What you really must know about self-esteem

What do you know about self-esteem?

Red roses on a large grey slate saying Love yourself --- self-esteem
Love yourself — What to know about self-esteem— Annie Spratt unsplash.jpg

Do you or someone you know have low self-esteem, and has it impacted on your daily life? Yes? Okay, just for a few minutes, think about the question What do you know about self-esteem. Hold that thought and let’s move on.

The idea for this post began with a fellow-blogger asking for tips on books to read about mental health, and self-esteem in particular. Perhaps I can respond to her request, but first I needed to find out a bit more so I asked her the following questions.

  • Can you tell me what is self-esteem to you?
  • How do you rate your self-esteem?
  • What do you want to be able to do when your self-esteem improves?
  • How will you feel when it’s improved?
  • How will you know that your self-esteem has improved?

She replied saying “I think I’m going to have to think about this question some more”. For me, that’s really to good to hear. Sometimes I still have my mental health nurse’s hat on, and the more I know, the better I can help and support.

In the meantime, I might be able to provide some answers here, so let’s start with

What is self-esteem?

Colour image of lots of words like values, beliefs, acceptance and self control
Self-esteem, values and beliefs

But before we go any further, let’s just clear something up………..

“The terms self-esteem and self-confidence are often used interchangeably when referring to how you feel about yourself. While they’re very similar, they are two different things. It’s important to understand their roles when looking to improve your overall sense of self.

Self-esteem is how we value and see ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves. Self-esteem starts to form in childhood by experiences with family, friends or peers, and by situations that have shaped how you view yourself today. Self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities to interact with the people around you, deal with challenges or solve problems. As with self-esteem, self-confidence can also can vary from situation to situation.

According to self-esteem expert Morris Rosenberg (1965), self-esteem is quite simply one’s attitude toward oneself. He described it as a “favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self.”

When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel good about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.

What is low self-esteem

Colour image man wearing polo neck, jean Jacket and black jeans. Looks sad.
Man with low self esteem —Sorin Sirbu at Unsplash.com

Low self-esteem is characterized by feeling badly about oneself. People with low self-esteem often feel awkward, unwanted, unattractive or unlovable. Furthermore, people with low self-esteem are “hypervigilant and hyper alert to signs of rejection, inadequacy, and rebuff,” according to researchers Morris Rosenberg and Timothy J. Owens, who wrote Low Self-Esteem People: A Collective Portrait.

We experience the negative feelings of low self-esteem when we believe that we are inadequate and less worthy than others. We tend to catastrophise all our little failures, which all roll into one long and constant stream of patheticness. We’re frequently reminded of just how pathetic we really are.

For some reason, the negative messages that you received in childhood or from ex-partners, at school i.e. you’re not good enough are the ones that stays with you.

Personal experience

My childhood life was fraught with low self-esteem. Mum and dad kept moving around and splitting up, so we moved a lot and went to so many different schools and it was difficult to fit in. Everyone always seemed to laugh at the new kid, maybe I wasn’t fashionable enough in trendy areas like London?

Even the teachers laughed at me and made fun of my different accents in front of everyone. And that’s stuck with me; even today, I don’t like my Cockney accent, formed by living in London for around 40 years.

Those negative messages plagued me for years I still felt it when I first became a mental health ward manager and had to deliver training programmes to our mental health nurses. I had to do a lot of work, but it’s definitely helped. I love me now.

I do, honestly. I love the person I’ve become.

I dare say that we’ve probably all had times where we didn’t feel good about ourselves, such as not joining in the discussions at a team meeting or in college. That’s okay. But when our low self-esteem turns into a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health and our activities of daily living.

Recognizing the signs of low self-esteem your own worth is an important step in gaining a healthy self-esteem. We’ll come to the how later, but first let’s take a look at

What causes low self esteem?

Coloured image of a little girl on floor with elbows on her knees. Man kneeling down, pointing at her and shouting
Child abuse, a cause of low self-esteem — image from Vedicus

Experiences you had in childhood, or maybe your current relationships with your partner or family members, all impact your self-esteem.

