Conquering low self-esteem: How to boost a fragile sense of self-worth

Would you say an emphatic “Yes!” to the questions “Do I like myself? Am I a person of worth?”  

If you can’t say ‘yes’ with assurance, you’re not alone.   

Call it self-esteem, self-confidence, self-love, or self-acceptance — we all face issues with our sense of self-worth at some point. If you struggle to maintain a positive self-image, please know that you DO matter and you ARE a person of value. Period. But knowing it and feeling it are not always the same thing.  

Maybe your sense of self-worth is fragile, or maybe you just want to feel yourself again. Either way, here is some information to help you understand the many factors that affect a person’s self-esteem, and some tips to help you resist those moments of doubt. 

Your self-esteem changes day to day, impacted by factors such as: 

  • the small and not-so-small successes and failures you inevitably experience.  
  • the important people in your life, and how they perceive and interact with you. 

What is self-esteem?  

Self-esteem is the way you feel about yourself and your worth as a person. It’s based on how you value yourself –similar to self-respect, which describes how confident you are in your abilities and attributes. 

Self-esteem develops during childhood and evolves throughout your teens and adulthood. During childhood, self-esteem is largely influenced by your school experiences and by your interactions with your parents, caregivers, and teachers. During the teen years, your sense of self-worth becomes increasingly influenced by your ability to meet your own expectations and those of others, as well as by your developing identity and self-perception. 

As a teen, just figuring out who you are and feeling good about yourself can be a daily challenge. But protecting and maintaining healthy self-esteem is critical. Your sense of self-worth and value can affect – well, everything! – your decisions, relationships, choices, mood, academic and social success, and your general mental and physical health. 

Let’s start by understanding the elements that together impact one’s sense of self-worth. 

Components of self-esteem 

Healthy self-esteem is formed at an early age by a combination of the following qualities. These components are based on the work of Toronto psychotherapist Dr. Joe Accardi.  

  1. A feeling of personal and interpersonal security – Feeling secure in yourself, your potential, and your familial relationships. 
  2. A sense of social belonging – Feeling accepted and cherished by friends, relatives, and groups (such as sports teams or school clubs) that are important to you. 
  3. A sense of purpose – Feeling encouraged to establish and strive toward your goals.  
  4. A feeling of being capable – Being empowered to make your own decisions and employ creative problem-solving, which develops a sense of mastery over your circumstances. 
  5. A feeling that you can trust yourself and others, and that they in turn trust you. 
  6. A sense of contribution – Contributing to a “greater good” and establishing the practice and habit of giving back. 
  7. A feeling of influence – Feeling the confidence to have some say in decisions or offer your opinion on a topic. 
  8. A feeling of self-control – Practicing self-discipline, thereby reinforcing the sense that you can manage your feelings and your life. 
  9. A sense of reward – Validation by others and the ability to praise yourself for the things you achieve, whether large or small. 
  10. A sense of family pride- If you are ashamed of your family, it may also be hard to love yourself. Learning about your family’s history can help you understand and appreciate their place in the past and present.  

Factors that influence self-esteem

No question, the ups and downs of daily life affect your sense of worth. You might feel good about yourself one day and not so good the next. But it’s also important to realize that some of the factors that impact your sense of self-esteem are more deep-rooted, and you may not be aware of the role they play. Your self-esteem may be affected by: 

  • Age 
  • Disability 
  • Genetics 
  • Illness 
  • Physical abilities 
  • Thought patterns
  • Socioeconomic status 
  • Racism and discrimination 
  • Life experiences 

Research has shown that racism and discrimination can negatively affect self-esteem, as can genetic factors that help shape your personality. However, life experiences are thought to be the most crucial factor, including: 

  • Unhappy childhood where parents (or other significant people such as teachers) were extremely critical 
  • Poor academic performance in school, resulting in a lack of confidence 
  • Ongoing stressful life event such as relationship breakdown or financial trouble 
  • Poor treatment from a partner, parent or caregiver, for example, being in an abusive relationship 
  • Feeling unattractive/comparing yourself to others and on social media. 
  • Ongoing medical problem such as chronic pain, serious illness or physical disability 
  • Mental illness such as an anxiety disorder or depression. 

If you’ve been through a tough time, (for example, perhaps you experienced bullying or abuse), it can make you feel like you’re not good enough or that something is wrong with you. Similarly, if you struggle to succeed at the things you care about, it can shake your confidence in yourself and your abilities.  

For example, if your parents put a lot of pressure on you to do well in school or sports, you might feel like your worth is tied to your grades or athletic achievements. If you don’t do well in these areas, you may feel like you’re a failure as a person. 

Assessing your level of self-esteem 

If you have low self-esteem, you tend to avoid activities where there’s a chance of failure or embarrassment. You might give up on schoolwork, prefer keeping to yourself rather than trying to make friends, or refuse to get involved in sports or other activities. But friends, family, fun, involvement, and a good school experience are all part of a healthy teenage life, so if you recognize behavior like this in yourself or someone you care about, it’s time to get help. 

If low self-esteem is not identified and treated, it can lead to problems such as: 

  • relationship troubles or difficulty making friends 
  • negative moods such as feeling sad, anxious, ashamed or angry 
  • low motivation 
  • poor body image 
  • drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs to feel better  
  • academic struggles, which may limit post-high school opportunities 

It’s normal to lack confidence from time to time — but if it’s escalating and becoming a pattern, it may be time for some self-reflection. If you are unsure about your self-esteem levels, look at these free quizzes to evaluate.  

Self-esteem quiz #1 –  

Self-esteem quiz #2 – 

Building a healthy sense of self-esteem 

It takes effort and time to build up a positive sense of self-worth. Different approaches work for different people, so try only what is comfortable for you. Here are some ideas to think about. 

  • Know that feelings of self-doubt are normal and often, temporary.  
  • Treat yourself with kindness. 
  • Take time to take care of yourself (practice self-care). 
  • Set small realistic goals for yourself. 
  • Try to avoid comparing yourself to others. 
  • Remember you will always have good and bad days, but tomorrow can be a fresh start. 
  • Try to recall past achievements, or occasions when others have complimented you. 
  • Define your worth based on how you feel about yourself, not what others think of you. 
  • Try volunteering. It feels good to help others. 
  • Challenge negative thoughts you might be having about yourself. Remind yourself of your strengths. 
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. 

Self-esteem exercises to practice daily

It takes conscious effort and daily practice to push away negative thoughts and boost low self-esteem. Here is an exercise to try: 

  1. Write 3 things that make you feel good. 
  2. Write 3 things you’ve accomplished or that made you feel proud of yourself. 
  3. Write 3 things you love about yourself.  
  4. Ask someone close to you what they like about you. 

Reach out for help 

If you’re having trouble coping with low self-esteem, don’t be afraid to seek support from friends or family members who love you. 

If you want professional help, look for a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming staff and environment ready to assist you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.        

The Bougainvilla House also offers Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.         

Call now to find support for you and your family: (954) 764-7337.