Do you doubt your ability to succeed, struggle to make decisions or feel inferior to others? Are you overly critical of yourself? If so, you may be struggling with low self-esteem and low self-confidence.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem determines how much you value yourself and believe in your ability to succeed. If you feel confident in being yourself around others, then you likely have high self-esteem. Having high self-esteem is related to increased happiness, relationship satisfaction, and resilience in the face of adversity.

A first step toward building positive self-esteem is to recognize the signs of low self-esteem and understand how it impacts you.

Characteristics of low self-esteem:

  • Struggling to set boundaries
  • Focusing on pleasing others
  • Difficulty expressing different opinions
  • Frequently criticizing yourself or others
  • Trouble accepting compliments
  • Regularly feeling like an impostor
  • Having a hard time receiving feedback
  • Feeling inferior to others despite objective information

If you find yourself nodding your head after reading the above list, it may be time to start improving your self-esteem. 

Tips to build self-esteem:

1. Balance the critical with compassion

When you experience negative self-talk or a harsh inner critic, give it a name. You can name it anything you’d like, or you can call it the name of something or someone that you’ve experienced as being overly critical (i.e., a boss, parent, coach, etc.).

When you notice this inner critic narrating your life in some way, challenge it. Call it by its name and ask it questions to find out how accurate its perceptions are. 

Now bring up an image of someone who has cared for you, who you felt loved by and who understood you. Try imagining them talking to your inner critic. What might they say to the critic? This will help you build your self-esteem while also developing a more objective perception of yourself and your life.

2. Build social connections

Volunteer. Experience the benefits of being around others who demonstrate selflessness for a good cause. You may feel a sense of purpose you haven’t found elsewhere and make new friends along the way.

Join a local sports team or hobby group like pickleball or woodworking. Try a drop-in class before committing. Relationships built on similarities and mutual enjoyment can help build self-worth, all while developing confidence in a skill.

Check out a Men’s Shed. It’s one example of an organization that helps to connect men through activities and meaningful projects.

3. Take care of your physical health

How you take care of yourself directly relates to how you feel about yourself. Those with high self-esteem typically prioritize eating healthy, exercising regularly, and sleeping well.

Alcohol can numb and distance men from their feelings and experiences. Experiment with cutting down on drinking to see what it’s like to be sober more often. Making small positive changes is easier when you’re more connected with yourself.

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4. Set SMART goals:

Set goals that are important to you and try making them SMART goals: 

  • Specific: Be specific about what you want to achieve. What do you want to accomplish, and why is it important to you?
  • Measurable: Make the goal measurable so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. How much, how many and how will you know when it’s accomplished?
  • Attainable: Make your goal achievable. How realistic is the goal? Do you have the necessary skills and resources? 
  • Relevant: What’s a relevant action you can take to help achieve your goal?
  • Timely: Set a target date or deadline for your goal. What is the time frame for accomplishing your goal? What can you do today, six weeks from now or six months from now? For example, I will run for 10 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 am for the next 4 weeks. 

Track your progress and pay attention to your successes and improvements. Celebrate them and share them with someone you care about.

5. Engage in a new hobby or skill

Do you have a hobby that allows you to create? Writing, sculpting, carving, drawing, painting and playing music all help access your creative side. Try taking a workshop, joining a club or learning a new language. Challenging yourself is a great way to build a healthier, more confident sense of self.

How does low self-esteem develop?

You may have low self-esteem if you’ve been criticized, abused, bullied, or have had numerous setbacks in life. Experiencing chronic depression and low self-worth can be related to low self-esteem and can result from childhood experiences of neglect, abuse, and criticism. We learn how to treat ourselves and what to believe about ourselves through the eyes and actions of others.

Self-esteem will naturally fluctuate because it develops from external factors. If you’re living in a positive, healthy environment surrounded by those who care for you and support you, you’ll likely have higher self-esteem compared to someone who lives in an unhealthy relationship, works a job they don’t like, and regularly experiences workplace bullying. 

Low self-esteem is a barrier to positive personal growth that can prevent you from making healthy changes.

Self-esteem improvements

The good news is that although self-esteem is typically derived from external factors, you can set healthy boundaries and choose what and who you surround yourself with. 

Considerate friends will contribute to higher self-esteem more than those who are disrespectful or push your boundaries. Recognizing how you’d like to be treated and surrounding yourself with those who treat you well helps develop self-care and quiets the inner critic. 

Some men worry that if they set boundaries and build self-esteem, they’ll become overly narcissistic or too self-involved. Research suggests that men who score very high on self-esteem but struggle to admit mistakes or wrongdoing actually have a false sense of self. This might develop as a defence to protect them from criticism and adversity. 

Setting boundaries, SMART goals, and constantly reframing and challenging your inner critic helps create space to develop confidence, and it will make it easier to develop other healthy habits. 

An example of healthy, high self-esteem is displayed by being able to express vulnerability and admit fault. There is really nothing to lose and everything to gain when considering making small changes to your life to start building your own self-worth.

Need support to build self-esteem?

If you’re interested in building your confidence, I encourage you to give counselling a try. It can help to have someone to talk to who has an understanding of the issues you’re facing and the techniques to help you overcome them or change them.

The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation’s MindFit Toolkit is another great resource that can help, providing resources, information and counselling services to improve your mental health.

What are your thoughts on self-esteem? Are there other strategies you have found to be helpful in developing a higher and more robust sense of self-worth? Tell us in the comments below!

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