Low self-esteem can negatively affect virtually every part of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health. But you can raise your self-esteem to a healthy level, even if you’re an adult who’s been harboring a negative self-image since childhood. Changing the way you think — about yourself and your life — is essential to boosting self-esteem. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are especially helpful in changing unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. These techniques are based on the idea that your feelings and behavior result from how you think about yourself and your life. Cognitive behavioral techniques can help you recognize, challenge and ultimately replace negative thoughts or inaccurate beliefs with more positive, realistic ones. These five steps toward healthy self-esteem are based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles. As you go through these five steps, consider jotting down your thoughts, experiences and observations in a journal to help you use these steps more effectively.
Step 1: Identify troubling conditions or situations
Think about the conditions or situations that you find troubling and that seem to deflate your self-esteem, such as dreading a business presentation, frequently becoming angry or always expecting the worst. You may be struggling with a change in life circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, job loss or children leaving home, or a relationship with another person, such as a spouse, family member or co-worker.
Step 2: Become aware of beliefs and thoughts
Once you’ve identified troubling conditions or situations, pay attention to your thoughts related to them. This includes your self-talk — what you tell yourself — and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs may be positive, negative or neutral. They may be rational — based on reason or facts — or irrational — based on false ideas.
3: Pinpoint negative or inaccurate thinking
Notice when your thoughts turn toward the negative. Your beliefs and thoughts about a situation affect your reaction to it. Negative thoughts and beliefs about something or someone can trigger physical, emotional and behavioral responses.
Step 4: Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
Your initial thoughts may not be the only possible way to view a situation. So test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether there might be other explanations for the situation. You may not easily recognize inaccuracies in your thinking, though. Most people have automatic, long-standing ways of thinking about their lives and themselves. These long-held thoughts and beliefs feel normal and factual to you, but many are actually just opinions or perceptions.
Step 5: Change your thoughts and beliefs
Once you’ve identified negative or inaccurate thinking you can replace it with accurate thoughts and beliefs. This can enable you to find constructive ways to cope, and give your self-esteem a boost. It takes time and effort to learn how to recognize and replace distressing thoughts with accurate ones. Thoughts often occur spontaneously or automatically. They can they can be hard to control or turn off. Thoughts also can be very powerful and aren’t always based on logic.
Achieving healthy self-esteem
With practice, these steps may come more easily to you. You’ll be better able to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem. Because self-esteem can fluctuate over time, you may want to revisit these steps, especially if you begin to feel down on yourself again. Keeping a journal or daily log can help you track trouble spots over time.
Achieving a balanced, accurate view of yourself and accepting your value as a person can help you feel happier and more confident. And that may rub off on others too, including your children, family and friends.