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.

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.

When low self-esteem sneaks up on you

"On finding myself struggling to breathe, ... I realised that I needed help."

Read Beth's Story

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.

What's it like to have low self-esteem?

Watch Nathan, Hannah, Helen, Rishi and Georgina talk about their experiences of low self-esteem, including how it feels, what's helped them and how their friends and family can help.

Find out more and download our PDF today

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