Self-esteem: Boost your self-image with these 5 steps

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can help you unlearn thought patterns that contribute to low self-esteem. See examples of thoughts that can erode self-esteem and learn healthy substitutes.

By Mayo Clinic staff

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.

Step 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, such as:

  • Physical responses. These may include muscle tension, a sore back, racing heart, stomach problems, sweating or changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Emotional responses. These may include difficulty concentrating, or feeling depressed, angry, sad, nervous, guilty or worried.
  • Behavioral responses. These may include eating when not hungry, avoiding tasks, working more than usual, spending increased time alone, obsessing about a situation or blaming others for your problems.

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  • Related Links


    1. Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Self-esteem. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2006.
    2. Building self-esteem: A self-help guide. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed May 4, 2009.
    3. Self-esteem booster. National Association for Self-Esteem. Accessed May 4, 2009.
    4. Creagan ET (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 14, 2009.
    5. Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 14, 2009.


    July 24, 2009

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