How to Help Someone with Low Self Esteem

When we talk about self-esteem, we’re essentially discussing how we view and value ourselves. It’s like having an internal mirror that reflects our self-worth. Unfortunately, for some people, this mirror seems perpetually clouded by self-doubt and negativity. This is what we call low self-esteem.

At its core, low self-esteem is characterized by a persistent feeling of inadequacy and a lack of self confidence in one’s abilities. It’s like having an overly critical inner voice that constantly belittles and questions your worth. You might recognize it as a nagging thought that says, “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t deserve happiness.”

Thinking Patterns and Self-Esteem

The connection between our thoughts and self-esteem is a powerful one. If our thinking patterns are riddled with negativity, our self-esteem is likely to take a hit. For example, if you constantly think you’re going to fail, you’re setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy where low confidence leads to less effort and, consequently, poorer performance.

Understanding these thinking patterns is crucial. It’s not about the occasional self-doubt or negative thought – we all have those. It’s about the persistent and pervasive patterns of thinking that color our perception of ourselves and our abilities. Recognizing and addressing these patterns is the first step towards improving self-esteem from a cognitive standpoint.

Low Self Esteem Relationships with Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are like mental filters or biases that twist our perception of reality, often in a negative way. They’re the architects of our internal narrative, and unfortunately, they’re not always the most reliable narrators. When it comes to low self-esteem, certain cognitive distortions play a starring role, influencing how we see ourselves and the world around us.

Key Cognitive Distortions Affecting Self-Esteem

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: This is the ‘black or white’ mentality. If you’re not perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. It’s like scoring 95% on a test and focusing solely on the 5% you missed. This kind of thinking leaves no room for the middle ground, where most of life happens.
  2. Overgeneralization: Here, a single negative event is seen as a never-ending pattern of defeat. For instance, if you fail at something once, you begin to believe you’ll always fail. It’s like using a single piece of puzzle to judge the entire picture.
  3. Mental Filtering: This distortion involves filtering out all positive aspects of a situation and focusing only on the negative. It’s like looking at your day and seeing only the mistakes you made, completely ignoring your successes and achievements.
  4. Jumping to Conclusions: This involves making negative interpretations without actual evidence. It comes in two forms: mind-reading (assuming people are thinking negatively about you) and fortune-telling (predicting things will turn out badly).
  5. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization: In this case, you either exaggerate your shortcomings or minimize your strengths. It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror that distorts your image – you either see yourself as much less or much worse than you actually are.
  6. Personalization: This is the tendency to take everything personally or see yourself as the cause of external events that you were not responsible for. It’s like assuming a friend’s moodiness is because of something you did.

The Impact of These Distortions

The influence of these cognitive distortions on self-esteem cannot be overstated. They act like lenses that distort our self-image and reinforce negative beliefs about ourselves. If unchecked, they can lead to a cycle of low self-esteem, where distorted thoughts lead to negative feelings, which in turn lead to more distorted thoughts.

It’s important to understand that these distortions are common – everyone experiences them to some degree. The problem arises when they become the dominant way we process information about ourselves and the world.

Why Focus on the Cognitive Aspect?

Focusing on low self esteem relationships with cognitive distortions offers a powerful tool for change. It empowers us to take control of our inner narrative. By changing the way we think, we can start to see ourselves in a more positive and realistic light. This approach doesn’t disregard the importance of behavior in shaping our self-esteem, but it puts the spotlight on the mental processes that often dictate these behaviors.

Overcoming Negative Thinking: A Low Self Esteem Test

The first step in challenging negative thinking is to recognize when it’s happening. This can be tricky, as these thoughts often feel automatic and deeply ingrained. A useful strategy is to keep a thought journal.

Whenever you feel upset or notice a dip in your self-esteem, jot down the thoughts running through your mind. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns and identify the most common cognitive distortions you face.

