What is self-esteem? 

Self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves, which can sometimes feel really difficult to change. 

Your self-esteem can affect whether you: 

  • like and value yourself as a person 
  • are able to make decisions and assert yourself 
  • recognise your strengths and positives 
  • feel able to try new or difficult things 
  • show kindness towards yourself 
  • move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly 
  • take the time you need for yourself 
  • believe you matter and are good enough 
  • believe you deserve happiness. 

“For me, building self-esteem was [about] learning what self-esteem was in the first place. It was unlearning what I had learned about myself … I went back to self-school and learned all about me” 

What can cause low self-esteem? 

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. 

Difficult or stressful life experiences can often be a factor, such as: 

  • being bullied or abused 
  • experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma 
  • losing your job or difficulty finding employment 
  • problems at work or while studying 
  • ongoing stress 
  • physical health problems 
  • mental health problems 
  • relationship problems, separation or divorce 
  • worries about your appearance and body image 
  • problems with money or housing

You might have had some of these experiences, and you might also have had difficulties that aren’t listed here. Or there might not be one particular cause. 

“My self esteem has almost disappeared…. I don’t know how to interact with people anymore and find it hard to enjoy the things that I like” 

Whatever has affected your self-esteem, it’s important to remember that you have the right to feel good about who you are. It might feel as if changing things will be difficult, but there are lots of things you can try to improve things bit by bit – see our tips to improve your self-esteem for some suggestions. 

Stigma and self-esteem 

Experiencing stigma can affect your self-esteem, including stigma about mental health problems. Our page on stigma and misconceptions has lots of ideas you could try. 

Is low self-esteem a mental health problem? 

Having low self-esteem isn’t a mental health problem in itself, but they are closely linked. If lots of things affect your self-esteem for a long time, this might lead to mental health problems (for example depression or anxiety). 

Some of the experiences of low self-esteem can be signs of a mental health problem, particularly if they last for a long time or affect your day-to-day life. For example: 

  • feeling hopeless or worthless 
  • blaming yourself unfairly 
  • hating yourself 
  • worrying about being unable to do things. 

Having a mental health problem can also cause you to have low self-esteem, and it might feel harder to cope or take steps to improve your self-esteem. 

See our information on mental health problems and seeking help for a mental health problem for more on these topics. 

“I’m a nervous breakdown and child-abuse survivor. I started loving myself when I embraced whatever had happened to me. I wear my scars proudly and I am super confident in talking about them”

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