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What is Self-esteem?

What is Self-esteem?

Over time low self-esteem can have a negative impact on our mental health. You may also find having certain mental health conditions impacts your self-esteem. Here we will be looking into self-esteem more, discussing what can impact it, how it links to our mental health and how counselling can help.

Our self-esteem is, essentially, the opinion we have of ourselves. This opinion is based on past experiences and beliefs we have about ourselves. While these beliefs can be misplaced, they can feel very difficult to change.

If you have low self-esteem, you may struggle to value yourself. This can affect your life in a number of ways. You may find it difficult to like who you are and struggle in relationships. Low self-esteem can make it tough for you to believe in yourself, so you might struggle to try new things and take risks.

If you make a mistake, you might take it to heart and find it hard to move on. Your self-care may suffer and you may prioritise other people’s feelings and needs above your own. Self-esteem can however be built, so if this is ringing true, please know that it doesn’t have to stay this way.

When you start to accept, value and like yourself, these struggles start to ease. You may feel more confident socialising and communicating in relationships. When new opportunities present themselves, you’re more likely to push yourself to go for them. You’ll find it easier to learn from mistakes and move onwards and upwards. Self-care can become a priority, allowing you to look after yourself better and thus, be better able to support others.

Causes of low self-esteem

Everyone will have different things in their life that affect self-esteem. For some people, self-esteem changes suddenly (for example after a stressful life event) while for others, low self-esteem may be something they’ve lived with for a long time.

Often your opinion of yourself is built in your early years. You may have experienced authority figures who were disapproving. Being criticised a lot in childhood can lead you to form the opinion that you’re ‘not good enough’. Being bullied in childhood can also have a lasting impact on your sense of self-esteem, long after the bullying stops.

Other life events that can affect your self-esteem include:

It’s also important to acknowledge the influence of society and the media. With social media especially, more of us than ever before have access to other people’s lives, thoughts and opinions. As no one has created a ‘truth’ filter for this information (yet), much of what we see is curated, perfected and… false.

All of the information we receive, including societal expectations, beauty ideals and gender stereotyping is presented as fact and it can be difficult for us to unhook our self-worth from these notions. The fact that more and more young people are using social media could also be a cause for concern.

Man taking picture of himself

A staggering 62% of 15 to 16 year-olds reported they felt heightened expectations surrounding their appearance, and that it owed to social media.

– Read more on the YMCA’s study on Happiful.

While this is worrying, it’s worth noting that social media can have the power to improve both body image and self-esteem, when used in the right way. Making feeds more diverse and following inspiring and uplifting accounts can help.

Understanding the source of your low self-esteem can help you understand yourself better and start taking steps to build it up.

Self-esteem and mental health – what’s the link?

If you have low self-esteem for a long time, you may find it affects your mental health. It can lead to conditions such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders. Some of the signs of low self-esteem, like feeling worthless and blaming yourself can also be symptoms of these conditions.

You may find low self-esteem makes it difficult to socialise which can lead to isolation. Feeling isolated and lonely can make you feel worse mentally. Some people will turn to unhelpful habits and behaviours to try and cope with low self-esteem, including drinking too much alcohol and abusing drugs.

If you have a mental health condition, you may also find that your self-esteem is affected. For example depression can often make those with the condition feel worthless and anxiety can lead to people thinking they’re not ‘good enough’.

How a counsellor can help?

Building self-esteem and navigating the mental health implications can be difficult to do alone. Working with a trained professional such as a counsellor can help you understand where your opinion of yourself stems from and how to challenge limiting beliefs. Developing more awareness of your personal history and how this impacts who you are today can be eye opening. Finding a counsellor who you feel comfortable with is key, it helps to be as open and honest as possible.


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