How to Boost Self-Esteem

by Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D.

in moral well-being


Your self-esteem is almost certainly too low.

Hi, I’m Dr. Dennis Bradford.

Permit me to explain why that’s the case and suggest what you might do about improving your self-esteem.

You can build your self-esteem. It’s never too late.

So, do you like or love yourself? Do you feel good about being you? If so, your self-esteem is high.

Do you dislike or hate yourself? Do you feel bad about being you? If so, your self-esteem is low.

For most people, their self-esteem is somewhere between high and low.

Your self-esteem is your fundamental evaluation of yourself.  Like all evaluations, it comes from the mind.

Most of us feel better about ourselves on some days more than on other days; some fluctuation is to be expected.

However, ignoring temporary ups and downs, how do you feel about yourself overall?

Unless your self-esteem is high, it’s a drag on your life.  That’s particularly true of relationships.  Why?

It’s impossible to love someone else more than you love yourself.  So, if you suffer from anything lower than high self-esteem, you are blocked from loving anyone else well.

For people with high self-esteem, life’s successes and failures may lead to temporary changes in how they feel about themselves, but only to a limited degree. By way of contrast, life’s usual ups and downs can make a vast difference for people with low self-esteem.

Unfortunately, low self-esteem never improves itself.

If you suffer from anything lower than high self-esteem, you won’t wake up some magic morning with high self-esteem.

It never just vanishes by itself.

Fortunately, you can change your thinking.

Remember, your self-evaluation is nothing but a thought.

Since it’s possible to improve thoughts, it’s possible to improve your self-esteem permanently.

Why not live the rest of your life with high self-esteem?

Usually there’s a difference between thinking that something is the case and its being the case; just because we think something doesn’t mean that what we think is true.

If you think, for example, that you are the most terrific person on planet Earth, this doesn’t mean that the rest of us agree with you!

In the case of self-esteem, however, your thinking something actually does make it true for you.

The truth about your self-esteem exists only in your mind!

Therefore, the key is improving how you think about yourself.

You are the only person who decides how you think about yourself.

One possible problem here is that some people confuse high self-esteem with being egocentric, self-centered, or conceited.

On the contrary, people who are egocentric often have low self-esteem, which they try to mask by acting in an arrogant way.

With respect to relationships with others, people with low self-esteem have no choice but to be selfish.

It’s as if they feel that they have so little intrinsic value that they cannot give of themselves to others.

High self-esteem is required for great relationships.

Furthermore, nobody knows you better than you do.  What follows from this?

Other people take their cues about how to think about you from you!

As you begin to improve how you think about yourself, you’ll notice that other people will naturally begin to think more highly of you as well.

So it’s not only possible to know how to increase how much you like or love yourself, it’s also indirectly possible to increase how much others like or love you.

Here’s an important fact:  you were not born with low self-esteem.

Where did your self-evaluation come from?  You learned it.

As infants we learned to sort objects into “self” and “other.”

Learning how to understand requires sorting objects into groups such as “food” or “not food,” “hot” or “not hot,” “hard” or “not hard,” “Mom” or “not Mom,” and so on.

You learned to evaluate yourself by adopting the evaluations that some other people had about you.

These other people may have been members of your immediate family, caregivers, playmates, teachers, coaches, or religious authorities.

If you have lower-than-high self-esteem, all that demonstrates is that you learned from at least some of them to adopt a low opinion of yourself.

They may have belittled you, embarrassed you, humiliated you, yelled at you or even beaten or abused you. 

They may have ignored you. They may have criticized you harshly. They may have rejected, ridiculed, or teased you. They have may expected perfection from you at all times.

When you did poorly at some task, you may have picked up the message that there was something wrong with your whole self instead of just that particular performance.

That was their fault, not yours.

Instead, they should have frequently given you lots of loving attention and hugs. They should have praised you.

They should have listened to you and spoken to you respectfully. They should have provided you with unconditional positive regard.

