Handling self-esteem issues

Low self-esteem can be triggered by relationship problems. Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Self-esteem is similar to self-confidence.  There is a good discussion of it here (Mind website).  When we suffer from poor self-esteem, we tend to think:

  • I don’t like myself
  • I can’t fight for what I want
  • I don’t deserve good things
  • I’m not good enough

Causes of low self-esteem can include:

  • relationship problems
  • difficulties at work
  • health problems
  • financial problems

We can end up remaining silent about our issues, because we don’t want to bother people, and we secretly fear further loss of self-esteem if we open up.


Spending time talking through issues with a professional counsellor can have advantages.  The relationship is entirely confidential, meaning that we can explore our lives without bothering our family and friends. For many, just the act of beginning to talk is a tremendous relief.

Person-centred counselling methods have an advantage when it comes to working with low self-esteem.  A person-centred counsellor will prioritise unconditional acceptance of the client, and empathising with how the client feels.  In other words, they will not be critical – something a client with self-esteem issues will fear.

Slowly, a supportive relationship can form with the counsellor, which means that the client has, at least in one place, someone who can hear them and accept them as they are.  This good atmosphere can become internalised, until more healthy inner voices emerge on the part of the client.


Practical problems, such as health and finances, can weigh heavily and hugely pressurise self-esteem.  We live in a society with great stigma against ill-health and poverty, so we can find it humiliating to be in that position.  Furthermore, poor physical health can affect our mental health – in particular, changes in hormones and energy levels.

This means that, to alleviate low self-esteem, we may wish to ally ourselves with people and organisations who can help us to get the help and advice we need to improve our physical health and finances.  When we are low, we don’t always think logically.  We need to build a network of friends, mentors, and organisations which do.


Relationship problems are in a way the hardest.  We don’t always choose whom we are with, especially family.  We wake up each morning into a particular constellation of familiar people.  Because humans are social beings, we rely on those around us for support when we are down.  But they may not be the best people to give it.

We need to do three things:

  • firstly, to prioritise relationships that support us; 
  • secondly, to advocate for ourselves in our relationships (by showing those closest to us that we respect ourselves and have boundaries);
  • thirdly, to lose some relationships which are just too toxic for us right now.


There are also some important spiritual philosophical interventions, which can in themselves improve our self-esteem.

Two perhaps stand out more than any others.

Firstly, if we can be compassionate towards others, then we will tend to forget our own sorrows.  When we are helping others, we are motivated by things other than our self-image, and therefore we are away from the painful self-focused context which has been causing us pain.

Secondly, we can cultivate our understanding that this ‘self’ that we sometimes focus on has no real distinct existence as a separate category.  In reality, all things are much more joined together and flowing.  With that philosophy, it makes no sense to separate ourselves out for criticism.  We can just live and breathe.  Life becomes easier.

These two aspects of the good life are often called compassion and wisdom, especially in eastern religions.


Just for today:

  • I will try to be organised about my health and finances, to help me in the future.
  • I will also try to prioritise healthy and helpful relationships, to behave with self-respect, and perhaps to distance myself from some of my more toxic relationships.
  • I will also try to live with compassion and wisdom, helping others and flowing with the universe.