Women and Self-Worth: 5 Steps to Improving Self-Esteem

It starts with building yourself up.

Photo Credit:  John Lund/Getty Images

By Megan MacCutcheon

Earlier this week I participated for the first time in a “ladies’ night out” tennis round robin event in my community. Throughout the evening, I found myself noticing how many exclamations of “sorry” I kept hearing across all the courts.

From my work in leading self-esteem workshops, I know many women tend to personalize mistakes and over-apologize for even the smallest of errors. Thus, I found it amusing to witness firsthand how many apologies were being thrown around during what was ultimately a laid-back, fun event.

I began to wonder: Do men say “sorry” this much when they are playing sports? Do they apologize for every missed shot or fumble? While I don’t know for sure, I assume that overall, women probably do this more often. This is not meant to stereotype, but the fact is, in general, women seem to struggle with the tendency to over-apologize. And it likely relates to self-esteem.

While looking at research for my recently released book The Self-Esteem Workbook for Women: 5 Steps to Gaining Confidence and Inner Strength, I came across the results of an interesting study that found women do have lower levels of self-esteem than men and this discrepancy is observed worldwide (Bleidorn, 2016).

In recent years, we are learning more and more about the brain and figuring out how neurological factors play a role in various conditions. Historically, few studies have looked at the neurological basis of self-esteem; however, a 2014 Dartmouth College study showed that levels of self-esteem are related to how different regions of the brain connect: People with strong white matter connections from the medial prefrontal cortex, the area dealing with self-knowledge, to the ventral striatum, the area dealing with reward systems, demonstrated high levels of self-esteem over the long-term. A well-functioning connection with high levels of activity between these two areas correlated with high self-esteem in the moment. These results suggest that feelings of self-worth may stem from neurological connections integrating information about the self with positive affect and reward.

This description may sound complicated and highly technical, but the important point behind this research is that connections and integrations in the brain play a role in self-esteem. And these connections may work differently for men and women.

It’s interesting to consider how biology contributes to the self-esteem differences we witness between genders, but what does this mean for women? Because women appear to be predisposed to lower levels of self-esteem, it’s all the more important for women to actively take steps to build self-esteem. How do we do this?

Unfortunately, the tools necessary to help build self-esteem aren’t taught in childhood or in most school systems; often, they are things individuals learn only when they wind up struggling with mood or relationship problems that cause them to seek help. But I believe everyone, especially women, deserves self-confidence and can benefit from developing an awareness of what it takes to find inner strength. Because self-esteem impacts every area of life—career, relationships, parenting, emotional health, and overall well-being—it’s vital to gain a better understanding of how you can actively build and maintain a healthy sense of self-worth.

Because women appear to be predisposed to lower levels of self-esteem, it’s all the more important for women to actively take steps to build self-esteem.

In The Self-Esteem Workbook for Women, I provide five steps with exercises and case studies to guide women in improving their self-esteem. Outlined below is an overview. For a deeper look into the five steps, I encourage you to check out the workbook, where you can move though each step on a personal level and at your own pace.

1. Know Yourself

Building self-esteem first involves knowing who you are: identifying what you like, knowing what you want out of life, and developing an awareness of how your past experiences have shaped the person you are today. It requires paying attention to how you treat yourself and developing an awareness of the internal messages you grapple with.

2. Care for Yourself

Developing healthy self-esteem also encompasses recognizing how powerful your internal voice is and learning to rewire your brain by developing more effective thinking patterns. It involves acting as your own cheerleader and being mindful that things such as diet, exercise, sleep, and setting realistic expectations all play a role in how you feel about yourself. Beyond the basics, caring for yourself means ensuring you take time out to nurture your spirit by doing things you enjoy.

3. Respect Yourself

Respecting yourself is vital to maintaining healthy self-esteem. It involves assessing and upholding your values without sacrificing your well-being to please others. It’s about developing trust in yourself and learning skills to become more assertive.

4. Accept Yourself

Fostering healthy self-esteem involves acknowledging your limits and imperfections, accepting mistakes, and learning to more effectively deal with criticisms. It necessitates knowing your threshold for stress, developing self-compassion, and forgiving yourself for faults or missteps.

5. Love Yourself

To truly demonstrate self-esteem, you must believe in your worth and care about your future. Loving yourself means treating yourself as well as you treat friends and loved ones. Doing this involves creating better boundaries in relationships. It also entails celebrating your strengths and learning to accept compliments.

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These steps may sound overly simplistic; conversely, they may sound overwhelming. But building healthy self-esteem is possible. It does require you to actively turn inward and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. With dedicated effort, focused attention, and a willingness to put new tools into practice, you can build self-esteem and experience a greater level of confidence. Doing so will help you to ultimately achieve a more rewarding life.

If you struggle with self-esteem, contact a licensed therapist in your area.


  1. Bleidorn, W., Denissen, J.A., Gebauer, J. E., Arslan, R.C., Rentfrow, P.J., Potter, J., & Gosling, S.D. (2016, September 1). Age and Gender Differences in Self-Esteem—A Cross-Cultural Window. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(3): 396-410.
  2. Dartmouth researchers discover a source of self-esteem in the brain. (2014, June 16). Retrieved from https://www.dartmouth.edu/press-releases/brainselfesteem061614.html
  3. MacCutcheon, M. (2018). The self-esteem workbook for women: 5 steps to gaining confidence and inner strength. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Megan MacCutcheon, LPC, therapist in Vienna, Virginia

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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