Recommended Books on Self-esteem

Recommended Books on Self-esteem

From early childhood up until early adulthood, we rely on external validation to help us gauge how we are doing. It begins with our parents recognising our abilities through a ‘well done’ or ‘good job’ when we do something well. We often use external praise to start building our inner self-esteem. This is an important and perfectly healthy way of developing self-esteem – it's the anchor that helps us work and collaborate with others as we transition to adulthood. However, if we don’t have our own parallel, inner sense of self-validation, we run into problems. People are fickle and relying on their views of ourselves can be volatile, fragile and destabilising. This is why it’s so important to have developed our inner sense of self and an awareness of our own likes, dislikes, needs and desires. When we rely solely on external validation, we are prevented from expressing our true selves for fear of how we may be perceived. We might have an urge to change our thoughts or beliefs based on how others feel, rather than what we feel. We stop behaving in a way that’s true to ourselves and our own needs. We feel disconnected to ourselves, leading to feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. There is a way forward – as we get better at self-validating and honouring our own needs, likes and dislikes we start to build this inner sense of self. Reframing negative thoughts, allows us to leverage a positive mindset that encourages us to turn inwards instead of looking externally. An excellent book, that focuses on this and specifically the basis of self-esteem, is Beverley Engel’s Healing Your Emotional Self, which I outline below. 

(a) Healing Your Emotional Self (Non-fiction) by Beverley Engel


Beverly Engel makes a link between self-esteem and childhood psychological abuse, be that minor or major. Through case studies and personal accounts, she accurately reminds us that the defences that we form as children (often as a way to avoid painful experiences) hold us back in later life, including the way we view ourselves and our ability to build the foundations of inner self-esteem. One of my favourite techniques for building self-esteem is outlined in this book: the Mirror Therapy program to overcome shame and self-criticism. It invites more compassion and acceptance of ourselves and enables a more positive self-image.

Parents are mirrors to children, showing them who they are. Throughout one’s childhood there are many mirrors, but the one we often refer to is our original mirror – the one our parents hold up. We use this to determine our goodness, importance, and self–worth. There are seven mirrors specifically that emotionally abusive or neglectful parents hold up – Engel articulates this perfectly offering recovery strategies for each one, from creating a positive self-image separate from your parent(s), separating emotionally from our parents, to helping us meet unmet needs in childhood, to embarking on a journey of self-discovery, learning who we really are (likes, dislikes, values, goals and dreams) and overcoming tendencies towards self-blame and self-hatred, opening up ourselves to more self-nurture and self-acceptance.

Below are three practical books on practising self-love and self-compassion – a key part of building your own inner self-esteem.

(b) The Self-love Experiment: 15 Principles for Becoming More Kind, Compassionate and Accepting of Yourself (Non-fiction) by Shannon Kaiser


As part of a personal experiment, Kaiser presents a plan focused entirely on self-compassion to remove negative thinking and inspire a love of life. She advocates the practice of daily self-love through conscious habit and perspective. The narrative takes you on a journey towards self-compassion and self-acceptance.


(c) The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Non-fiction) by Brené Brown 


Forbes recently named this book, one of the "Five Books That Will Actually Change Your Outlook on Life”. Through honest storytelling and research, Brown offers much-need reassurance, support and clear pathways to embrace our imperfections and societal expectations so that we are free to be whoever we want to be with zero guilt. This book helps us stay focused on building a life of inner fulfilment through building a relationship with ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves is the most important one; and sets the standards for our relationships with others, contributing to our overall sense of satisfaction.

(d) The Happiness Mindset (Non-fiction) by Bijal Shah


This is a book I’ve written based on my own life experience and wisdom. Universal experiences such as relationship break ups, facing rejection at school or at job interviews, betrayal by a friend or a lover, suffering financial loss or falling seriously ill can be heart-breaking. This book includes 12 life strategies designed to help us discover our own values, likes, dislikes, goals and build our own sense of self and self-esteem. 

(e) The Four Agreements (Non-fiction, Personal Development) by Don Miguel Ruiz


This is the perfect guide on discovering yourself and living a life more aligned with your own values – where you are empowered to experience more freedom, happiness and, love. The guide draws on ancient Toltec wisdom, combined with modern day philosophy and wisdom bringing readers closer to personal freedom.



Looking for something more specific? Get something more tailored with our personalised book prescriptions within 48 hours. 

You might also find it helpful to explore these feelings in a bibliotherapy session or learn some bibliotherapy techniques to help you process these feelings by completing our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course or our book Bibliotherapy: The Healing Power of Reading.

A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.

You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.

In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish two books called Bibliotherapy: The Healing Power of Reading and The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at or

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