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.
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. Below are some suggestions that may help you:
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 self- 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.). Focus on enhancing and increasing the things that support positive self-esteem, while reducing, changing, or eliminating things that lead to negative self-esteem.
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. 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.
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 doesn’t 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 to schedule an appointment or for more information.