Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center


Self-esteem is one of those terms we hear so often that it is easy to lose sight of its importance in our lives. Self-esteem can be simply described as your internal sense of worth or how you regard yourself. More importantly, self-esteem helps determine your quality of life. The degree of positive and loving regard we hold for ourselves strongly influences our productivity, health, interpersonal relationships and mental and emotional well-being. Developing and maintaining a high degree of self-esteem requires a delicate balance between accurately assessing your strengths and limitations, while accepting and valuing yourself without conditions.

Self-esteem is like internal vision. We use this internal vision to view what we look like from the inside—our intrinsic or inherent value. The trick is that we all have varying degrees of internal vision, like external vision. Some of us have 20/20 internal vision, while others of us are virtually blind. What makes this more difficult is that there are no fancy machines we can hook ourselves up to and get a measurement. Many of us don't even realize we need to be tested because we dont realize that the way we see ourselves is out of focus and inaccurate. We just assume that's the way it really is and we then behave according to what we see and believe. The problem is you are not seeing yourself as you truly are a lovable, priceless, unique, amazing creation.

There are many things that can happen to damage our self-esteem. Some examples are:

  • being harshly criticized, ridiculed or yelled at;
  • being beaten or otherwise physically violated;
  • not receiving needed care and attention from loved ones;
  • feeling incapable of succeeding at key challenges and; 
  • being treated poorly due to an individual's or societal prejudice or discrimination

Some experiences may have been dramatic and others may be subtle and even difficult to pinpoint. It is important to examine your life experiences with objectivity and honesty to identify things that damaged your self-esteem. This can be difficult to do by yourself and you might need the help of good friends or a counselor to avoid discounting or ignoring hurts. The more honest and accurate we are at identifying the things that hurt our self-esteem, the more quickly and completely we can begin the healing process that will restore our self-esteem.

Even when you realize you might be seeing yourself inaccurately due to poor self-esteem, you might not know how to correct your internal vision. Does a person have satisfying relationships because of healthy self-esteem or do those relationships create healthy self-esteem? Do you take good care of yourself because you value yourself highly or does taking an active interest in your own well-being create a sense of self-value? In fact, both are true. Having high self-esteem tends to support us in better life decisions and management and those of us with lower self-esteem can do things to increase it over time. Thats very good news!

So, you've identified that your self-esteem is in need of repair and you've also identified some possible causes of hurt. Whats next? Here are some suggestions that can help you.

1. Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive.

It sounds really trite, but when attempting to improve our self-esteem we must do some house cleaning. We need to take inventory of our lives and assess what supports positive self-esteem and what negates it. Examine the quality of your interpersonal relationships, your health care practices (physical, emotional, mental), and your sense of productivity and challenge in your work life (work might be paid, unpaid, being a student, etc.). Work on enhancing and increasing the things that support positive self-esteem. Work on reducing, changing, or eliminating things that lead to negative self-esteem.

This can be much harder to do than it may sound, but it is a crucial step. It isn't unusual for people with low self-esteem to have become accustomed to habits and/or people that exacerbate their weakened condition. Watch out for people who are quicker to notice your mistakes than your achievements. Watch out for habitually depriving yourself of food when you have eaten too much the night before. These habits and/or people might at first seem focused on helping you improve on yourself. But, review the previous list of self-esteem damaging experiences. Things that help you improve should always value you unconditionally while acknowledging your strengths and limitations.

2. Fake it 'til you make it.

Consider what your life would be like if your self-esteem were in better shape. Consider what you would do for someone you love and highly value. Begin treating yourself using that perspective, even if you don't yet feel that loving and valuing for yourself. We've already examined how poor treatment can very easily lead to poor self-esteem. By treating yourself as a valuable and lovable person, you can change your perspective for the positive.

Spend time with people who are realistically positive about themselves, life, and you. Compliment yourself. Get enough sleep. Do nice things for yourself. Help someone who is struggling with something you know how to do. Feed yourself healthy foods in the amount and frequency that your body needs. Get involved in an activity that interests you but you are not very skilled at for the challenge and fun of it. Take care to set realistic goals for yourself. Take yourself to get recommended physical exams. Keep an actual record of your successes, whether others noticed them or not, big and small.

3. Get help from others.

Often people make the mistake of assuming that they must do all of this on their own. In fact, a hallmark of healthy self-esteem is realizing that you don't have to do it all by yourself and help is available. People with healthy self-esteem assume that since they are priceless and lovable, others want to be around them and show them love and support, as they do in return. Getting help doesnt mean you are weak, unable, lazy, or needy. It does mean that you are able to honor the wonderful truth of your humanity. Ask supportive friends for feedback. Ask them for hugs. Let someone know what is going on with you. Go to professors, bosses, or advisors for needed help and support for what you want to do. Talk with a counselor. Join a peer support group.

There are many resources on campus to help with improving self-esteem. If you need assistance, call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment or more information.