Practicing self-compassion and learning to build boundaries are just some of the ways you can help boost your self-esteem.
Cultivating higher self-esteem is important as it can benefit your well-being and positively affect your relationships, health, and career.
Women can have a particularly difficult time developing and maintaining self-confidence. They tend to focus more on caring for others rather than themselves.
This can leave some women with no time for self-development or self-care.
So, how can women develop self-confidence? Learning what causes your low self-esteem can help.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women” in this article to reflect the term assigned at birth. But gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.
Acknowledging the reasons behind your low self-esteem is a good first step to becoming more confident.
Rumination is a continuation of negative thinking patterns. It can include mulling over past mistakes and pessimistic thoughts regarding the future.
A 2019 research paper found a direct link between low self-esteem and self-critical rumination.
Engaging in thoughts about perceived shortcomings, self-criticism, and self-blame can fuel the flames of rumination.
Negative self-talk can then reinforce low levels of self-esteem, which continues the cycle.
In the study, more than 3,600 university students were sent a survey. Researchers found a significant positive correlation between childhood trauma and low self-esteem. But the study was limited and more research is needed.
If you experienced childhood sexual abuse, you might be vulnerable to revictimization in adulthood, according to research from 2017. This can lead to symptoms of complex trauma, which include a distorted self-image.
Regardless of your childhood trauma history, abusive relationships can take a toll on self-esteem at any age.
Several sociocultural factors can also affect a woman’s self-esteem.
- Violence: A
2015 reviewindicates that violence against women, especially minority women, is disproportionately high. Women have a higher chance of experiencing intimate partner violence and sexual assault in their lifetime — all traumatic events that can lead to issues with self-esteem.
- Diet: The prevalence of diet culture can contribute to the disproportionate number of eating disorders and body image issues among women, according to a 2016 study. Objectification in media can also cause women to seek excessive external validation from others for their appearance rather than building self-esteem that incorporates both external and internal qualities.
- Dating: Hookup culture and double standards in dating may also negatively affect a woman’s self-esteem, especially since some women may be socialized to not prioritize their own needs in relationships and may be prone to people-pleasing. A 2020 study revealed that women who engaged in casual sex for non-autonomous reasons (such as wanting to please others rather than for their own enjoyment) were associated with low self-esteem and greater depression in women than in men.
- Racism: Women of color are at a particular higher chance of experiencing racism, racial microaggressions, racial stereotyping, and fetishization — all of which can affect self-esteem, especially in the workplace and in relationships.
- Prejudice: Women may also have internalized prejudice and be socially conditioned to compare themselves with other women. These unhealthy comparisons can lead to lower self-esteem.
There are strategies you can try that may help boost your self-confidence.
Address negative self-talk and show yourself self-compassion
It may be helpful to take an inventory of your daily thought patterns. Pay particular attention to ruminative thoughts regarding the past or pessimistic thoughts regarding the future, as well as self-disparaging statements.
- What negative automatic thoughts arise (e.g., “I shouldn’t have done that”)?
- What healthy, balanced alternatives can you slowly begin to replace these thoughts with (e.g., “Nobody’s perfect. I’m doing my best.”)?
Build mastery and agency
Whether it’s learning a new skill, enrolling in a class, or taking small steps toward your dreams, building mastery and self-actualization are vital ways to grow and maintain self-esteem.
When you feel capable of achieving your goals, you own your agency in a society that may have taught you to play small and discouraged you from honoring your true desires.
Engage in body-mind healing modalities
Promote agency and mastery over your mind and body with mindfulness yoga or meditative practices such as a daily body scan or quiet walks in nature.
Try to find an exercise routine you enjoy, whether it’s a Zumba class or dancing to your favorite music.
A 2022 study linked regular exercise to greater self-esteem, self-efficacy, and body awareness in adults. But more research is needed.
Cut back on people-pleasing and detach from toxic relationships that drain you
It can be difficult to maintain high self-esteem when your boundaries are being violated or when you’re forgoing your needs and wants to please others.
Slowly begin to detach from interactions that are taking up excessive time and energy and practice saying no.
Ask yourself, “Do I really want to spend my time with this person? Or do I feel obligated to do so?”
Challenge your own internalized misogyny and social stereotypes
Identify any harmful societal beliefs that may have been instilled in you that are still holding you back.
Rather than competing with others or disparaging yourself, practice appreciating your unique qualities and embracing your irreplaceability. It may be helpful to write down a list of qualities you admire about yourself and the ones others notice and appreciate in you.
Getting in touch with who you are and the unique traits you bring to the table can increase self-appreciation and self-esteem.
If you identify as a woman, your self-esteem can be affected by many individual and sociocultural factors.
It’s important to identify your unique risk factors and engage in activities that promote positive self-talk, healthy boundaries, nourishing relationships, and self-compassion.
If you want to know more about how to build your self-esteem, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can help point out where low self-esteem shows up in your life and guide you toward positive change.
They can also help you identify the cause of your low self-esteem, so you can create new thought patterns and become more confident.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health and support.
Shahida Arabi, MA, is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University and best-selling author of three books, including “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare and Power.” Her new book, “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Toxic People,” published by New Harbinger Publications, is available in all major bookstores. Her viral articles have garnered over 18 million views and her work has been featured on Psychology Today, Salon, Bustle, Psych Central, The Huffington Post, Inc., Origin, Thought Catalog, VICE, and The New York Daily News. She’s currently a graduate student at Harvard University conducting research on romantic relationships with individuals with narcissistic and psychopathic traits.