Self-esteem and ACT

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the overall subjective evaluation or perception that an individual has of their own worth, value, or importance. It is the degree to which a person believes in and approves of themselves. Self-esteem plays a significant role in shaping a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

Self-esteem is not fixed and can change over time. It can be influenced by numerous factors, including individual experiences, relationships, societal expectations, and cultural influences. Developing and maintaining healthy self-esteem often involves self-reflection, self-compassion, challenging negative self-beliefs, setting realistic goals, and seeking support when needed.

Characteristics of self-esteem

Healthy self-esteem involves having a reasonably positive and realistic perception of oneself. It involves recognising one’s strengths, abilities, and accomplishments, as well as accepting one’s limitations and weaknesses. People with healthy self-esteem generally have a sense of confidence, self-respect, and self-acceptance. They are more likely to have a positive outlook on life, be resilient in the face of challenges, and have healthier relationships.

On the other hand, low self-esteem refers to a negative self-perception and a lack of confidence in oneself. Individuals with low self-esteem often doubt their abilities, feel unworthy or inadequate, and may struggle with self-critical thoughts. This can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and insecurity. Low self-esteem can also impact various aspects of life, such as relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.


Benefits of healthy self-esteem

Confidence and resilience: Healthy self-esteem fosters a sense of confidence and self-assurance. When individuals believe in themselves and their abilities, they are more likely to take on challenges, pursue their goals, and manage setbacks or failures without being overly discouraged. This resilience allows them to bounce back from setbacks and maintain a positive outlook.
Positive relationships: Healthy self-esteem positively influences how individuals interact with others. When people have a powerful sense of self-worth, they are more likely to establish and maintain healthy boundaries, communicate assertively, and engage in mutually respectful relationships. They are less likely to tolerate mistreatment or engage in codependent behaviours.
Emotional well-being: Healthy self-esteem contributes to better emotional well-being. Individuals with healthy self-esteem tend to experience less anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. They have a more positive overall mood and are better equipped to manage stress and navigate life’s challenges. They have a greater sense of self-acceptance and are more likely to practice self-care.
Achievement and success: Healthy self-esteem positively impacts individuals’ motivation and drive to achieve their goals. When people believe in themselves, they are more likely to set ambitious but attainable goals, persist in their efforts, and have a stronger belief in their ability to succeed. This can lead to improved performance in various areas of life, such as academics, career, and personal pursuits.
Healthy self-image: Individuals with healthy self-esteem tend to have a more positive self-image. They accept and appreciate themselves for who they are, recognising their strengths and acknowledging their areas for growth. This positive self-image contributes to higher self-confidence, a greater sense of self-worth, and a more fulfilling and satisfying life overall.

Consequences of poor self-esteem

Negative self-image: Individuals with poor self-esteem often have a negative perception of themselves. They may constantly criticise and belittle themselves, focusing on their flaws and shortcomings. This negative self-image can lead to feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, and a lack of self-acceptance.
Limited opportunities: Poor self-esteem can limit individuals’ willingness to take risks and pursue opportunities. A lack of belief in one’s abilities and worthiness can prevent individuals from seizing new opportunities, trying new experiences, or taking on challenges. This can hinder personal and professional growth and limit potential.
Relationship difficulties: Poor self-esteem can negatively impact relationships. Individuals with low self-esteem may struggle with setting boundaries, expressing their needs and wants, and asserting themselves in relationships. They may tolerate mistreatment or engage in codependent behaviours, leading to unhealthy and unsatisfying relationships.
Emotional distress: Poor self-esteem often contributes to emotional distress. Individuals with low self-esteem may experience increased levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of sadness or hopelessness. They may be more susceptible to negative self-talk, self-criticism, and a constant fear of judgment or rejection.
Lack of confidence and achievement: Poor self-esteem can undermine an individual’s confidence and belief in their abilities. When people doubt themselves and their worth, they may struggle to set and achieve goals. They may hold themselves back from pursuing their dreams or taking on challenges, leading to a sense of stagnation and unfulfilled potential.


While healthy self-esteem brings benefits, it is not about being perfect or having an inflated ego. It is about having a balanced and realistic view of oneself, valuing oneself, and treating oneself with kindness and compassion. It’s important to also acknowledge that poor self-esteem can vary in intensity and impact from person to person and situation to situation. Seeking support from professionals, practicing self-compassion, challenging negative self-beliefs, and developing self-care strategies are steps that can help improve self-esteem.

Understanding how ACT therapy can be used to help people with self-esteem issues.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be a helpful approach in addressing self-esteem issues through the enhancement of psychological flexibility and promotion of acceptance, mindfulness, and committed action.

Here are ways in which ACT therapy can be used to help individuals with self-esteem issues:

  • Defusion from unhelpful self-talk: ACT helps individuals notice and detach from unhelpful self-talk and self-critical thoughts. Through mindfulness techniques and cognitive defusion exercises, individuals learn to observe their thoughts and create distance from unhelpful self-beliefs. This allows them to develop a more balanced perspective and reduce the impact of unhelpful self-talk on their self-esteem.
  • Values clarification: ACT champions the exploration of personal values and alignment of actions with those values. By clarifying what truly matters to them, individuals can identify ways to engage in activities that promote self-esteem and self-worth. Aligning actions with personal values fosters a sense of purpose and fulfilment, leading to increased self-esteem.
  • Mindfulness and self-acceptance: ACT incorporates mindfulness practices to help individuals nurture present-moment awareness and acceptance of their experiences, including thoughts, emotions, and sensations. By practicing self-compassion and non-judgemental acceptance, individuals can develop a more compassionate and accepting attitude toward themselves, which is essential for building healthy self-esteem.
  • Committed action: ACT encourages individuals to take committed action towards their values and goals. By identifying small, achievable steps and engaging in behaviours that align with their values, individuals can build a sense of competence, accomplishment, and self-efficacy. Taking action despite self-doubt or fear helps individuals challenge their negative self-perceptions and build a more positive self-concept.
  • Experiential exercises: ACT incorporates experiential exercises, such as metaphors, imagery, and role-playing, to help individuals gain new perspectives and insights about themselves. These exercises can help individuals challenge rigid self-beliefs, explore alternative self-perceptions, and develop a more flexible and adaptive self-concept.

It is important to note that ACT is typically delivered by trained mental health professionals who can tailor the therapy to individual needs. Working with a therapist can provide guidance, support, and personalised interventions to address self-esteem issues effectively using the principles and techniques of ACT.

For individuals:

If you need support in managing self-esteem issues our team of ACT trained therapists are here to help.

For professionals:

If you would like to learn more about how ACT can support people with self-esteem issues, explore our upcoming workshops or visit our blog and resources sections for more information.

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