing game.

21. Please yourself! No really...

Constantly seeking approval means we're perpetually worried that others are forming a bad opinion of us. We come to feel vulnerable and prey to whether other people are pleased with us or not. This steals the fun, creativity, and spontaneity from life.

Make a point of doing stuff now and then purely because you want to. This is not being selfish; it's letting other people know that you're a multi-dimensional person with your own tastes, ideas, and enthusiasms.