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Self-Esteem: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Self-esteem is your subjective evaluation of your goodness, likability, and overall competence. When you have a healthy self-esteem, you feel ready to handle life’s challenges. You recognize your strengths and don’t let your mistakes or shortcomings define you. 

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Measuring self-esteem is difficult, but some studies suggest that as many as 85% of Americans feel that they don’t measure up.

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Signs and Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem

Here are some common signs of low self-esteem. You don’t need to experience all of these symptoms to seek treatment for low self-esteem:

  • Self-deprecating thoughts or statements

  • Feeling unworthy or unvalued 

  • Believing there’s nothing good about yourself 

  • Focusing on your shortcomings and ignoring your strengths and achievements

  • Apologizing or feeling guilty for small mistakes or things that aren’t your fault

  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism

  • Difficulty creating and honoring boundaries

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Causes of Low Self-Esteem

Several factors throughout your life can cause low self-esteem. All causes of low self-esteem are environmental, which means that nobody is born with low self-esteem, and anybody can improve their self-esteem. Here are a few examples of factors that can lead to low self-esteem:

  • Parenting style

  • Child abuse / Negligent parents

  • Bullying

  • Trauma

  • Experiences of rejection

  • Perfectionism

  • Messages from the media (particularly about physical appearance)

  • Capitalism

  • Individualistic cultural norms

  • Discrimination / Inequality

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Treatment for Low Self-Esteem

Treatment for low self-esteem must include a combination of identifying your strengths, challenging your inner critic, and regularly engaging in acts of self-compassion. Though improving self-esteem may at first seem like a feel-good process, often, it’s uncomfortable and challenging.


Many individuals with low self-esteem believe they have few or no strengths and are uncomfortable speaking positively about themselves. Therefore, the process of identifying and reflecting on their individual strengths can be very difficult.

Effective therapy will help you identify your strengths even if you believe you have none, and it will help you systematically grow more accustomed to positive self-talk. Therapy will also help you identify and challenge your inner critic.

Many people with low self-esteem fear that if they're "too nice" to themselves, they'll become complacent, arrogant, or unmotivated. Treatment will help you work through these reservations by helping you find a balance between accountability and kindness (likely the same balance you give freely to others).

Finally, therapy will help you engage in regular acts of self-compassion. The following is a non-exhaustive list of self-compassionate acts:

  • Setting realistic expectations for yourself

  • Identifying and acknowledging your strengths

  • Accepting compliments

  • Creating and honoring relationship boundaries

  • Communicating with confidence

  • Saying "no"

  • Asking for help

  • Practicing regular self-care

  • Bouncing back after making mistakes

  • Trusting your judgment

If you feel that you need support identifying your strengths, challenging your inner critic, engaging in acts of self-compassion, or overcoming any of the above signs of self-esteem, reach out to schedule a consultation!

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