They should have encouraged you to risk failure and to learn how to grow from it.

Perhaps, though, they may have been simply ignorant and may not have known how to boost your self-esteem.

Once you acquired low self-esteem, that fact itself had serious consequences. It increased your chances for depression. It made you more likely to feel lonely and isolated. It increased your levels of stress and anxiety.

It made performances in school and, later, during your working life more difficult. It made creating good friendships and having good experiences more difficult.

In short, you learned how to have low self-esteem and certain negative consequences followed from that.

Let’s assume that you happen to have a lower-than-high opinion of yourself and want to know how to build self-esteem.

What should you do to boost it?

It’s important to accept that your lower-than-high self-worth is not unrelated to everything else.

In other words, your poor evaluation has a cause; it is not an uncaused event.

Over a period of time, you learned how to have a poor opinion of yourself.

So improving it requires unlearning it and learning to think more highly of yourself.

You are the only obstacle to doing this; you have the ability to increase your feelings of self-esteem whenever you decide to do so.

You can start to show respect and kindness to yourself whenever you choose.

You do not need to have approval or permission from anyone else.

Simply decide to do it and then practice it each day. That is how to build self-esteem.

On a daily basis, ignore your inner critical voice.  Instead, practice self-nurturing.

Begin to heal by treating yourself with kind, uncritical, encouraging words and thoughts.

We are all of equal moral worth.  Nobody else is more valuable than you are.

So you have as much right to live well as anyone else.

Positive “self-talk” is a good beginning.

Such self-nurturing might initially feel awkward. Don’t worry about that.

Simply begin doing two things.

First, stop being critical of yourself. Stop thinking and saying negative things about yourself. Ignore your inner critic.

Second, frequently think or say to yourself positive things about yourself whether you believe them or not.

In other words, fake it until you make it.

If you begin acting the part, you will become the part!

When you begin treating yourself with respect and kind, positive thoughts and words, as if you deserved to be treated that way, gradually you will come to believe it.

“Act the part and you will become the part” often holds true in life.

Many others have pointed this out, including philosophers like Aristotle, writers like Shakespeare, and many psychologists.

If you act a part long enough, you’ll eventually not be acting any more.

How can this happen?

It’s because your true self is not a separate entity at all.

You are not alone or isolated in life.  You are part of Being.

Want to prove that to yourself?  Master any classic meditative practice.

I’ve written a lot about that elsewhere.

See my blog on well-being at

Also, see any of my relevant books at

For now, please just understand that the key to raising self-esteem is to pay attention to how you think about yourself and how you treat yourself.

Once you begin noticing what you are doing to yourself, make a consistent effort to improve it.

Instead of consistently beating yourself up, boost your self-esteem by consistently nurturing yourself.

Furthermore, stop letting others determine the quality of your life.

Why give anyone else that power?

Nobody knows you better than you.

Free yourself from being enslaved by some others’ judgments. After all, nobody has power over you unless you give it to them.

When should you pay any attention whatsoever to someone else’s opinion about you?

Only when that other person both (1) knows you well and (2) is a good judge of character, which is demonstrated by being a good and compassionate person.

If you think about it, aren’t there very few people in your life who meet both those conditions?

If so, there are very few opinions about you that are even worth your noticing.

People with lower-than-high self-esteem have a difficult time evaluating strengths as well as weaknesses.

They tend to see only their weaknesses.

They typically take other people’s opinions of them far too seriously.

However, these traits are only habits that can be changed.

It’s always possible to unlearn what we have learned.

Once you begin to enjoy high self-esteem, are you done?

No, you are not yet living well.  There’s a final step to be taken.

What is it?

It’s letting go of your attachment to your self-concept.

The higher your self-esteem, the easier it is to do that.

Since there’s no living well without doing that, this actually furnishes a critical additional reason for boosting your self-esteem if it isn’t already high.

If it is already high, why not take the final step to living well?