Cbt techniques for low self-esteem (5+)

In this article, we will answer the question, “What are the techniques in CBT that are effective for low esteem?” and also understand the process behind the administration of these techniques.

What are the techniques in CBT that are effective for low self-esteem?

The techniques in CBT that are utilized to help with low self-esteem, cognitive reframing, behavioral activation, social skills training, etc.

Causes of low self-esteem

Authoritarian  Figures

If a person is raised in a strict environment since childhood and their actions and behaviors are judged and criticized severely then it tends to harm their thought process. Their confidence and opinion about themselves are severely hampered and adversely affected. Therefore authoritarian figures in life tend to make developing a healthy self-esteem difficulty 

Absence of Parental figures

Every person is greatly benefitted if they have parental figures in their lives while growing up. A lot of their moral, cultural values are influenced by these figures. In absence of such figures the development of a person’s self-image, identity is affected acutely. Also appreciation, encouragement play a major role in gaining a sense of achievement that contributes to healthy self-esteem. When people don’t feel appreciated they are robbed of this feeling. Individuals need to feel recognized, valued, and cherished to be developed healthily. In the absence of these factors, a person is left with few resources to build their self-esteem.

Dysfunctional Family Environment 

When there is turbulence in the family or domestic life it impacts the children in that household. Constant verbal or physical arguments can create an unharmonious toxic environment. Children can internalize some of the words said to them in the heat of the moment and those words could become the foundation of their opinion about themselves. They could feel threatened and develop anxiety disorders that are infamous for adversely affecting a person’s confidence and self-esteem. They might also become distrustful and wary of people which could lead to negative consequences for their interpersonal relationships.

Parenting Style (Authoritarian)

A child needs a healthy environment for complete mental, physical and emotional development. Children need love, care, and respect along with discipline. When discipline and control overpower love and respect in the parent-child dynamic then it affects the psychological well-being of the child. Authoritarian parents often control and monitor their children intensely and criticize them every step of the way. They expect perfection all the time and for a child to meet so many expectations can be very pressurizing and harmful. Such children often develop anxiety and have a self-critical perspective. They start being self-critical and blaming themselves for things over which they had no control.

Parenting Style (Over Supportive)

As opposed to authoritarian parents, over-supportive parents are almost too loving or ‘coddling’. This has a very severe impact on their developmental skills. They never have to face challenges or problems and thus never learn to resolve those issues which is an integral part of childhood development. As they never learn to do things on their own and become too dependent on their parents. When they grow up this behavior continues and they find it hard to adapt to the world outside. They never develop a distinct identity of their own and often rely on their parents to make all their life decisions. Thus leading to severe complications in their adulthood. They often display low confidence and are unsure of the way things work in the world outside and therefore do not like engaging in new experiences. They prefer to remain in their comfort zones, thus missing out on rewarding experiences which is an integral aspect of building healthy self-esteem

Parenting Style(Uninvolved)

In an uninvolved parenting style, children face neglect. They feel unloved and unwanted as if their existence does not matter and they are not important. Such thoughts and feelings are very injurious to one’s self-esteem and children with uninvolved parents have to face this a lot. Also, children with uninvolved parents start to blame themselves for the lack of their parent’s involvement in their lives. They feel they aren’t good or worthy enough of their time. Or they can start detecting their parents and blame them for their negligence and carrying negative feelings for them. Such an environment is not conducive to the healthy development of self-esteem.

Academic Challenges

Academic challenges of a performance play a huge role in boosting a person’s confidence. Poor academic performance can be catastrophic not just at a personal level but also on a social level. People might feel inferior to their peers or the peers might consider them inferior to them and tease them. They could feel unmotivated or unintelligent and constantly compare themselves with others. The comparison with others often leads to negative consequences. Thereby hurting their self-esteem.


The trauma of any kind can have serious implications on a person’s mental, emotional as well as physical health. Physical, sexual, or even verbal abuse tends to hurt a person not just physically but also psychologically. It affects their thoughts, foundations, and even values. They can develop trust issues or even rebel against their situation and engage in risky behavior. But all of this results in damaged self-esteem. Their opinion about themselves, the people around them, and also the world around them gets seriously tainted. It becomes very difficult to heal from such events and sometimes things only get worse instead of better. In such cases, people are scared to work on themselves that further deteriorates the state of their self-esteem. 

 Belief Systems

Oftentimes rigid belief systems, whether originating from religious systems or other systems of faith can make a person feel constricted. There is also a lot of judgment associated with those systems and if a person happens to break a certain rule, or ‘belief’ they are subjected to a lot of criticism and loathing. Sometimes this loathing can even stem from within. People might start hating themselves if they think that they are not being faithful to their belief system. This intense pressure of being perfect and looking good in front of others can create warped self-identity. Thus, this may lead to negative consequences and diminish a person’s self-identity.