Some of the countless causes of low self-esteem may include:

  • unhappy childhood where parents were quick to criticise
  • relationship problems, separation or divorce
  • domestic violence
  • experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma
  • ongoing medical problem such as disability, chronic pain, chronic or serious illness
  • mental health problems, stigma and discrimination
  • poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence
  • being abused or bullied perhaps at school, college or at work
  • experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma
  • redundancy, being fired or difficulty in finding a job
  • problems at work or at school, college or university
  • ongoing long-term stress
  • financial difficulties
  • poor housing and environment
  • worries about how you look and body image

It’s possible you’ve had many of the above, or you may have had other problems that aren’t listed. It’s never just one cause, more likely, an accumulation.

An important note is that self-esteem is not fixed. It’s a continuum and it’s measurable, meaning it can be tested and improved upon.

What affect does self-esteem have on us?

Colour image of lady looking in the mirror and putting cream on her face
Look after your own needs first —Humphrey Muleba unsplash.com

Mind writes “The things that affect our self-esteem differ for everyone. Your self-esteem might change suddenly, or you might have had low self-esteem for a while​ – which might make it hard to recognise how you feel and make changes.

And while it might sometimes feel really hard to change, you can still improve self-esteem by understanding yourself, and the value you really do have.

Your self-esteem can affect whether you:

  • like and value yourself as a person
  • know that you deserve happiness
  • believe you matter and that you are good enough
  • show compassion to yourself, self-soothing
  • take time to look after your own needs first
  • move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
  • are able to make decisions and assert yourself
  • recognise your strengths and positives
  • feel able to try new or difficult things

Is low self-esteem a mental health problem?

No, it’s not in itself but it’s closely linked. Generally people with a mental illness i.e. anxiety or depression, have a low self-esteem. And having a low self-esteem can lead to mental health problems, due to the underlying cause i.e. financial difficulties, redundancy, losing your home.

How can we improve our self esteem?

Coloured image of naked lady covered in paints the colours of LGBT rainbow
Health self-esteem, LGBT Flag — Image by Sharon Mccutcheon unsplash com

Okay, so far we’ve glimpsed at:

  • what is self-esteem
  • what is low self-esteem
  • what causes low self-esteem
  • what effect does self-esteem have on us, and
  • is low self-esteem a mental illness

So, I guess this is the bit you’ve been waiting for — but, if you’re anything like me, your attention span’s starting to wane and you’ll not take much more in.

Over to you

The question at the beginning was What do you know about self esteem? Having read this post, do you think you’ve you learned anything new?


What are your thoughts on the concepts of self-esteem? Have you experienced it or do you know someone that does? I’m looking forward to any comments or questions. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of where we’re heading next, and we’ll carry on tomorrow. I’m sure one or two of you know what this?

“Big I, Little i” technique (Arnold Lazarus), Journal of Human Development and Communication, Volume 7, 2018 [61-70] 63

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

30 thoughts on “What you really must know about self-esteem”

  1. Great information!!

    I had this evil third-grade teacher named Triva Duffy. She was horrible. One time in class, we switched papers and graded our neighbor’s papers. My neighbor got them all right, so I filled up her page with a huge smiley-face. Triva Duffy grabbed it off my desk and held it up to show everyone. “This is a waste of paper! I was going to ask you all to do the next assignment on the rest of the remaining page, but now I can’t!” And that wasn’t an isolated incident. She’d give us academic and behavior grades weekly. She always gave me a B in behavior, even though I was a great kid. I got quieter, and quieter, and quieter, always trying to earn an A in behavior. By the end of the school year, I’d become the quiet kid who couldn’t open up to her classmates, and that problem continued to plague me all the way through school and beyond. A wall went up between me and the other kids, and I could never get past it. It seems tragic to me, because aside from some minor snobbishness, they were actually great kids who I could’ve been close to in an alternate universe. You know, I really hate Triva Duffy, and I hope she’s dead. Sorry to end on such a negative note!!

