Throughout my experience facilitating therapy groups for addictions, and in my private practice, I came across a recurrent theme, that of self-esteem. So, I became curious and began to research the subject, as I see people hurting because they lack self-esteem and therefore navigate through life making ill-informed choices in relationships and lifestyle.

How we see ourselves and how we value ourselves massively dictates how we relate to others and even what kind of people we feel attracted to. Reciprocally, our social and romantic relationships and how we experience ourselves in those relationships are contributors to developing positive self-esteem.

Several studies have been conducted regarding the relationship between self-concept, self-esteem and a sense of wellbeing (Evans, 1997)1. Our self-concept is generally a combination of our internal conscious sense of self and external evaluation from others.

I have encountered clients feeling lost and confused about their own self-evaluation, self-identity, and consequently struggling to build relationships and/or maintain them. Self-concept and self-value awareness play a major role in how we show up in the world and how we choose love partners. For example, I have encountered many people feeling hopeless and lonely because they seem not to be able to ‘get it right’ when it comes to choosing a romantic partner. Further on in the therapeutic process, we understand that this tends to be due to the manifestation of unsolved emotional issues from the past, for example: people pleasing due to feeling excluded back in secondary school (as adults we will tend to neglect our own need and wellbeing for the sake of the other); or feeling inadequate as a partner and having no boundaries of self-respect in the relationship (tending to attract controlling and abusive people).

I am highlighting some of these discoveries followed by great life transformations, as I see numerous people feeling unhappy, unfulfilled and lost in their love life, and yet there are limited textbooks on the subject of self-esteem when it comes to relationships. As our self-concept consists of our belief system, our self-image and feeling about ourselves, getting to know those layers of being is of crucial importance tohow we treat ourselves and others, which kind of environment we thrive in, and in general how we are guided to navigate the social world including work.

Furthermore, in theories such as (Erickson`s 1965, 1968)2 he points out, when a person is confused or unaware of their self-identity it reflects on their ability to self-assure and support themselves, leading to a low level of confidence and unstable self-esteem. In some of the cases I’ve come across, clients stated that they experienced themselves as not knowing who they were, not certain of their qualities, ashamed of acting on what they need and want because they feel that they don't deserve to. So a fragmented sense of self and poor self-esteem can be detrimental to your mental health as well as being an unhealthy template in relationships.

Social isolation (Erzen E 2018)3, depression and low moods, food disorders, body dysmorphia and substance abuse are among the symptoms reported in therapy. In exploring their intimate inner selves, we normally find that clients struggle to elaborate who they are and normally have a negative narrative about themselves. A self-positive image besides supporting and encouraging social engagement also offers a strong mental tolerance against bad experiences in general.

Tools that can help support and nurture your self-esteem:

  • Avoid engaging in the culture of comparison with others.
  • Engage in therapy to discover origins of negative self-perception and how to boost a positive one.
  • Foster and internalise positive opinions of yourself and avoid self-deprecating jokes.
  • Make a list of attributes that you appreciate about yourself. (This one can be hard; you can ask for help from someone you trust and feel safe with)
  • Challenge your negative thoughts (Do I really believe that about me?)

In conclusion, it’s likely we all go through life believing that we are what our growing-up environment made us believe we are. In most cases, we are unaware of our many layers of authentic identity, I mean who we really are underneath social conditioning, and currently social media pressure, that can cause us to be terribly self-critical, to seek an unrealistic perfect self-image, and engage in the pursuit of the ideal partner.

There is a need more than ever to turn our attention and care inwards, to get to know ourselves in an intimate way, to accept and value our unique presence and contribution wherever we are. Most importantly to feel wanted and that we belong because we feel appreciated by people, we choose to surround ourselves with.

As a mental health practitioner, I want to encourage us all to get to know ourselves to build a stronger, loving and resilient self-esteem for all the reasons stated above, and more importantly so we can have a better chance in maintaining our mental wellbeing and to make good relationships.


1. Evans, D. R. (1997). Health promotion, wellness programs, quality of life and the marketing of psychology. Canadian Psychology / Psychologie canadienne, 38(1), 1–12.
2. Syed, M., & McLean, K. C. (2017, April 24). Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development.
3. Erzen E, Çikrikci Ö. The effect of loneliness on depression: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 2018;64(5):427-435. doi:10.1177/0020764018776349