The media is notorious for showcasing misleading and false advertisements about beauty, body image, and clothing. A person’s ideal image for appearance and beauty is warped due to being subjected to unrealistic and even harmful images through the media. Imperfection and flaws are considered to be revolting instead and a person is made to feel ashamed for having them. The edited, airbrushed images sell false hope to the people and make them spend money on things that won’t even provide the results they claimed to provide. Thus, when people fail to mold themselves into their ideal version or see a distinct disparity between their appearance and the perfect appearance displayed in the media, it creates cognitive dissonance. Thus, impacting their self-esteem. 


The people that we are surrounded by and coexist with are often major influencers in our life. We value their opinion, judgments more than even our family. We are always conscious of our image in front of society. Because though it has its pros it also has its cons. Society can be severely critical, judgmental, and harsh. Individuals dread not meeting the standards society has set out for everybody and this dread is transformed into anxiety. The constant pressure takes its toll on a person’s mental health and such an environment is never conducive to building healthy self-esteem. 

What are the techniques in CBT for Low self-esteem?

Following are the strategies adopted in CBT to either build or improve Self-esteem

  • Cognitive restructuring: 

Cognitive restructuring is just as the name suggests restructuring of the cognitive process. In Cognitive restructuring, negative thoughts and beliefs are identified to replace them with positive, encouraging thoughts that are helpful and effective.  For low self-esteem cognitive restructuring focuses on assessing negative thoughts and distorted thinking patterns about self. These thoughts could be anything like having negative thoughts about their intelligence and thus developing a negative portrayal of themselves. 

  • Behavioral activation: 

Due to low self-esteem people avoid engaging in activities and events that they fear. This fear is often due to believing that they won’t fit in, or be able to perform well.  As a result, they have few rewarding experiences or opportunities for rewarding experiences and become desolate. Behavioral activation is just the right technique to mend this issue. It is an activity-based technique that helps the person become involved in an active lifestyle thus allowing them to gain new experiences. 

  • Assertiveness training: 

People with poor self-esteem often have difficulty asking for what they want, saying no to requests, or making their true feelings known. Poor self-esteem harms a person’s ability to make a mark of themselves. It makes even doing little things like asking for something they want or getting things done difficult. They cannot assert themselves and often display timidity. Assertiveness training is an amazing technique to remedy this issue. It helps people learn to effectively and skillfully get what they want from others without sacrificing their relationships.

  • Problem-solving training: 

Hopelessness sets in when people suffer from low self-esteem over an extended period. Therefore problem-solving training is utilized to help people take control of their own lives. This involves helping them to identify problems, find resources, and come up with solutions to solve them. 

  • Social skills training: 

Low self-esteem and poor social skills are positively correlated. As self-esteem decreases so do social skills. To assist in this problem that can have adverse effects on a person’s social life but also interpersonal relationships, social skills training is utilized. This training helps people have greater positive and enriching social behaviors and discourages engaging in negative social behavior.


We learned about the different techniques employed in CBT for the treatment of low self-esteem and also understood the process behind the administration.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does CBT help with low self-esteem?

CBT teaches clients to improve their self-esteem by identifying negative thought patterns and emotions and replacing them with positive thought patterns. The replacement of the thoughts will lead to a positive effect on the person’s behavior and change the dysfunctional behavior into a functional behavior. 

Which therapy is best for low self-esteem?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in the treatment of low self-esteem because it helps you recognize the cause of negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions to modify them into positive beliefs. This helps in changing your behavior into productive and reinforcing behavior.

What is the downward arrow technique?

Vertical Arrow or sometimes even called Downward Arrow or Vertical Descent is a form of the Socratic questioning technique used in CBT in which the therapist asks a series of questions to identify intermediate level beliefs that will help them reach the core beliefs.


How Can You Help Someone With Low Self-Esteem?

  1. To not encourage or engage in deprecating conversations.
  2. Appreciate them and make them feel loved.
  3. Sharing positive things with them
  4. Enforce self-care and self-love.
  5. Be firm about your care and love towards them.
  6. Make them accept compliments and believe in them.
  7. To not dictate their feelings or emotions

Is low self-esteem a mental illness?

Low self-esteem isn’t a mental health problem in itself, but it does influence or impact a lot of mental health problems. Also, a lot of mental health disorders can lead to decreased self-esteem. Both of them are interconnected with each other. 


10 sources of low self-esteem. (2013, December 24). Psychology Today. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/me-we/201312/10-sources-low-self-esteem%3famp

Self-esteem therapy: 24 activities and techniques for your practice. (2021, February 27). PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/self-esteem-therapy/

Build self-esteem. (n.d.). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. https://cogbtherapy.com/build-self-esteem