Self Worth


Self-worth is based around the idea of valuing yourself and believing that you are worthy of love and, indeed, worthy as an individual. Having a good sense of self-worth is important for leading a happy, fulfilling life. Unfortunately, for some people, a poor sense of self-worth can develop in childhood and, if untreated, persist into adulthood, often having an inhibiting and, even harmful, effect on a person’s life.

What causes low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is not something anyone is born with. Rather, we develop it over time; it often stems from early negative experiences. Factors that contribute to the likelihood of someone developing low self-esteem include:

Negative childhood experiences

Childhood experiences of abuse, bullying, neglect or punishment can be a major influence in establishing low self-esteem in a person. In fact, children who have gone through these things often come to believe that they actually deserved these ‘punishments’ and that they really are bad.

Failing to meet expectations

Some people develop low self-esteem as failing to meet the expectations of others makes them feel as though they are not good enough. An example of this would be failing to meet the expectations of your parents – regardless of whether or not these expectations were fair or realistic, to begin with.

Peer pressure and self-esteem

Peer pressure can have a significant impact on our self-esteem. Adolescence can be a particularly trying time for many of us in this respect, as we begin to inform our identity. We all want to belong and fit in, but it’s not something that comes easy. Being made to feel the odd one out or different can have a terrible impact on our self-esteem. When we are made to feel unpopular or an ‘outsider’, we can come to believe that, as individuals, we are not good enough. If these negative experiences aren’t counterbalanced by positive ones, then this is a recipe for self-esteem problems not just in adolescence, but into adulthood.

Barriers to a good sense of self-worth

There are, unfortunately, many factors in today’s society that can hinder our self-worth. We constantly have the media subtly or not-so-subtly tell us what the ideal body is, the ideal clothes are, even the perfect place to live or the ideal job can be supposedly ‘decided’ for us. The thing is, having a good sense of self-worth encompasses the idea that those things don’t matter; our value as a person is not based on what we look like, what clothes we have, where we live or what we do for a living.

A person with a poor sense of self-worth might criticise themselves for not having the latest clothes or having the same body type as those they see in the media; someone with a healthy sense of self-worth simply won’t let that kind of thinking factor in.

What sort of effects can having a poor sense of self-worth have on a person?

Yes. There are many different types of depression, and here are some of the more common forms:

Situational Depression

As its name suggests, this is caused by a current traumatic or stressful situation as well as past traumatic experiences. It could be due to work problems, school problems, debt problems, relationship problems, a significant (traumatic) change in one’s life, childhood trauma, or another stressful situation.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This tends to happen to people in the autumn and winter months, when the days are shorter and darker.

Major Depression

This is when low mood, low self-esteem or loss of enjoyment, persists for two weeks or more.

Bipolar Disorder

Also known as ‘mania’, this can involve people swinging between low moods and ‘manic’ tendencies, including risky behaviour of high spending, etc.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

This is when a depressive mood continues for more than two years, affecting most of the sufferer’s time.

Postnatal Depression

Postnatal Depression happens to mothers in the months after they’ve had a baby.

Low self-esteem can warp how we view ourselves

Low self-esteem can cause us to form a critical inner voice that chastises ourselves, our abilities, our potential and even our future. It can cause us to worry that we’ll never be good enough, that we can’t cope, that we’re worthless, that we’re ugly, that we’re unintelligent, etc. It can cause us to always fear the worst.

What feelings can low self-esteem evoke?

  • Sadness
  • Hopeless
  • Worthless
  • Un-confident
  • Anxious
  • Tired/Deflated
  • Low
  • Picked-on
  • Weak

How can low self-esteem affect how we act?

Low self-esteem can hold us back; fear of failing can prevent people from even trying. On the other hand, sometimes it causes people to overcompensate by trying too hard altogether. 

It can affect all areas of our lives, including social, personal and romantic aspects.

People can withdraw or avoid meeting people, for fear of being judged or rejected as not good enough. Dwelling on our feelings can consume us and cause us to withdraw from enjoyable things in life. 

Self-criticism can convince us that we’re simply not good enough to pursue self-development, be it in our personal, educational or professional lives.

It can also make us more susceptible to bullying as someone who doesn’t value themselves is less likely to stand up to poor treatment, for example. 

Can a poor sense of self-worth be harmful?

Yes, most certainly. Unfortunately, sometimes people fall prey to using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs as a means of coping with their poor sense of self-worth. This can lead to unhealthy dependencies on substances. It can also lead to them staying in toxic or abusive relationships because they won’t stand up for themselves or are afraid to leave because they feel their relationship defines them.

Depending on what form one’s poor sense of self-worth takes, it can also lead to harmful disorders. These could include anorexia, body dysmorphia, anxiety, self-harm, depression, just to name a few.

Can poor self-worth be improved?

It certainly can. There are various ways to help combat a poor sense of self-worth, from therapy sessions to activities you can do yourself.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy involves a therapist helping to change a patient’s perspective on their critical thoughts and help them realise that they don’t have to be defined by them.

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

Sometimes practiced as part of CBT, Compassion Focused Therapy encourages the patient to take a kinder and less critical approach towards themselves.


By practising mindfulness, we gradually learn to ignore negative or self-critical thoughts and dismiss them for what they are: just thoughts that don’t have any impact on our lives or how we perceive ourselves.

Take up new hobbies, learn a new skill

Learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby can help boost our sense of self-worth and confidence as we see ourselves progress and develop. It’s also a great use of channelling pent up energy and releasing stress.


Volunteering has been known to help improve our sense of self-worth, especially when we can see ourselves make a positive contribution to a community or project.

If you feel that you’re struggling with your sense of self-worth or one of the associated conditions that can come with it (e.g. anxiety, depression), and would like to try therapy for it, please do drop me a line. I promise you the strictest confidence, and there are no stupid questions, so don’t worry. Click here for the contact form, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

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