Self-esteem is the positive or negative way in which we see ourselves, and our appreciation of our own worth and importance. Self-esteem can be about physical appearance, but it’s not just about that. It also has to do with how we view our skills, academic achievements, sporting or professional accomplishments, social status and so on. This view develops in childhood and evolves with experience throughout our lives. The way we perceive ourselves is often influenced by the way others see us, and shapes our well-being, our emotions, and our relationships.  

4 pillars of self-esteem

Ideally, we want to move towards a vision of ourselves that is fair and proud of who we are and what we can achieve. Four 4 pillars define self-esteem:  

  • Self-confidence is built around the skills we recognize in ourselves to get through life’s challenges. The more a person feels secure, loved, and that their needs are being met, the more their confidence will grow, and they’ll be able to step out of their comfort zone to experience new things.   
  • Identity is knowledge of oneself, one’s characteristics, abilities, needs and feelings. Identity is developed through exchanges and experiences with those around us.  
  • The feeling of belonging that comes from being part of one or more groups (family, friends, neighbourhood, study program or association). This feeling is expressed by the fact that we feel we can contribute to this group, and that we become attached to people with whom we share the same reality or common goals.  
  • The feeling of competence represents the fact of being motivated to achieve challenges that are realistic and having the confidence to succeed. This feeling develops through a variety of learning experiences. Being successful gives you a sense of efficacy and pride, which in turn boosts your self-esteem.  


Body image is the perception we have of our physical appearance, what we believe we project and how we feel in our body.  Some people strongly link their self-esteem to their body image and talk harshly about their body. Being constantly dissatisfied with one’s body image can generate its share of psychological, physical, and relational problems, and in some cases lead to the development of an eating disorders. It can be very difficult to live every day with a small, dissatisfied and demanding inner voice that compares us to ideals… that don’t even exist! If you feel that your relationship with your image and food is taking up too much space in your life and affecting your health, it’s important to seek support as soon as the first signs appear.   


The impostor syndrome refers to the experience of high achievers who, despite their successes, continually doubt themselves and fear that they will be discovered to be incompetent or less intelligent than others. This phenomenon is widespread among students and is linked to low self-esteem. 

These people tend to adopt the following behaviours:  

  • Attribute their success to luck or timing rather than skill. 
  • Working extremely hard or putting unhealthy pressure on themselves. 
  • Deny their skills and refuse compliments. 
  • They feel inadequate and that they don’t belong. 

If this sounds like you, or it makes you wonder, take a look at this infographic (French only) to find out more and learn strategies for freeing yourself from impostor syndrome. 


Self-esteem is not fixed in time, and there are days when it’s not so easy. It’s normal not to like yourself all the time. That said, there are certain signs that your self-esteem could benefit from nurturing. For example, if you worry a lot about your image, you feel excluded or different from others, you don’t tolerate criticism well or you stay in situations in which you don’t feel good.  

The good news is that self-esteem can be worked on! But it doesn’t happen overnight, and it can take time to build. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a positive attitude towards yourself.  It’s not magic, but reminding yourself of these elements daily can help you move towards acceptance of yourself as a whole person.   

  • Surround yourself with inspiring and empowering people who respect and love you for who you are. This also applies to the pages and personalities you follow on social networks.  Make sure they make you feel good.  
  • Be yourself in the way you present yourself to others. Although there may be a gap between who you are and who you’d like to be, it’s by accepting who you really are and presenting yourself with your strengths and challenges that you can nurture and grow your self-esteem. On the contrary, feigning an ideal self will make you feel empty, hypocritical, and insecure. You’re you, you’re unique, and that’s the way it should be. 
  • Think of yourself as a whole person: you’re not just your body, you’re not just a medal, you’re not just a diploma. 
  • You have every right to be proud of yourself: build on your strengths, celebrate your achievements, and accept compliments. 
  • You can love yourself and want to improve at the same time. When faced with criticism or failure, try to question yourself and open a dialogue simply to try to understand the situation. This will give you the opportunity to choose how you want to use the experience to evolve, change a behaviour or love yourself more.  
  • Treat yourself with kindness and act according to your values. These are the behaviours that will help you build healthy self-esteem, much more than repeating positive phrases to convince yourself! 

In addition, you can watch these two videos in which we give ourselves the right to love ourselves!

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Tel-Jeunes. (2023) C’est quoi l’estime de soi?

Tout le monde à des bas. (2021) 6 façons de cultiver l’estime de soi

Université de Sherbrooke. (2019) Estime de soi

Centre d’innovation en santé mentale sur les campus. Le phénomène de l’imposteur

Gouvernement du Québec. (2023)  Image corporelle

Jeunesse j’écoute. (2023) Qu’est-ce que l’image corporelle et pourquoi cette notion est-elle importante ?


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Illustrations : Mario Fontaine

Contribution to the article : Isabelle Queval, psychologist

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