Skip to main content

Self-Esteem and Self-Criticism Worksheets & Exercises

Self-esteem is the degree to which we evaluate ourselves positively. It refers to a person’s global appraisal of his or her value based upon the scores that persons gives themselves in different roles and domains of life (Harter, 1999; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Rogers, 1981). Low self-esteem does not appear as a separate diagnostic category in either the DSM-5 or ICD-10, although it is associated with a wide range of mood and anxiety disorders including depression and social anxiety. There are two cognitive behavioral models of self-esteem that clinicians will find provide useful therapeutic interventions. Psychology Tools has a range of self-esteem exercises. Read more
languages 70 languages



Resource type


Therapy tool

Assertive Communication

Communicating and acting assertively is an interpersonal skill that helps people to maintain healthy relationships, resolve interpersonal conflict, an ...

Information Handout

Assertive Responses

Being able to communicate assertively is an essential skill for developing and maintaining healthy relationships and positive self-esteem. Individuals ...


Avoidance Hierarchy

Avoidance and safety-seeking behavior serves to maintain anxiety, and exposure to the fear stimuli/situation is an effective treatment for anxiety. Th ...


Behavioral Experiment

Behavioral experiments are planned experiential activities to test the validity of a belief. They are one of the most powerful techniques available to ...


Behavioral Experiment (Portrait Format)

Behavioral experiments allow individuals to test the validity of their beliefs and assumptions. They are a core experiential technique for therapeutic ...


CFT Compassion Formulation

Within CFT, two methods are commonly used for understanding a client’s difficulties. The threat-focused formulation takes a longitudinal approach, ...


Challenging Your Negative Thinking

A cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy is that an individual’s interpretation of an event determines how they feel and behave. We all experie ...


Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Low Self-Esteem (Fennell, 1997)

Low self-esteem is characterized as a negative sense of the self and co-occurs with many other mental health problems. Although not formally represent ...

Information Handout

Developing Psychological Flexibility

Developing Psychological Flexibility is a client information handout which can be used to familiarize clients with the ACT model. ...

Information Handout

Gratitude Journal

Cultivating gratitude is an evidence-based positive psychology technique. This information handout describes reasons to cultivate a grateful attitude ...


Interpersonal Beliefs And Styles

Interpersonal issues and relationship problems form an important part of what clients bring to therapy: they might present as clients’ current conce ...


Self Critical Thought Challenging Record

Disputing thoughts is a critical skill in cognitive therapy. The Self-Critical Thought Challenging Record helps clients to identify and challenge thei ...


Self Critical Thought Monitoring Record

Self-monitoring of thoughts, feelings, and symptoms is an essential skill in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This Self-Critical Thought Monitorin ...


Self Criticism Self Monitoring Record

Self-monitoring of thoughts, feelings, and symptoms is an essential skill in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This Self-Criticism Self-Monitoring ...


Therapy Blueprint

Since the publication of this version of the therapy blueprint we have also developed a more sophisticated version: Therapy Blueprint (Universal) A th ...


Transdiagnostic Processes

A ‘transdiagnostic process’ is the label given to a mechanism which is present across disorders and which is either a risk or maintaining factor f ...

Information Handout

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

Human thinking is subject to a number of characteristic biases. Cognitive restructuring is the process of helping individuals to overcome their biases ...

Information Handout

What Do People Think About Themselves (CYP)?

People are not born with low self-esteem. Instead, we develop ideas about ourselves and our place in the world as a result of our life experiences. Pe ...


What Keeps Low Self-Esteem Going?

Our “What Keeps Disorder Going?” series is a set of one-page diagrams explaining how common mental health conditions are maintained. Frien ...

Information Handout



Exercises, Worksheets & Workbooks



Information Handouts


Self-Help Programmes

Improving self-esteem

Recommended Reading

  • Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist41(9), 954. download archived copy

CBT approach

  • Fennell, M. J. (1997). Low self-esteem: A cognitive perspective. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy25(1), 1-26.
  • Fennell, M. J. V. (1998). Cognitive therapy in the treatment of low self-esteem. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 4, 296-304 download  archived copy
  • Fennell, M. J. V. (2004). Depression, low self-esteem, and mindfulness. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 1053-1067
  • McManus, F., Waite, P., & Shafran, R. (2009). Cognitive-behavior therapy for low self-esteem: a case example. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 16(3), 266-275 download archived copy

COMET approach

  • Brewin, C. R. (2006). Understanding cognitive behaviour therapy: A retrieval competition account. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(6), 765-784
  • Korrelboom, K., van der Weele, K., Gjaltema, M., & Hoogstraten, C. (2009). Competitive memory training for treating low self-esteem: A pilot study in a routine clinical setting. The Behavior Therapist.
  • Korrelboom, K., de Jong, M., Huijbrechts, I., & Daansen, P. (2009). Competitive memory training (COMET) for treating low self-esteem in patients with eating disorders: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 77(5), 974 download archived copy
  • Korrelboom, K., Marissen, M., & van Assendelft, T. (2011). Competitive memory training (COMET) for low self-esteem in patients with personality disorders: A randomized effectiveness study. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 39(01), 1-19 download archived copy
  • Staring, A. B. P., van den Berg, D. P. G., Cath, D. C., Schoorl, M., Engelhard, I. M., & Korrelboom, C. W. (2016). Self-esteem treatment in anxiety: A randomized controlled crossover trial of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) versus Competitive Memory Training (COMET) in patients with anxiety disorders. Behaviour research and therapy, 82, 11-20 download archived copy

What Is Low Self-Esteem?

