Good News: It’s Possible to Enhance Your Self-Esteem!
You probably know someone who, despite all the good qualities they have, tends to feel inferior to others, regularly devalues themself, and lacks self-confidence. This person regularly evaluates their attributes as negative or insufficient, resulting in low self-esteem.
This could be a major issue considering that self-esteem figures in many of our behaviors (such as perseverance or taking initiative) and could even be a trigger of serious mental problems such as depression.
The Good News
Today, many techniques are described as increasing self-esteem. The work of our research team has been to evaluate whether these techniques are really effective or whether they are just a way to sell new costly therapies or trendy books.
By analyzing 119 studies that tested these different methods, our team found that on the whole, they are effective on self-esteem—even if their effects remain small. A good thing to know, but is one technique better than the others?
The Main Self-Esteem Building Techniques
We grouped the various approaches into broad categories:
- Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies (CBTs): Probably the most effective for increasing self-esteem, these therapies consist of helping people to better accept themselves, to criticize their negative self-views, and to establish more positive self-beliefs. For this purpose, different techniques are used, such as psychoeducation (explaining the psychological processes underlying low self-esteem), thought questioning, evidence finding, and exercises to develop self-confidence.
- Reminiscence-Based Therapies: Initially used in the elderly, this approach is based on remembering positive past events (for example, recalling a successful personal situation) and/or the re-evaluation of negative memories (such as recalling a memory of a problematic situation and highlighting the coping strategies used at that time). Reminiscence-based therapies are effective for self-esteem enhancement but less so than CBTs.
- Evaluative Conditioning: More experimental and not much used, this method involves repeatedly associating the self with positive things so that the self-concept gradually becomes more and more positive. To illustrate, the person might see the word "I" or "me" on a computer screen, and then a smiley face or a positive word (like "vacations" or "intelligent"). This surprising technique is also effective in increasing self-esteem, although we don't know if the positive effects last long after the technique is stopped.
We also investigated whether other factors could have an impact on their effectiveness (such as format or methodological procedure). People with various mental health disorders (such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders) benefit more than healthier people do. Maybe people with more serious problems see greater value in these techniques than healthier people do, thus enhancing their motivation and investment in the therapy.
There were many differences between the studies’ methods, as well as imperfections, meaning we still have much to learn about this important topic. It is especially important to remember that how we think of ourselves is based on a multitude of factors including how we think others perceive us, our feelings of competence, our body image, and many others. The most effective ways to increase self-esteem for these different aspects are still to be determined.
For Further Reading
Niveau, N., New, B., & Beaudoin, M. (2021). Self-esteem interventions in adults–A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Personality, 94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2021.104131
Fennell, M. J. V. (1998). Cognitive therapy in the treatment of low self-esteem. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 4(5), 296–304. https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.4.5.296
Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 213-240. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028931
Noémie Niveau, Ph.D., is a research and teaching assistant at the University Grenoble-Alpes in France. Her research interests include self-esteem, links between the self and memory, and psycho-oncology.