How to Put Low Self Esteem to the Test

  1. Evidence-Based Thinking: When you catch yourself in a negative thought, ask, “What evidence do I have that this thought is true? What evidence is there that it’s not?” This helps shift your focus from assumptions to facts.
  2. Perspective-Taking: Try to view the situation from different angles. Ask yourself, “How would someone else see this situation? What would I tell a friend if they had this thought?” This can provide a more balanced viewpoint.
  3. The Double-Standard Method: If you’re being too hard on yourself, try to apply the same standards to yourself as you would to others. You’re likely more compassionate and forgiving towards others than you are to yourself.
  4. The Best Possible Interpretation: Instead of jumping to the worst conclusion, consider the best possible interpretation of a situation. This doesn’t mean ignoring reality but rather giving yourself the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Graded Exposure: Gradually expose yourself to situations that trigger negative thoughts, but in a controlled and manageable way. This helps build confidence and resilience.

Mindfulness and Negative Thought Patterns

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing negative thoughts. It involves observing your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Instead of getting entangled in your thoughts, you learn to view them as passing mental events.

Mindfulness meditation for self esteem, deep breathing exercises, and body scans are excellent practices to cultivate mindfulness.

Maintaining a Realistic and Positive Internal Dialogue

Changing the way you think is not about swapping negative thoughts for blindly positive ones; it’s about developing a more balanced and realistic internal dialogue. This means acknowledging your strengths and successes, not just your flaws and failures. It involves speaking to yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would to a good friend.

Building a Positive Self-Image: Essential Self Esteem Questions

Cognitive restructuring is a core technique in cognitive therapy that involves identifying, challenging, and altering problematic thinking patterns. It’s like being a scriptwriter of your own life, with the power to edit or rewrite parts of the script that no longer serve you well. This method goes beyond mere positive thinking; it’s about creating a narrative that is both positive and authentic.

  1. Identifying Core Beliefs: Start by uncovering the core beliefs that fuel your low self-esteem. These are often broad, deeply held beliefs like “I am unworthy” or “I am incompetent.” Recognizing these allows you to challenge and change them. Ask Yourself: “How do I view myself?”
  2. Developing Counterarguments: For each negative core belief, develop a counterargument based on your achievements, strengths, and positive qualities. This isn’t about denying your flaws but about creating a balanced view of yourself. Ask Yourself: “What are some of the things I’ve achieved to date in my life?”
  3. Behavioral Experiments: Test your negative beliefs through experiments. For example, if you believe “I am unlikable,” try initiating conversations or social engagements. Record the outcomes and use them to assess the accuracy of your beliefs. Ask Friends or Family: “What are the things you love or admire about me?”

Exercises for Building a Positive Self-Image

  1. Gratitude Journaling: Regularly jotting down things you’re grateful for can shift your focus from what you believe you lack to what you actually possess. This isn’t just about external things; it includes personal qualities and achievements.
  2. Affirmations: Create affirmations that resonate with your core values and goals. These should be realistic and focused on the process (like “I am improving every day”) rather than just outcomes.
  3. Self-Compassion Exercises: Practice being kind to yourself, especially during difficult times. Engage in meditation for self esteem or write letters to yourself from a compassionate perspective.

The Importance of Self-Acceptance

A crucial, yet often overlooked aspect of improving self-esteem is self-acceptance. It involves acknowledging and accepting your limitations and imperfections, not as faults, but as part of being human. This doesn’t mean giving up on growth; rather, it’s about growing from a place of acceptance rather than self-criticism.

Integrating Cognitive Strategies into Everyday Life

Every person’s journey with self-esteem is unique, which means the tools and techniques you use need to be tailored to fit your personal experiences and challenges. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s about creating a personalized cognitive toolkit.

