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Boosting Your Self-Esteem: How Can CBT Help?

Do you ever find yourself doubting your worth or feeling inadequate? If so, you’re not alone. Feelings of low self-esteem are much more common than you may think. It affects millions of people across different ages and backgrounds. In this blog post, we’ll explore the factors that influence self-esteem, who may be more at risk, and how CBT can give you the tools to help boost your self-esteem.

How common is it?

Studies show that approximately 7 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men struggle with low self-esteem and body image concerns (Dove, 2016). A study conducted in the UK found that nearly 8 out of 10 teenagers experience low self-esteem (McKay et al., 2017).

We know that low self-esteem can be a factor in depression and anxiety across the ages. This underscores the importance of addressing this issue for our overall wellbeing.

Factors Influencing Self-Esteem

Factors influencing our self-esteem include personal experiences, social interactions, and our own thoughts. Negative experiences like bullying, abuse, or trauma can significantly diminish our self-esteem (Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010). Criticism or rejection from others can also impact how we view ourselves (Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008). Additionally, our own thinking patterns, such as negative self-perception, perfectionism or unrelenting standards, can contribute to low self-esteem (Mann et al., 2004).

Various life situations can affect us, either positively or negatively:

  • Childhood Experiences: Early childhood experiences, such as parenting style and early social interactions, play a crucial role in shaping how we view ourselves. Supportive and loving environments tend to foster healthy self-esteem, while neglectful or abusive environments can lead to feelings of low self-worth.
  • Social Relationships: Relationships with peers, family, and significant others significantly impact our self-esteem. Positive relationships can boost self-esteem, while toxic or abusive relationships can severely damage it.
  • Achievements: Successes and failures in academic and professional settings also affect self-esteem. Achieving goals and receiving recognition can enhance self-esteem, whereas repeated failures or lack of acknowledgment can undermine it.
  • Influence of Society and Culture: Societal and cultural norms, including media portrayals and beauty standards, can heavily influence our self-esteem. Unrealistic standards and constant comparison to others can lead to negative self-perceptions.

The Impact of Social Media and Influencers on Self-Esteem

In recent years, social media has become a significant part of our daily lives, profoundly influencing how we perceive ourselves and others. While social media can connect us with friends and provide entertainment, it also has the potential to negatively impact self-esteem.

Comparison Culture

Social media platforms often promote a culture of comparison. Seeing images and posts of others’ seemingly perfect lives can lead to feelings of inadequacy and lower self-worth. Research indicates that frequent social media use is associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem, particularly among adolescents and young adults (Fardouly et al., 2015).

Unrealistic Standards

Influencers and celebrities regularly post highly curated and edited images that set unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards which risk making users feel that they do not measure up, fostering negative self-perceptions. A study found that exposure to idealised images on social media leads to increased body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem (Brown & Tiggemann, 2016).

Negative Feedback

The feedback mechanisms on social media, such as likes and comments, can significantly affect self-esteem. Positive feedback can temporarily boost self-esteem, while negative comments or a lack of engagement can lead to feelings of rejection and low self-worth. The pursuit of likes and followers can create a dependency on external validation, weakening intrinsic self-esteem. Relying on social media for self-worth can make individuals vulnerable to fluctuations in self-esteem based on online interactions.


Social media platforms can be a venue for cyberbullying, which can have severe consequences for self-esteem. Victims of cyberbullying often experience heightened anxiety, depression, and diminished self-esteem (Kowalski et al., 2014).

Who is Most at Risk?

While low self-esteem can affect anyone, certain groups may be more vulnerable. Adolescents, who are navigating identity formation and facing societal pressures, are particularly at risk (McKay et al., 2017).

Women, influenced by societal beauty standards, may be more likely to struggle with body image concerns that impact their self-esteem (Dove, 2016).

Individuals with mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety, experience low self-esteem as a common symptom (Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008).

Am I just having a bad day?

It’s quite normal for us all to have the occasional bad day where we feel down or question our abilities and worth. Sometimes, life just throws those days at us. However, if feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt persist and start to have a negative impact on your life, it might be more than just a bad day.

Key signs to watch out for include chronic feelings of worthlessness or guilt, avoiding social interactions due to fear of judgment, difficulty in making decisions, and a noticeable decline in work performance.

Additionally, you may notice yourself constantly comparing yourself with others, feeling overly critical of your mistakes, or struggling with feelings of hopelessness. If these symptoms are starting to impact your day-to-day life and overall wellbeing, you may benefit from professional support.  

CBT: A Powerful Tool for Low Self-Esteem

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective and widely recognized therapeutic approach for addressing feelings of low self-worth. CBT aims to identify and modify unhelpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that contribute to low self-esteem (Beck, 2011). By challenging negative self-perceptions, and enhancing self-compassion and confident behaviour, individuals can develop healthier self-appraisals and improve their overall sense of self-worth.

CBT techniques for low self-esteem involve identifying and challenging distorted thoughts and managing their impact on our behaviours (Mann et al., 2004). Additionally, engaging in activities that promote a sense of accomplishment and positive self-evaluation can be beneficial (Beck, 2011).

How CBT Works

CBT operates on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected. By addressing negative thought patterns, CBT helps individuals reframe their perceptions and develop a more positive self-view. This therapeutic approach is structured, goal-oriented, and typically short-term, making it an accessible and practical treatment approach. CBT supports individuals to engage in activities that boost self-esteem. This can include setting and achieving small goals, practicing self-care, and participating in enjoyable activities that provide a sense of accomplishment.

Effectiveness of CBT

Research consistently shows that CBT is effective in treating low self-esteem. A meta-analysis of CBT’s effectiveness found significant improvements in self-esteem across various populations (Hofmann et al., 2012). Furthermore, CBT has been shown to have long-lasting effects, with individuals maintaining improvements in self-esteem well after the conclusion of therapy.

When to Seek Professional Support

While everyone experiences fluctuations in how they feel about themselves, persistent low self-esteem that impacts daily functioning and quality of life warrants professional support. Signs that you might need to seek help include:

  • Chronic feelings of worthlessness: Consistently feeling inadequate or unworthy.
  • Avoidance of social situations: Withdrawing from social interactions due to fear of judgment or rejection.
  • Negative impact on daily life at work, relationships, or with our personal goals.
  • Presence of other mental health issues: Dealing with conditions like depression or anxiety can worsen feelings of low self-esteem.

If you recognise any of these signs in yourself, it might be time to consult a mental health professional. A therapist trained in CBT can help you work through these issues and develop healthier self-esteem.

The good news is that CBT provides a powerful intervention to address low self-esteem. By incorporating CBT techniques into our lives, we can enhance our believe in ourselves and promote better mental wellbeing. Remember, you deserve to feel confident and worthy.

Would you like to know more about how CBT can help you? Our consultant psychologist, Dr Sian Thrasher, offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation specifically for you to discuss CBT and treatment options.


Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.

Dove. (2016). The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report. Retrieved from [Dove](https://www.dove.com/uk/dove-self-esteem-project/help-for-parents/impact-of-appearance-anxiety.html)

Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood. Body Image, 13, 38-45.

Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427-440.

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