Health Mental health What is self-esteem? “Low self-esteem is not uncommon in LGBTQ+ people, who often experience unusually difficult events in their lives.” What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. It the driving force behind our positive, and negative thoughts about our own abilities, worthiness, and value. When self-esteem at healthy levels, we feel good about ourselves, confident, and positive about life. When it is low, we may believe that we’re unworthy, avoid difficult situations, and lack the self-belief to try new things, or even go about our daily lives. Though low self-esteem isn’t a mental health condition, it is linked to the onset of depression and anxiety, as negative self-beliefs provide fertile ground for them to flourish. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience low self-esteem than straight or cis people. Signs of low self-esteem Some common signs of low self-esteem include the following: Feeling worthless Avoiding social encounters or challenging situations Feeling undeserving of love Lacking confidence Worrying about your abilities Hating yourself Blaming yourself for everything Being unable to accept compliments Taking risks with your body and health What causes it? Low self-esteem is caused by negative core beliefs about yourself. For instance you may think “I’m not a good person”, or “I’m a failure”. These beliefs often arise in childhood due to difficult life events and messages received form parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and the other important people in a child’s life. Events like bullying, bereavement and unstable living can lead to a certain way of thinking about yourself. As you get older, difficult events in adulthood may reaffirm these beliefs. This can result in a constant critical voice inside someone’s head, telling them that they’re not good enough. It’s important to note that everyone’s self-esteem is individual, and affected by different things. Some people may receive more from their job, and being good at certain tasks. Others may locate self-esteem in their friendships or family life. There are many potential life events that could damage the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ people. Being rejected (or having the fear of being rejected) by parents because of sexual or gender identity, bullying at school, discrimination in the workplace, or even just internalised homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic messages received from society at large. How does it affect you? Low self-esteem can have lots of knock-on effects in someone’s life. They may find social situations difficult and try where possible to avoid them. They might also find the workplace, or any place where they are under scrutiny, difficult to handle, and avoid challenges which could lead to growth. Low self-esteem changes how we evaluate feedback from others, it might cause someone to believe a genuine compliment was a person “just being nice”. Or they might look back at the interview or presentation they just gave with shame, even though their performance was excellent. How to challenge self-esteem? Building up self-esteem can take time, but it’s possible to change the way we think about ourselves through a combination of esteem-building activities and self-care. Positive relationships Spending time with people who make you feel good about yourself is great for self-esteem. People who are lovely, and make you feel worthy, will help challenge your negative self-beliefs. Whether it’s your mum, or a friend who thinks you’re the funniest person in the world, contact with these people can be a great antidote to negative thoughts. Be kind to yourself Taking care of your physical health, your appearance, and ensuring you’re caring for your needs can all bolster your self-esteem. Jogging is great for your health, and exercise creates a sense of achievement that you’re nurturing your physical and mental health. Even a quick 20 minute walk can work wonders for your mental health. Limit social media Social media is a minefield; we’re encouraged to measure ourselves against the achievements of others, which is almost always negative for our self-esteem. Certain LGBTQ+ communities are also more active on these platforms (we’re looking at you #gaysofinstagram), leading us to believe that everyone is on holiday, has perfect bodies, or has thousands of friends, and that we alone are the exception. Sometimes, it’s best to limit our exposure to social media and re-focus on our own lives. Whether this means taking a break from Instagram, or uninstalling the Facebook app, the mental rewards could be considerable. Challenge yourself and do new things Low self-esteem can make us avoid situations which might “prove” our failings. Learning skills, or picking up a new hobby can both become scary. Try setting yourself simple and achievable goals like “this week I’m going to walk 10,000 steps a day” or “tomorrow I’m going to watch a video about learning how to paint”. Once you’ve accomplished the task, you’ll feel a great sense of achievement. Maybe go on to set yourself a bigger challenge, like joining a LGBTQ+ sports club, or painting a scene. Enjoying what you’re doing, and learning something new, regardless of how good you are at it, is a great way to show yourself that you’re worth more than you think. What Next? Support You can refer yourself for CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) through your GP or local IAPT service. In this short course of therapy you could learn to challenge your negative self beliefs and damaging thought patterns. If you’d prefer to speak to someone who is LGBTQ+, then Switchboard’s volunteers are also there to listen on its dedicated helpline. Extra Reading Mind, the mental health charity, has an excellent online information about self-esteem and its effects. Take a look at Young Minds six steps to self-esteem.