Therapy for Low Self-Esteem: How Counseling Builds a Brighter Self-Image

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Thursday, October 12 2023

Having low self-esteem can affect many areas of your life. You might have a hard time building personal relationships. You might avoid social situations for fear of being judged. You might even pressure yourself to be perfect. 

No matter how low self-esteem affects you, help is available. In fact, therapy can help boost your self-image and help you feel better about yourself. 

Not sure if you have low self-esteem? Below, we’ll explore the common signs of low self-esteem and explain how therapy can help improve it

Signs of low self-esteem

Doubting yourself or having negative thoughts about yourself from time to time isn’t unusual; everyone has bad days or moments when they’re upset with themselves. 

But for individuals with low self-esteem, those bad days or moments tend to be a regular occurrence. People who struggle with self-esteem may exhibit one or more of the following signs:

  • Avoiding setting goals for yourself or challenging yourself due to a fear of failure 
  • Believing you’re not worthy of being loved or happy
  • Comparing yourself to others in a negative way
  • Downplaying or ignoring your accomplishments 
  • Dwelling on physical characteristics you’re unhappy with 
  • Holding yourself responsible for things that aren’t under your control 
  • Talking down to yourself or engaging in negative self-talk  

Does therapy really help with self-esteem?

Therapy allows you to explore your inner thoughts and feelings in a safe and accepting environment. You can learn how to recognize and change negative thought patterns and beliefs about yourself through therapy sessions, thus improving your self-image over time. 

Research also shows that therapy is helpful for low self-esteem, with one study finding that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) leads to increased self-esteem based on self-report measures. Another study found that group therapy raised participants’ self-esteem, and a similar report found that therapy increased self-esteem and decreased depression. 

The long-term effects of low self-esteem

What can happen if you don’t seek therapeutic treatment for low self-esteem? Low self-esteem can make it difficult for you to maintain relationships — or even to be in social situations in general. 

Low self-esteem may also cause you to develop maladaptive coping methods that can put your health and well-being at risk. 

Recent research suggests low self-esteem can be linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and academic stress and that struggling with self-esteem leads to a higher risk of eating disorders. 

With potentially serious risks, seeking help for low self-esteem is important. Going through therapy can offer more adaptive ways to tackle these issues head-on. 

Benefits of therapy for low self-esteem

From your relationships to your ability to handle challenges, therapy can go a long way toward helping you grow and change for the better. As you work through treatment, you can expect the following benefits:

Improved self-understanding 

Knowing and understanding yourself is a key part of healthy self-esteem. When you get to know yourself, you’ll more easily recognize what’s important to you. Low self-esteem can make it hard to put yourself first or focus on what you want and need. 

Therapy allows you to explore your values to figure out your priorities and identify your needs. Once you know your needs, therapy can also teach you how to meet those needs. This helps you establish boundaries and prioritize yourself — instead of settling for less. 

Boosted self-confidence 

Therapy can help you learn about cognitive distortions that contribute to low self-esteem. These distortions can cause insecurities, self-doubt, and negative thinking. 

Once you realize how these negative beliefs affect your self-esteem, your therapist can work with you to make positive changes that build your self-confidence. 

For example, you might blame yourself for something that’s out of your control or isn’t your fault. This can cause you to feel less confident about handling a conflict or trying something new.

Therapy can help you understand the negative impact of distorted thinking so you can change it and build self-confidence. As your confidence grows, you’ll have greater self-worth and higher self-esteem. 

Enhanced coping skills 

Being able to handle stress or difficult life experiences is tough when you have low self-esteem. You might turn to unhelpful or harmful coping methods in these situations, but therapy for low self-esteem can help you build more effective coping skills to tackle life’s stresses more easily. 

As an example, let’s say that low self-esteem has you striving for perfection. When you fail to meet those standards, you might binge on junk food or splurge on something expensive. You can learn better coping skills through therapy, like self-forgiveness and being kind and encouraging to yourself. This allows you to accept yourself as you are instead of trying to be perfect. 

Increased self-acceptance 

Speaking of acceptance, therapy for low self-esteem paves the way toward learning to love yourself, developing self-compassion, and accepting your perceived flaws or shortcomings. This can help you learn to be kinder to yourself and replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. 

For example, you might hyperfocus on one part of your physical appearance that you don’t like or part of your personality you wish was “better.” Low self-esteem can cause you to criticize yourself repeatedly. But, as you attend therapy and your self-esteem improves, your therapist will work with you on developing more self-accepting thought patterns. 

Development of healthy boundaries 

When you have low self-esteem, you might find it hard or even impossible to set boundaries. You might struggle to speak up for yourself and let others know what you need. As a result, you can end up in maladaptive relationships or feel depressed or anxious. Therapy can empower you with the confidence to set more adaptive boundaries with others. 

Imagine that you have a difficult time discussing a traumatic experience from your past. You might set a boundary with others that lets them know you’re uncomfortable talking about it. You can ask them not to bring it up or ask you about it. 

Improved communication skills and relationships 

Relationships can be stressful for those with low self-esteem. You might have a tough time handling conflict — or you might avoid it completely. You might hesitate to communicate what you need to feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship. 

Therapy can help you develop stronger communication skills, giving you the confidence to speak up for yourself and handle conflicts more effectively. 

Going through therapy that raises your self-esteem means you can work on building better relationships. As your self-awareness and self-acceptance increase, you’ll find it easier to cope with relationship challenges. 

Self-help tips for low self-esteem

Therapy offers professional guidance in boosting self-esteem. However, you can also take steps on your own to accomplish this. The following tips can help you work on improving your self-esteem in your day-to-day life:

  • Celebrate small goals you accomplish, even if they seem minor. 
  • Challenge negative self thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones. For example, let’s say you make a mistake at work. Instead of catastrophizing that you’ll get fired for it, treat yourself with compassion. Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes — everyone makes them from time to time!
  • Focus on things you can change instead of things you can’t control.
  • Practice self-care, such as setting aside time to do something you love daily.
  • Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes. 
  • Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life and themselves.
  • Think about your strengths. 

Connect with a therapist with SonderMind

Although low self-esteem can have a negative impact on your life, therapy can help. Working with a qualified mental health professional can help you recognize how your self-esteem affects your life and build more adaptive thought patterns and behaviors, leading to a better self-image and greater confidence. 

Whether you want to meet with a therapist virtually or in person, SonderMind provides a convenient way to find an experienced therapist to help you reach your therapeutic goals. Our personalized approach ensures you connect with therapists who meet your unique preferences for the best possible outcomes. 

Connect with a SonderMind therapist today to get started on your journey toward better self-esteem. 

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

Stay connected and supported with the latest tips and information from SonderMind.