top of page
  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Low self-esteem and self-efficacy

woman judging her reflection

Low self-esteem can be debilitating.

People who suffer from a low self-esteem can be keen to push forward and to make positive changes in their lives, to find happiness, but more often than not, they will keep getting stuck. This is because, underneath it all, they carry with them a continual nagging sense that they don't matter.

This strongly negative self-regard, or low self-esteem, generally results in an underlying feeling of worthlessness; people will often try to ameliorate the chronic unhappiness this causes by working hard or being an incredibly kind and caring friend or partner.For some people, low self-esteem can be so devastating it can contribute to depression and even inability to function in life.


1] Low self-esteem often comes from early experiences of rejection, judgement or feelings of being an outsider. Also there's a social evaluative aspect to self-esteem, where we evaluate ourselves by comparisons with others; we also assume that others will be evaluating us, and will see the same flaws and lack of competence we see in ourselves. These feelings and assumptions lead to anxiety, especially social anxiety.

2] Low self-esteem generally leads to a sense of inferiority. The feeling of not measuring up to others, because of our own perceived flaws and ineptitude leaves them feeling unworthy . In all of my clients with low self-esteem, their 'flaw' has never been visible to other people; internally though, it has been magnified to the point of overshadowing every positive thing by their interpretations of various interactions and events in their lives.

3] Some individuals with low self-esteem can project an air of superiority, a classic over-compensation used to hide this failure or character flaw. Low self-esteem can also lead to perfectionism, as people work harder to ensure their weaknesses or incapacities aren't spotted, and this can also be perceived by others as a superior attitude.

4] Impatience and irritability is another common characteristic of people with low self-esteem: usually it's directed at themselves, the sense of anger and annoyance that they can't just achieve and 'move past' their personal weaknesses. It can be directed at others though, often because the individual is 'projecting' as they attempt to defend themselves against their own negative qualities, whether real or imagined, by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.

5] People with low self-esteem often define themselves in terms of pleasing other people, a way of trying to avoid the rejection they perceive as almost inevitable. This leads to them putting aside their own needs, which they feel are fundamentally unimportant and focusing on the goals and ambitions of others. This focus on externally orientated goals, and not having your own needs met, can lead to feelings of resentment.

6] Low self-esteem frequently leads to a negative mind-set. This becomes visible to others through constantly self-criticising, excessively apologising or making negative jokes and observations about themselves. Internally the constant negative self-talk is continues to magnify and underline the perceived flaws. Unfortunately, people tend to avoid individuals that are excessively negative and this sort of rejection only reinforces the low self-esteem.

A good bond with the coach or therapist can help can help the client with low self-esteem; a warm, trusting connection where the client can experience empathetic communication and see the coach being affected by their shared interaction can have a positive impact, but often their self-concept will still resist this.

So how can you help someone understand, and believe, right in their core, that they have inherent value based on who they are, rather than what they do?

young child in superhero costume


One good place to start is to help the client build self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a person's belief in their ability to accomplish some specific goal or task. It generally corresponds to the level of competence an individual feels, although competence can vary from one situation to another, (you may know you're really great at driving, for example, and feel incapable of expressing yourself in writing) , so self-efficacy isn't always completely accurate at assessing an individual's overall feelings of competence.

If a person has, or can develop, high self-efficacy in an any area, however, they will think, feel and behave in a way that contributes to and , importantly, reinforces their successes and will then improve their self-satisfaction.

With this increased sense of self-satisfaction they are more likely to view obstacles as challenges they can overcome, so they're less afraid to face new things; individuals are able to recover more speedily from setbacks because they view failure more as a result of external circumstances than their perceived internal weaknesses.

So self-efficacy can increase self-esteem by improving how well you perform , how satisfied you are with the choices you make and it can help you identify areas where you can improve.

Self-concept is a description of how you perceive yourself, derived from self- esteem and self-efficacy. If your perception is distorted, for instance by low self-esteem, this description is unlikely be an accurate depiction of you, but it will be an accurate statement of what you believe about yourself.
People with a good self-esteem and self-efficacy will be able to recognise their limitations without a judgement attached. For instance, "I'm terrible at maths" can be just a statement of fact without feeling good or bad about it.

We all have carry within us a sense of self. Whether that sense of self is positive or negative is based upon our experiences in life and our perceptions and assessment of ourselves. Experiences, such as having a hyper-critical parent can distort this perception: This person could well feel unable to ever really please their parent and as a result, no matter how much they achieve and how successful they may be in life, they will continue to think of themselves as a failure. Someone who has been remorselessly bullied at school will carry with them a sense of being continually on the outside of every group or situation and will often come to believe the labels that have been forced on them. This can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, when a person believes an imposed idea or a label such as 'useless' and never try to achieve or prove otherwise.

