Why it is never too late to improve your self-esteem

Fake it till you make it – it’s the advice you usually get when you tell one of your friends you don’t feel confident, whether it be you lack confidence in doing something or you lack confidence in interacting with new people.

Confidence is an abstract thing. Yes, you can fake it, anyone can pretend to be something they’re not but isn’t building your confidence authentically better? And more importantly, how do you do that? 

By definition, self-esteem is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Every individual’s self-esteem varies, for example some have a higher level of self-esteem and others have a lower level. But what is it that determines this?  

Typically, feelings of high or low self-esteem start in childhood. For example, a child that is raised in an environment filled with disapproval can cause low levels of self-esteem in that child which can then have an impact on them in adult life. However, that isn’t the only factor that can affect a person’s self-esteem.  

“Knowing who you are is important when it comes to confidence”

Hannah Barrows, a psychology student

As an adult, a dysfunctional workplace and or an unhealthy relationship can also alter a person’s self-esteem. So far, it is obvious that self-esteem is a complicated matter that is completely different from person to person. 

The characteristics of someone who has a high level of self-esteem include: 

  • Knows the difference between confidence and arrogance 
  • Is not afraid of feedback 
  • Does not people-please or seek approval 
  • Not afraid of conflict 
  • Able to set boundaries 
  • Able to voice needs and opinions 
  • Is assertive, but not pushy 
  • Not a slave to perfection 
  • Not afraid of setbacks 
  • Does not fear failure 
  • Does not feel inferior 
  • Accepts who they are 

If you’ve read this list and feel that you cannot tick a lot of the boxes, don’t worry. Self-esteem is something that can be built and improved over time. It starts with self-awareness. 

Hannah Barrows, a psychology student, explains that confidence is different for everyone: “I feel like, for me, I know who I am. I think knowing who you are is important when it comes to confidence because you will have a level of conviction in everything you do.”  

Barrows also explains how studying psychology helped her form a better understanding of how confidence works and how to build it up.  

The key thing to remember is that everybody’s experiences in life are different, so there isn’t a set list of things you can do to improve your self-esteem. If you feel that you have a low sense of self-esteem, the first thing you need to have a look at is why that is. This can be quite an uncomfortable process as you may need confront any past situations or traumas that may have caused this.  

Psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the concept of self-actualisation in 1943. The concept represents the goal of reaching one’s full potential.  

Young girl covering her face
Your level of self-esteem is very dependant on you’re childhood Photo: Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Maslow came up with a hierarchy of psychological needs. These are things like air, water, food, shelter, clothes, sleep and sexual intercourse. The next is safety needs, these include health, personal security, emotional security and financial security. Then you have love and social belonging needs. So, these include family, friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance and receiving and giving love and affection.  

Next on the hierarchy is esteem needs. Esteem is the respect and admiration of a person, but also self-respect and respect from others.  

Finally, there is self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is the realisation of one’s full potential. Maslow described this as one’s desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.  

Maslow’s concept is an interesting one and one that can at least help build an understanding of what self-esteem is. 

Millie Smith, a business student, said she is quite confident around her friends.  

“I don’t know what tips I can give to others because everyone’s different,” Smith said. “My friends really help me because I’m naturally quite shy but my best friend is super loud and confident. So that helps me come out of my shell.” 

In short, there is no quick fix or simple solution here. You can’t wake up one morning and decide to have high self-esteem. However, it is something that you can build over time and improve little by little.  

The most important takeaway here is that everyone’s journey is different and personal. Rome wasn’t built in a day. These things take time 

If you need help or support for mental health the university offers a number of resources via the wellbeing hub.

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