  1. Daily Reflection and Adjustment: Incorporate a few minutes of reflection into your daily routine. Assess what worked and what didn’t in your thought processes. Be willing to adapt and tweak your strategies as you learn more about your thinking patterns.
  2. Creating Cognitive Reminders: Place reminders around you to prompt cognitive practices. This could be sticky notes with affirmations, scheduled phone reminders to practice mindfulness, or setting specific times for gratitude journaling.
  3. Mindfulness in Action: Practice being mindful in everyday activities – like while eating, walking, or even during conversations. This helps in recognizing automatic negative thoughts as they occur, allowing you to address them in real-time.

The Role of Consistency and Patience

Consistency is key to overcoming low self esteem. It’s about building and maintaining new mental habits, which takes time and repeated effort. Be patient with yourself as you navigate this process. Remember, small consistent changes can lead to significant long-term results.

  1. Setting Realistic Goals: Break down your overall goal of improving self-esteem into smaller, manageable objectives. Celebrate small victories along the way, as they accumulate towards significant change.
  2. Progress Tracking: Keep a journal or log to track your progress. This isn’t just about noting improvements, but also understanding and learning from the setbacks.

Seeking Professional Guidance When Needed

While self-help strategies are powerful, there are times when professional guidance is invaluable. If you find yourself struggling to manage your thoughts or if low self-esteem is significantly impacting your life, consider seeking help from a psychologist or therapist. They can provide personalized strategies and support in your journey.

Embracing the Journey to Improved Self-Esteem

As we come to the end of our exploration into the cognitive aspects of low self-esteem, it’s important to reflect on the key insights and takeaways from this journey. Improving self-esteem is not about quick fixes or surface-level changes; it’s about a deeper transformation in how we think about ourselves and our place in the world.

Key Insights and Takeaways

  1. The Power of Thought: We’ve delved into how our thoughts and cognitive patterns play a crucial role in shaping our self-esteem. By understanding and altering these patterns, we can create a more positive and realistic self-view.
  2. Challenging Cognitive Distortions: Identifying and reframing cognitive distortions is essential. Techniques like evidence-based thinking, perspective-taking, and the double-standard method are powerful tools in this process.
  3. Building a Positive Self-Image: We’ve seen how cognitive restructuring, along with exercises like gratitude journaling and affirmations, can help build a healthier self-worth. This goes hand in hand with the practice of self-compassion and acceptance.
  4. Integrating Techniques into Daily Life: The real value of these strategies lies in their integration into our everyday lives. Consistency, customization, and patience are vital in making these changes enduring.

Final Thoughts and Encouragement

Remember, improving self-esteem is a journey, not a destination. It’s a process of continuous growth and self-discovery. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks or slow progress; each step, no matter how small, is a part of your journey toward a more confident and resilient self.

If you ever feel overwhelmed, remember that seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. A therapist or psychologist can provide additional support and guidance tailored to your unique needs.


What is the difference between low self esteem vs. depression?

People with low self esteem and depression may experience similar thoughts and feelings, but depression can be mainly characterized by prolonged periods of low mood. Ongoing bouts of low self esteem can make it more difficult to function and perform simple daily tasks. Depression can also lead to more severe feelings of unworthiness and thoughts about self-harm. If you feel that your low self esteem has turned into depression, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional.

What are the characteristics of a man with low self esteem?

A man with low self esteem will often compare himself to the people around him. He will also find it difficult to make decisions and his needs known. Feelings of shame and a fear of rejection are common among men with low self esteem, which can impact their lives over the long term.

What is the difference between self confidence and self esteem?

Self esteem and self confidence have some similarities, but there are also differences. Self esteem determines whether you value and appreciate yourself and will change as you progress through life. Self confidence, on the other hand, refers to your belief in yourself and what you’re capable of achieving.

What are the signs of low self esteem in women?

A woman with low self esteem will often be overly critical about herself and often make jokes in reference to this. Women with a poor self image tend to focus on their negative attributes and forget about the positives. They also have a tendency to blame themselves when things go wrong, even if they don’t have full control over the situation.