1] Develop your range of skills and abilities.The most important way to improve self-efficacy is to develop the skill set you need to be effective. If you are having trouble being successful in your work (or any area of your life), honestly identify your areas of deficit and determine what you need to do to improve. You can ask people you trust to honestly evaluate your skills and to give specific advice regarding improvement. Once you know what you need to do, then you need to do it repeatedly to develop competence. That's how competence develops, through learning and practice
2] Modelling. An important way to learn these necessary skills is to observe people you know and admire. You can observe successful completion of tasks, and people being rewarded for their performance, and model their behaviour to improve your skills.
3] To improve self-efficacy, it is best to focus on specifics. If someone gives you a general feedback,especially if it is negative, it is less helpful for improving self-efficacy than specific information.
4] The more behaviour is reinforced, the more likely it will continue. If you want to improve your self-efficacy focus on what you do well and reinforce it by giving yourself specific praise

1] Eliminate negative self-talk. First and foremost, people with low self-esteem need to eliminate harmful self-talk, the constant negative chatter in your mind.These negative labels and frequent self-criticism can only further damage your self-esteem. Eliminating negative self-talk doesn't mean you don't acknowledge and address problems, but it means to be careful about how you talk to yourself and to not be self-destructive.

2] Recognise your self-worth.It is important to remind yourself frequently that you are unique, you have value and intrinsic worth. You deserve to take care of yourself and to set limits and boundaries. You deserve respect and to be treated well. Again, you need to frequently reinforce this idea by continuing to focus on your self-worth. 3] Recognise your strengths. Those with low self-esteem tend to focus on their weaknesses rather than focusing on their strengths, sometimes believing that there isn't anything positive they can say about themselves. This is never true.It is important to pay attention to your skills and to appreciate your strengths no matter how few or how small they may seem. Once you recognise the strengths you need to reinforce you can do so through focus and practice. 4] Accept mistakes. Self compassion tells us to recognise that mistakes and flaws are part of the human condition. They don't make you less than others. Instead, you are like everyone else. You have flaws and you make mistakes; indeed, the more things you try, the more mistakes you will make. Conversely, the more actively involved you are in things, the more opportunity you have for success as well. Accept yourself, including your weaknesses, your imperfections and your frailty. 5] Accept rejection. This is a tough but important one. The more you can accept that you don't have to be liked by everyone, the less likely you are to feel ashamed of your flaws or imperfections. The person with low self-esteem will frequently feel like a failure, or take it incredibly personally, if someone is disapproving or doesn't like them.It's impossible to be liked by everyone. In fact, not being liked by everyone, should be regarded as a positive thing, because it proves you are being a genuine person and true to yourself.


1] Write a negative statement you use to describe yourself. Try to be as fully descriptive as possible with the statement. 2] Identify what is true and what is false about the statement. You may have difficulty with this step if you don't fully expand the statement. As a result the statement may appear to be true on the surface when it is actually false. Such statements are false because they are implying more that what is actually being stated. So, for example, if you write "I'm useless at my job" you might argue "That statement is true. According to my colleague, I am rubbish at my job" However, more is being implied by the statement. If this statement affects how you feel about yourself, then your full statement is probably something like "I'm bad at my job and that means I'm incapable" or "I'm bad at my job which means I'm stupid and unable to learn" . As you can see, when the full statement is written out, then it is possible to identify what is true or false about the statement. For example, you can be 'bad' at your job and still be a very capable person. Perhaps you need more time to settle in to your job, or you haven't been taught how to perform certain tasks properly, or maybe you're in the wrong job and you would be exceptional in another position, but the idea of being incapable or stupid is false. However, the belief that you are incapable can have such an effect on you that you start to make more mistakes and it effect your confidence and relationships while you are at work. 3]Re-write your statement using just facts. Once you have determine what is false, leave out that part out of your statement and just leave in what is true. Also, don't use negative terms that carry implications and associations . Instead of using the word "useless" or "rubbish" (and all that implies) you can say something like"I'm inexperienced but working to improve" or "I have made mistakes, like everyone in the beginning, but I am getting better". 4] Evaluate the statement. A well-written statement should be quite short and positive; it should something with which you can agree and believe, and yet, it makes you feel good about yourself. Once you have evaluated the statement you can use it as an affirmation to help improve your feelings about yourself. The more frequently you use the affirmation, the more quickly you will come to see yourself that way. And the more believable the affirmation, the more likely you are to absorb it and believe it.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page