Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

“I just don’t feel very good about myself.”

Clients say that a lot to me. In fact, I think low self-esteem is one of the major reasons clients come to see therapists.

When clients talk to me about self-esteem, they often cite reasons why they think their self-esteem is not what they would like it to be. Some describe the messages they received from parents and others during childhood. Or, they may describe an event, or a series of events, like a relationship breakup or a job loss, as having had an impact on their self-esteem.

My clients who live with a chronic condition often talk about their self-esteem in terms of how they are labeling—if not defining—themselves, as a person with a chronic condition. The limitations that their chronic condition has imposed, the day-to-day responsibilities, feeling somehow different from others . . . all of that can take a toll on how you look at yourself, and can also affect how others look at you.

No doubt about it, living with a chronic condition can have a negative effect on your self-esteem.

The road to better self-esteem

Clients often come into therapy with the expectation that, as they talk about the causes of their low self-esteem, and how it currently impacts their life, together we will somehow find the magic key to feeling better about themselves. And that, by harnessing this insight, they will find the connection to the self-esteem they feel others possess.

I am all about gaining insight. For individuals with a chronic condition, talking about self-esteem often means talking about aspects of their condition and its impact on their lives that are hard to look at, and harder to put into words. Getting things out into the open is an important step toward understanding your perspective on your chronic condition, and how this affects the way you feel about yourself.

But this is just the starting place. It might reveal how you may not always be on your own side, and even working against yourself. But it’s only the beginning of actually achieving more self-esteem. From here, there’s work involved.

I encourage my clients to use their insight to empower themselves, and to set about the task of creating better self-esteem for themselves. Here’s how to do that:

Look at better self-esteem as a learning process. I think of self-esteem as learned, based on life experiences that begin in childhood. Life has left some of us better equipped than others. The good news is that what has been learned can be unlearned. You are never too old to learn to have a more positive perspective on yourself. Embrace the journey!

The world is the laboratory. It’s where we cook up new and improved ways of living our lives and looking at the world. Every day presents a new opportunity to think differently, to act differently, to feel differently. Little experiments can lead to big breakthroughs.

Do an inventory. On yourself. Your accomplishments, your skills, the qualities you most value about yourself, the qualities that others value. Make a list and then pull it out when you have those moments when you aren’t feeling all that great about yourself. Self-esteem comes from within, from believing in yourself. So review the evidence often.

Compare and despair. It’s only human nature to compare ourselves to others. But when we do that, we set ourselves up to come up short. There’s always somebody who, at least on the surface, seems to be doing a little better than you are. But appearances can be deceiving. You’re not the only one whose self-esteem feels a little shaky, some of us are just hiding it a little better than others.

Give yourself a push. One of the best ways to increase your self-esteem is to push yourself to step outside of that zone of familiarity you’re living in. Plan an event for family or friends. Try a new activity. Have that conversation you’ve been putting off. Don’t forget that the world is your laboratory. So do some experimenting. Open yourself up! Be brave!

Take good care of yourself. One of the absolute best ways to increase your self-esteem is to stay on top of your physical and emotional wellness. When you’re following your self-care plan and staying compliant with your treatment, you’re not only more likely to feel better, but you’ll also feel that much more in control. That’s empowerment!

Your self-esteem. Don’t wait for the magic key. Take stock of all the reasons you have to feel good about yourself. And then get out in the world and create even more reasons. You can do it!

What helps you boost your self-esteem? Share your advice by adding a comment below.