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How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Medically reviewed by: Gabriel Araujo, PhD

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem means feeling good about yourself. People with self-esteem feel liked and accepted. They’re proud of what they do and believe in themselves. People with low self-esteem are hard on themselves and think they’re not good enough.

The good news is that you can boost your self-esteem. But first, it helps to learn more about it.

Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?

Parents, teachers, and others. The people in your life can affect how you feel about yourself. When they focus on what's good about you, you feel proud of yourself. If they’re patient when you make mistakes, you learn to accept yourself. But if adults scold more than they praise, it's hard to feel good. Bullying and mean teasing by siblings or peers also can hurt self-esteem. Harsh words can stick and become part of how you think about yourself.

The voice in your own head. The things you say in your mind play a big part in how you feel about yourself. Thinking things like "I'm such a loser" or "I'll never make friends" hurts your self-esteem.

Learning to do things. People feel proud when they learn stuff like how to play a sport, use a computer program, paint, or cook. Each thing you learn and do is a chance to feel good about yourself. Sometimes you might feel like what you did wasn't good enough. But when you think "It's not perfect" rather than "I did my best on something new," you miss a chance to build self-esteem.

What if My Self-Esteem Is Low?

Here are some tips to feel better about yourself and raise your self-esteem:

Be with people who treat you well. Some people act in ways that tear you down. Others lift you up by what they say and do. Learn to tell the difference. Choose friends you can be yourself with and who help you feel OK about who you are. Be that type of friend for others.

Say helpful things to yourself. Tune in to the voice in your head. Are you too hard on yourself? For a few days, write down some of the things you say to yourself. Look over your list. Are these things you'd say to a good friend? If not, rewrite them in a way that's true, fair, and kind. Read your new phrases often. Do it until it's more of a habit to think that way.

For example, you might think, “Missing those questions on the test was so stupid.” Instead, tell yourself, “Maybe I can try a different study technique, like flash cards, and do better next time.” That voice is more hopeful.

Accept what's not perfect. Always do the best you can. But when you think you need to be perfect, you can't feel good about anything less. Accept your best and let yourself feel proud about that. Ask for help from a trusted adult (like a parent or teacher) if you can't get past a need to not make any mistakes.

Set goals and work toward them. If you want to feel better about yourself, set healthy goals. Maybe you want to eat healthier, exercise more, or study better. Make a goal, then create a plan for how to reach it. Stick with your plan and track your progress. Be proud of what you've done so far. Say to yourself, "I've been following my plan to work out a few times a week. I feel good about it. I know I can keep it up."

Focus on what goes well. Are you so used to talking about problems that they're all you see? It's easy to get caught up in what's wrong. But unless you balance it with what's good, it just makes you feel bad. Next time, catch yourself when you complain about yourself or your day. Find something that went well instead.

And try this: Each night before bed, try to find at least three good things that happened to you that day. Soon you’ll start to notice more positive things about the people in your life and yourself.

Help others. Giving is one the best ways to build self-esteem. Tutor a classmate, help clean up your neighborhood, or walk for a good cause. Help at home or at school. Make it a habit to be kind and fair. Do stuff that makes you proud of the kind of person you are. When you do things that make a difference (even a small one), your self-esteem will grow.

Medically reviewed by: Gabriel Araujo, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2023