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Self-esteem is what you feel and think about yourself, your abilities, the positive and negative things about you and what you expect for your future.

Low self-esteem makes you feel negative about yourself and you will tend to focus on your weaknesses rather than your strengths.


There is no single cause but some factors that can contribute to low self-esteem include:

  • Difficult childhood experiences – bullying, difficult family relationships
  • Difficult life events – death of someone close, end of a relationship, long-term illness, unemployment.
  • Personality and temperament
  • Feeling ‘different’
  • Relationships where you don’t feel accepted or “good enough”
  • Stress and excessive pressure
  • Negative thinking patterns – comparing yourself to others or developing high unachievable standards for yourself
  • Discrimination and stigma
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Trauma, abuse – trauma, physical, sexual or psychological abuse lead to feelings of guilt and low self-worth
  • Mental health problems

Improving self-esteem

Doing something that you enjoy, and that you are good at, can help build your confidence and increase your self-esteem:

Work: This could be anything from paid work, volunteering or caring.

Hobbies: Try something that you feel you have some natural ability, or something that you have always wanted to try. Find activities that will not challenge you too much to begin with so that you can feel you have achieved something and have a chance to build your confidence.

Try to build positive relationships: Try to associate with people who will not criticise you. If you spend time around positive and supportive people, you are more likely to have a better self-image and feel more confident. Also, if you are caring and supportive to other people, you are more likely to get a positive response from them.

Learn to be assertive: Being assertive means you value yourself and others, and can communicate with mutual respect. It will help you to set clear boundaries.

Physical activity: Physical activity helps improve people’s sense of wellbeing and image of themselves. Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help improve your mood, particularly if you do it outside.

Sleep: Lack of sleep can cause negative feelings to be exaggerated, so it’s important to make sure you get enough sleep.

Diet: Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs can help improve your general wellbeing which will result in you feeling healthier and happier.

Set yourself a challenge: Set yourself achievable goals and work towards achieving them. You will feel satisfied and proud of yourself when you achieve your goal, and feel more positive about yourself as a result.

Learn to identify and challenge negative beliefs: It will help to understand more about your negative beliefs about yourself and where they came from. Ask a friend or relative to support you. If you are feeling very distressed, it might be better to seek professional help. 

Who can help me to improve my self-esteem?

  • Any trusted adult
  • A family member
  • A teacher or support worker at school
  • Your school nurse