Self-Esteem

Despite what you may think, you don’t need to have any strengths, abilities, or achievements to be confident and feel good about yourself. You can have many weaknesses, acknowledge them, and even think about them often without it affecting your self-esteem.

A low self-esteem is not caused by having flaws or negative beliefs about yourself. It’s primarily caused by having distorted or unhelpful beliefs about yourself. If you’ve had many negative social interactions, which is common among people who are autistic, the stress may have affected your thinking and caused you to think about your problems in distorted or unhelpful ways. That’s not your fault and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. Studies show stress alters brain function and distorted beliefs are often the result of it.

Since everyone has weaknesses, none of the negative beliefs in the table below make you less worthy than anyone else. That means even if all of them are true you can still have a good self-esteem as long as you don’t interpret them in a distorted way. While the distorted beliefs to the right of the negative beliefs in the table below may seem true, they aren’t accurate and can be shown to be distorted in a way that you can verify.

Negative BeliefsDistorted Beliefs
Many people don’t like me.Everyone hates me.
I’ve never had any friends.I will always be alone.
My social skills are below average.I’m inferior.
I don’t have any friends.I’m a loser.
I have trouble fitting in.I’m defective.
I have trouble understanding other people.It’s genetic. I can’t understand people better.
I’ve made many mistakes.I never do anything right.
I have many odd traits and quirks.I’m different than most people.
I failed to solve many of my problems.I always fail. There’s no point of trying anymore.
Many bad things happen to me.I have bad luck. There’s nothing I can do about it.

How to improve your self-esteem

The best way to improve your self-esteem, according to numerous studies, is to identify distorted or unhelpful beliefs about yourself, challenge them, and replace them with more accurate and helpful beliefs as shown by the steps below.

Step 1 – Identify beliefs that make you feel worse

Make a list of negative beliefs about yourself that make you feel worse. Here is an example of beliefs common in people diagnosed with autism:

  1. I’m a loser.
  2. I’m different than most people.
  3. No one likes me.
  4. I can’t understand people so I’ll never be able to fit in and belong.
  5. There’s something wrong with me.

Step 2 – Learn common categories of unhelpful beliefs

  1. Overgeneralizations – Forming a general conclusion based on insufficient information.
  2. Black and white thinking – Grouping things into 2 rigid categories with nothing in-between when everything doesn’t fit into those 2 categories.
  3. Jumping to conclusions – Assuming something will happen based on prior experiences.
  4. Personalizing – Assuming something is about you when it might not be.
  5. Filtering – Focusing on the negatives while ignoring or minimizing the positives.

Step 3 – Check if your beliefs are in one of the categories in step 2

Look at your list of beliefs in step 1 and check to see if any of them are based on one of the categories listed in step 2. It’s important that you understand why a belief is distorted or unhelpful because trying to change a belief that you think is true will be more difficult. Here’s an example using the beliefs in Step 1:

BeliefsCategory
I’m a loser.Overgeneralization. Black and white thinking (everyone is a winner or a loser).
I’m different than most people.Black and white thinking (everyone is normal or different)
No one likes me.Personalizing
I can’t understand people so I’ll never be able to fit in and belong.Jumping to conclusions
There’s something wrong with me.Filtering

Step 4 – Evaluate and change your beliefs

For beliefs that fall under one of the categories listed in step 2, think about why that belief is distorted or unhelpful and come up with a more accurate and helpful belief. The table below shows examples using the beliefs in Step 1. Don’t just write down something positive or copy the beliefs below if you don’t agree with them. While it may help, it’s easier to change your beliefs when you write them down in your own words based on your situation and know that what you want to believe is true.

BeliefsWhy It’s Unhelpful/New Beliefs
I’m a loser.No one is perfect. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
I’m different than most people.I’m not good with people but I’m like everyone else in many other ways.
No one likes me.Most people don’t know me. If more people knew me, some of them might like me.
I can’t understand people so I’ll never be able to fit in and belong.I understand people better than I did in the past. The more I talk to people the faster I will learn.
There’s something wrong with me.No one is perfect. I have many good qualities too.

Learned Helplessness

If you tried and failed many times to solve problems you’ve had, you may have learned that you are helpless. You may avoid problems because you believe that nothing you do will make a difference. A great way to convince yourself that you’re not helpless is to work to overcome problems that you have avoided. For example, if you’ve been sensitive to criticism for as long as you can remember and you’re able to overcome it, you’ll know you’re not helpless. If you’re very sensitive, you may want to start with a smaller problem first such as being sensitive to people disagreeing with you without being critical if that is a problem.