Low self-esteem

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Natalie Swanson
Last updated 19th April 2024 | Next update due 19th April 2027

Our self-esteem is made up of thoughts and opinions often formed in our early years about who we are and what we’re capable of. Having low self-esteem can impact our well-being and our potential. Here, we’ll explore low self-esteem in more detail and explain how hypnotherapy can help.

What is low self-esteem?

The thoughts and opinions we have of ourselves tend to be influenced by experiences we have and/or the people we’re surrounded by. For example, someone with a particularly critical parent, or someone who was bullied at school may find they struggle with low self-esteem.

In this video, hypnotherapist Maha Amin (Prof Dip Psy C, Cert. HYP & CS, MA) explains how low self-esteem can affect us, what can cause it and how hypnotherapy can help.

The beliefs we have about ourselves can feel ingrained and difficult to change. The good news is that they can be changed, it just takes work. There are several ways you can help yourself raise your self-esteem, including personal development work (such as developing self-compassion and setting yourself small challenges) and hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy can be very effective for improving self-esteem as it works directly with the subconscious - where the negative thoughts about ourselves live.

Symptoms of low self-esteem

Recognising that you have low self-esteem is an important first step to making change. If you struggle with your opinion of yourself, you may notice the following:

  • you are critical of yourself
  • you find it difficult to accept compliments
  • you avoid trying new things due to a fear of failure
  • you don’t believe you deserve care and attention
  • you blame yourself when something goes wrong
  • you believe others are ‘better’ than you
  • you are sensitive to criticism
  • you withdraw yourself socially
  • you feel low and/or anxious
  • you struggle to uphold boundaries
  • you compare yourself to others
  • you are a people pleaser
  • you feel you have little control over your life

If you recognise these symptoms, know that you’re not alone and that support is available. This may be something you’ve lived with for a long time, or it may be new to you. Either way, getting support can help you overcome the effects of low self-esteem.

Effects of low self-esteem

Having a poor sense of self-esteem can have a huge impact on our happiness. It makes it difficult for us to recognise our strengths and what we’re good at, which can hold us back in both our personal and professional lives. When we don’t think we’re capable of much, we avoid trying new things and can find ourselves trapped in our comfort zones.

We might struggle to show ourselves kindness and practise self-care, leading to stress and burnout. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental illness in itself, our mental health can be affected. Long-term low self-esteem can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety. You may also find that if you have a mental health condition, this affects your self-esteem.

Low self-esteem can be caused by a number of reasons and will differ from person to person. Some may find their self-esteem has always been low, while others may experience a sudden change.

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

  • being abused
  • being bullied
  • finding it difficult to get a job
  • losing your job
  • experiencing discrimination
  • long-term stress
  • relationship difficulties
  • body image concerns
  • money/finance problems
  • physical or mental health conditions
  • growing up around overly critical authority figures

Regardless of the cause, it’s important to know that change is possible.

How can hypnotherapy for low self-esteem help?

The negative thoughts we have about ourselves come about because our subconscious is trying to protect us. When we have a bad experience, for example, if we fail a maths test at school, our subconscious will recognise this as something to be avoided. To protect us, it will tell us we’re bad at maths and should avoid trying. This leads to stress and worry every time we have a maths test, affecting our abilities (thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Over time, we learn that we are ‘bad’ at maths and develop automatic negative thoughts on the subject that follow us into adulthood. This can then affect our confidence and make us wary of trying anything to do with numbers, including dealing with our finances.

As these automatic thoughts come from our subconscious, they are difficult to change through sheer willpower alone. Our subconscious doesn’t listen to reason and is... well, let’s just say it’s stuck in its ways.

And this is why hypnotherapy can be such a powerful tool. Hypnotherapy aims to ‘talk’ directly to your subconscious, change negative thinking patterns and encourage more positive responses. So rather than a critical voice of fear, our subconscious can be taught to be encouraging and supportive.

When we’re in a state of hypnosis (which is like deep relaxation or meditation) our subconscious is more open to suggestions. A hypnotherapist can then use suggestion techniques to help uncover negative thoughts and reframe them to be more positive.

Low self-esteem is effectively a learnt behaviour; it’s something we’ve learnt after years of repetitive thinking (in our previous example, “I’m bad with numbers”). Hypnotherapy is a way we can unlearn these behaviours and create new, more supportive ones (such as, “I’m confident with numbers”).

The hypnotherapy perspective is to help you re-learn to believe in yourself. It does an amazing job of helping you trust in your abilities; those dying embers of faith and belief that you used to have in yourself are reignited, and self-confidence is fostered.

- Hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi.

Your hypnotherapist may teach you self-hypnosis too, allowing you to reinforce the positive suggestions offered in the session. Self-hypnosis can then work as a boost, helping to reaffirm your new way of thinking long after your sessions are over.

Working with a hypnotherapist offers a safe space to explore your thoughts and behaviours. Your hypnotherapist can also offer a sense of accountability, encouraging you to keep progressing throughout the process.

Hypnotherapists who can help with low self-esteem

Self-help tips to improve self-esteem

Hypnotherapy can be complemented by other self-development work too. Below we discuss some self-help tips you can try alongside hypnotherapy.

Set yourself small challenges

We gain confidence and self-belief when we try new things and are successful. As scary as it may feel to do this, setting yourself personal challenges is a great way to develop self-esteem. Start small and build up to bigger challenges. When you have good experiences with this, note it down somewhere and remind yourself when you try something new again in the future.

Over time you’ll find yourself with a bank of evidence, proving that you are capable (this helps to bolster self-esteem).

Be more compassionate towards yourself

When our self-esteem is poor, it can be difficult to be kind to ourselves. Self-compassion is a practice, something that takes repetition. Try to get into a habit of showing yourself kindness, whether it’s through self-care or investing in professional support.

Hold onto the positives

Because our subconscious likes to protect us from perceived danger, it tends to remember negative experiences more than positive experiences. This is called negativity bias. To overcome this, it’s helpful to put a real effort into noting when positive things happen. Write them down, take pictures - anything that will help you remember when you accomplish something (celebrate those wins!).

Practice gratitude

This negativity bias can affect our mood, making us feel like we have nothing to be grateful for. Making space to practise gratitude can help with this. Try using a journal and writing one thing you’re grateful for every day. Over time your mind will get into a habit of recognising what it has to be grateful for and you’ll help change your thinking to be more positive.

Develop assertiveness

Low self-esteem can make us susceptible to people pleasing and saying yes when we really should be saying no. This is often because we don’t think we have a ‘right’ to say no.

Becoming more comfortable with the word ‘no’ and setting healthy boundaries is key to developing self-esteem. When we do this, we are reinforcing the message that we are worthy.

Remember, the perceptions we have of ourselves are often based on false beliefs we’ve formed. These beliefs are learned, which means we can unlearn them. Our self-esteem is malleable and able to change, as long as we have the right tools.

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