Negative Self-Image: What It Is, What Causes It and Tips to Improve It

Reviewed by our psychologist : Niki Toonen

A negative self-image can make you extremely insecure and be a real hindrance. Fortunately, a negative self-image is based on learned beliefs: Which means it’s possible to unlearn these things.

In this article:

iPractice offers everyone:

Negative Self-Image: What It Is, What Causes It and Tips to Improve It

A negative self-image can make you extremely insecure and be a real hindrance. Fortunately, a negative self-image is based on learned beliefs: Which means it’s possible to unlearn these things.

What Is a Negative Self-Image?

A negative self-image means that most of the thoughts you have about yourself are negative. These negative thoughts are usually based on unpleasant past experiences. Have you ever given a presentation that didn’t go so well? Or heard someone make a mean comment about the way you dress? In our heads, we have a habit of deciding that these negative comments or events represent some fundamental truth about ourselves. But, fortunately, that’s not the case. When you develop a lot of negative beliefs about yourself due to unpleasant past experiences, then this will ultimately lead to a negative self-image. But if you start to consciously replace these with positive thoughts, then your self-image will improve.

How Do You Know If You Have a Negative Self-Image?

You’ll notice the effects of your negative self-image in both social and professional environments. After all, self-confidence (or a lack of it) affects almost everything you do. If you have a negative self-image, you’ll be quick to decide that you’re doing things wrong or getting in the way of other people. You’ll find it hard to trust yourself and have trouble making decisions. Here are some possible consequences:

  • Difficulty making (even small) decisions
  • Trouble establishing relationships
  • Being afraid to be the center of attention (when giving a presentation, for example)
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others
  • Being (very) sensitive to criticism
  • Trouble identifying your positive qualities
  • Downplaying your successes or attributing them to someone else


A negative self-image doesn’t develop by itself. It occurs as the result of experiences that have caused you to have negative beliefs about your appearance or behavior. You also don’t develop a negative self-image overnight: It’s usually something that builds up over time. This means you can’t generally pinpoint a specific cause. You can develop a negative self-image either earlier or later in life. Possible causes include:

  • Unpleasant experiences in (intimate) relationships
  • Lacking a sense of safety, validation or belonging in your youth
  • Very critical parents and/or caregivers
  • Traumas


You really have to put in the work if you want to overcome a negative self-image. The longer you wait before taking steps to overcome your insecurities and gain more trust in yourself, the more likely you are to encounter new unpleasant experiences that will keep reinforcing your negative view of yourself. This could lead to mental health conditions, such as:

  • Fear of failure
  • Social anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Sadness
  • Depression

A Vicious Circle

The impact of a negative self-image increases with age. Usually, the choices you make as a child won’t greatly affect the rest of your life. This stops being the case as you get older. If you’re suffering from low self-confidence, you’re more likely to make choices that don’t serve you. You’ll miss out on opportunities because you don’t believe in yourself. You’ll struggle to make new friends and avoid applying for new jobs. This vicious circle hinders your personal development, meaning that as the years go by, you gain fewer new experiences.

Five Steps to Overcome Your Negative Self-image

It’s possible to overcome a negative self-image. You do this by working on your self-confidence. The more confident you are, the less likely you are to form negative beliefs about yourself. Here’s how you go about that:

  1. Say “yes” to things more often.
    Especially things you’d normally say “no” to because they make you feel insecure.
  2. Identify your positive personality traits.
    You could ask a friend or family member, for example.
  3. For two weeks, try keeping track of what’s going well and how feel about that.
  4. Write down all the negative thoughts you have about yourself and consider if these thoughts are really worth your attention.
  5. Write down all the benefits of increased self-confidence and what would change for you if you were to believe in yourself.

Treating Negative Self-Image

Looking to overcome your negative self-image? It’s possible. Part of the process involves boosting your self-confidence and tackling feelings of insecurity. Only then can you rid yourself of the negative side effects of your poor self-image.

Would you like help treating your negative self-image? Why not make an appointment with one of our psychologists? They offer various therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, COMET, and acceptance and commitment therapy, to help you to overcome your insecurities.

Do you have any questions about negative self-image and how to treat it? You can always call us on +3120 214 3004.

Psychologist : Niki Toonen

“Working on your self-image starts with your own thoughts and with what you say to yourself daily“

Would you rather have the support of a professional?

Contact one of our psychologists today without obligation. You can talk about your feelings and symptoms and get information about a suitable treatment programme for you.