    1. Lol, just her name wants to make me punch her in the face 😉 That’s a terrible shame, what she put you through, and in turn what you put yourself through to get the good behaviour recognition.

      These little things seem so small in the bigger scheme of things, but look how much damage they do, and how long it lasts. Thanks for your thoughtful response Meg and I hope you’re well 🙂 Caz

  2. I have every reason to not have good self esteem today, and not many would fault me for it. But, I believe a healthy self-esteem is when you have a realistic view of yourself that is not too high and not too low. An even keeled look at yourself that starts from within. I, too, have a done a lot of work on myself. I can’t fix the world, but I can start by making myself a little softer, day in and day out.

    1. In spam again? While your comment was some 6-7 days ago, I hope your self-esteem improved. I think self-esteem is on a continuum, going up or down depending on our current circumstances, events and mood. I’m not sure if it will remain stable when we have mental health problems?

  3. The last time I was hospitalized, one of the psychiatrists wanted me to attend some outpatient group because he thought I needed to improve my self-esteem. He didn’t seem to want to believe me that my self-esteem was fine; he was convinced that since I’d attempted suicide my self-esteem must be low. For me, though, those two things have never been connected.

    1. Oh my word. How o n earth did he think the two were in any way connected? And the psychiatrists are supposed to be the clever ones. I always knew nurses were smarter 😉

  4. I definitely learnt a lot from this article. I’ve always had a low-self esteem growing up but now that I’m older I care a lot less about what other people have to say and I’m much more comfortable being me which has definitely helped boost my self-esteem.

    1. Oh my word, I’ve only just seen this Pooja. You know I would never mean to ignore you. You certainly appear to have a healthy self-esteem, it shows in your writing.

  5. This is a brilliant post to give an overview of self-esteem, and I like that you’ve taken a broad approach to it as it’s not an easy, black and white sort of subject. I think sometimes there isn’t one ignition factor that leads to poor self-esteem, but you can probably identify a few things that have combined over the years to knock down confidence. It’s being aware of the problem and the potential triggers and contributing factors that’s key to working out how to improve self-esteem. I hope this becomes more of a known, discussed and, hopefully, taught in schools kind of a thing because low self-esteem can begin at a young age but negatively impact us for the rest of our lives.

    Great post lovely.

    Caz xx

    1. Thank you Kally for taking time to write an informative response, which adds to my post and I hope people will read this too 🙂 It is such a large topic, I agree and hopefully, people will something from it. I need to finish the follow-up post about how to manage some of it.

      I’ve said for many years, all this stuff needs to be taught in schools, kids need to have these skills 🙂 x
      Thank you again, Caz x

  6. Hi, I’m good thank you. Just been offline for a few days and only just got up after a marathon 18 hours sleep, so I feel fresh as a daisy lol. Thank you for asking 🙂

  7. Really informative article, very detailed and presented nicely. Gave me lots to think about. I think I’m going to forward this to my sister too.

  8. So self-esteem is more about how you value your “being” while self-confidence is how you value your “doing?” Interesting. Thinking about it that way helps me see how narcissists might have low self-esteem on some level but also have high self-confidence when it comes to wrapping people around their fingers.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head there with the narcissists having low self-esteem……….. Yep and I guess I missed those signs – seeing them as having self-confidence when all the time it was them that had the low self-esteem issues – so they tried to make me feel the same.

  9. Hi Caz, hope all is well with you and yours:) just wanted to thank you for this very enlightening post as it seems to be yet another ( coincidence?) topic I seem to be wrestling with right now, very appreciated and thank you again 🍀

    1. Aaaww, thank you for your lovely comments and I’m really happy to hear you found the post useful. I hope you can work out some ways to manage your self-esteem 🙂 I’m here if needed x

      1. Very welcome of course, I find great guidance in your blog & that makes my current process a bit easier to manage … thank you so much for your presence 💚you are very appreciated 🍀

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