Signs and Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can be associated with the following behaviors or experiences:

  • high levels of self-criticism
  • ignoring or downplaying positive qualities
  • comparison of self to others and negative self-judgment
  • use of negative words to describe self
  • dismissal of positive achievements as ‘luck’ or ‘fluke’
  • difficulty accepting compliments

Psychological Models and Theory of Low Self-Esteem

Melanie Fennell published a cognitive behavioral protocol for low self-esteem in 1997. The model is grounded in Aaron Beck’s cognitive model of emotional disorders. It assumes that, based upon what they have experienced, people form beliefs or assumptions about themselves, others, and the world. When activated, these beliefs and assumptions give rise to negative automatic thoughts which in turn lead to negative affect, and behavior. Fennell describes a self-perpetuating vicious circle whereby negative thoughts lead to painful affect and self-defeating behaviors such as avoidance or withdrawal, which act to maintain and reinforce the thoughts and underlying beliefs.

Kees Korrelboom has developed a protocol for increasing self-esteem through a program of Competitive Memory Training (COMET: Korrelboom, van der Weele, Gjaltema, & Hoogstraten; 2009; Korrelboom, de Jong, Huijbrechts, & Daansen, 2009; Korrelboom, Maarsingh, & Huijbrechts, 2012). The COMET protocol is intended for people who know that their negative self-judgment is too severe but who nevertheless continue to view themselves negatively. The model draws upon Brewin’s retrieval competition theory of memory (Brewin, 2006, 2015) where information to be retrieved ‘competes’ for attention. A less accurate negative version of the self (e.g.,‘I’m pathetic’) might ‘win’ a competition against an alternative view (‘I’m kind and competent’) by nature of being reinforced/​practiced. COMET aims to assist accurate views of the self to ‘win’ the retrieval competition by systematically building up and rehearsing an accurate view of the self.

Evidence-Based Psychological Approaches for Working with Low Self-Esteem

Cognitive behavioral interventions for low self-esteem have been tested in a number of small trials and indicate generally favorable results (Hall & Tarrier, 2003; Morton, Roach, Reid, & Stewart, 2012; Waite, McManus, & Shafran, 2012).

The COMET protocol has been used to improve self-esteem in a variety of conditions including depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. The trials indicate generally positive results with medium to large effect sizes on indices of self-esteem (Korrelboom et al., 2009, 2009, 2012).

Resources for Working with Low Self-Esteem

Psychology Tools resources available for working therapeutically with low self-esteem include:


  • Brewin, C. R. (2006). Understanding cognitive behaviourtherapy: A retrieval competition account. BehaviourResearch and Therapy, 44(6), 765–784.
  • Brewin, C. R. (2015). Reconsolidation versus retrieval competition: Rival hypotheses to explain memory change in psychotherapy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, e4. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X14000144
  • Fennell, M. J. V. (1997). Low self-esteem: A cognitive perspective. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 25(1), 1–26.
  • Hall, P. L., & Tarrier, N. (2003). The cognitive-behavioral treatment of low self-esteem in psychotic patients: A pilot study. BehaviourResearch and Therapy, 41(3), 317–332.
  • Harter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Korrelboom, K., van der Weele, K., Gjaltema, M., & Hoogstraten, C. (2009). Competitive memory training for treating low self-esteem: A pilot study in a routine clinical setting. The Behavior Therapist,32, 3–8.
  • Korrelboom, K., de Jong, M., Huijbrechts, I., & Daansen, P. (2009). Competitive memory training (COMET) for treating low self-esteem in patients with eating disorders: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,77(5), 974–980.
  • Korrelboom, K., Maarsingh, M., & Huijbrechts, I. (2012). Competitive memory training (COMET) for treating low self‐esteem in patients with depressive disorders: A randomized clinical trial.Depression and Anxiety, 29(2), 102–110.
  • Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954–969.
  • Morton, L., Roach, L., Reid, H., & Stewart, S. H. (2012). An evaluation of a CBT group for women with low self-esteem.Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy,40(2), 221–225.
  • Rogers, T. B. (1981). A model of the self as an aspect of the human information processing system. In N. Cantor & J. F. Kihlstrom (Eds.), Personality, cognition, and social interaction(pp. 193–213). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Waite, P., McManus, F., & Shafran, R. (2012). Cognitive behaviourtherapy for low self-esteem: A preliminary randomized controlled trial in a primary care setting. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43(4), 1049–1057.