We use the phrase self-esteem to talk about the beliefs you have about yourself – what you think about the type of person you are, your abilities, the positive and negative things about you and what you expect for your future.

If you have healthy self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will generally be positive. You may experience difficult times in your life, but you will generally be able to deal with these without them having too much of a long-term negative impact on you. If you have low self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will often be negative. You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made and may find it hard to recognize the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have.

Some factors that can contribute to low self-esteem include:

• Difficult childhood experiences – negative experiences in childhood,
such as bullying, difficult family relationships or having a hard time at
school can be particularly damaging for your self-esteem.

• Difficult life events – difficult experiences as an adult, such as the end
of a relationship, long-term illness, the death of someone close to you
or being unemployed can lower your self-esteem, particularly if you
experience several difficult events over a short period of time.

• Personality and temperament – elements of your personality, such as
a tendency towards negative thinking or finding it hard to relate to
other people, could contribute to a poor self-image.

• Feeling ‘different’ – feeling like the ‘odd one out’, or under peer
pressure to conform to social norms you don’t agree with, can affect
the way you see yourself.

• Relationships with other people – other people may feed into your
low self-esteem, being negative about you or making you feel like you
have little worth. Or you may feel you don’t live up to other people’s

• Stress and excessive pressure – if you are under a lot of stress and
finding it hard to cope, this can lead to feelings of low self-worth.

• Negative thinking patterns – you may learn or develop thinking
patterns that reinforce low self-esteem, such as constantly comparing
yourself to others or developing high standards for yourself that you
can’t achieve.

• Discrimination and stigma – if you are discriminated against for
whatever reason, this can affect the way you see yourself.

• Social isolation and loneliness – if you have limited social contact
with other people, or find it hard to maintain relationships with other
people, this can lead to poor self-image.

• Trauma, abuse or bullying – trauma, physical, sexual or psychological
abuse and bullying can all lead to feelings of guilt and low self-worth.