How to Build Self-Esteem

To have self-esteem means to think well of yourself, based on a kind but realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Feeling good about yourself can make you feel happier, more worthy of good things, and more secure in the face of setbacks.Woman with good self-esteem after psychotherapyIf you’ve never had great self-esteem or your self-esteem has been hurt by recent criticism, rejection, or failure, then here are five ways to build/rebuild it.

1) Assess and Appreciate Yourself 

a) Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Start with four strengths and one weakness. You may have trouble seeing your strengths, so be prepared to ask a friend, family member, or therapist for help. Many of us have been raised to be modest. We may discount our talents and take our accomplishments for granted. Or we lack perspective, and it takes others to point out our best, most distinctive qualities.

Your weaknesses, however, may come more quickly and painfully to mind. Learn to handle them with compassion and pluck. Remember none of us got to choose all the things we were born with or would later acquire. Look for ways to turn those disadvantages into advantages. Flaws can make us more forgiving. Weak spots can be opportunities for growth. Curses can give us purpose. (See my post on self-talk to learn more.)

b) Know your story. Know what got you to this point in life and find a way to tell yourself the story that leaves you feeling like the living, learning, fundamentally good, capable human being that you are. And construct a briefer, lighter version of it you feel comfortable sharing with others.

Now give that story a title and write it down along with your 4-strength/1-weakness inventory in a safe, handy place and remind yourself of them regularly. Let them be the bedrock of a new, more positive self-image. Learn to love yourself and what you have to offer.

2) Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others rarely works out well. For starters, it’s usually an unfair comparison, because you’ll only see what is great about other people’s lives. After all, who airs their most difficult challenges on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. And believe me as a psychiatrist, we all have them. Secondly, you’ll get too focused on the strengths others have, that you lack. Remember there is more than one way to be wonderful in this world.

3) Do Compare Yourself with Yourself

Notice one or two ways that you or your life can be better and set realistic goals for self-improvement. Focus your efforts on what you can change and don’t beat yourself up about mistakes. They will happen. Learn from them and move on.

Compare yourself with how you were a month, a year, or ten years ago. Pat yourself on the back when you get better at something or add something to your life. Celebrate victories, large and small. Don’t focus on all the work that remains to be done. Savor progress, not perfection.

4) Take Care of Yourself and Send a Message

Take the time to stay fit and find the clothes that keep you at your most comfortable and confident. That sends the message that you take yourself seriously and you expect others to do the same. Treat yourself to special things from time to time to remind yourself that you’re worth it. 

5) Form a Social Circle that Supports You

Tell your closest friends and family members you’re working on your self-esteem and ask them for help. Weed out anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. Make new friends, but don’t try too hard if someone doesn’t seem interested. Help people. It can make you feel better right away. Start a mutual admiration society. When you feel positive about people let them know, then they will likely do the same.

Self-esteem isn’t built in a day. But if you take it on as a project and you’re ready to do the maintenance, you can build a solid foundation for the rest of your life.

–Dr. Adam