While it sounds simple, Research from Dr. Joe Rubino, it is estimated that 85 percent of Americans suffer from low self-esteem. You are not alone if you are dealing with this issue.
People with poor self-esteem often rely on how they are doing in the present to determine how they feel about themselves. They need positive external experiences (e.g., compliments from friends) to counteract the negative feelings and thoughts that constantly plague them. Even then, the good feeling (such as from a good grade or compliment) is usually temporary.
Healthy self-esteem is based on our ability to assess ourselves accurately and still be accepting of who we are. This means being able to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses (we all have them!) and at the same time recognize that we are worthy and worthwhile.
Why is Self-Esteem Important
It affects your decision making process, relationships, mental/emotional health, motivation, and overall well-being.
Elements of Healthy Self-Esteem
Feelings of security
Sense of belonging
Feelings of competence
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Lack of control
Negative social comparison
Problems asking for help
Worry and Self-Doubt
Negative self talk
Fear of failure
Developing people-pleasing habits
What Leads to Low or High Self Esteem
Childhood experiences that contribute to healthy self-esteem include:
Being listened to, Being spoken to respectfully, Getting appropriate attention and affection, Having accomplishments be recognized and mistakes or failures be acknowledged and accepted
Childhood experiences that may lead to low self-esteem include:
Being harshly criticized, Being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, Being ignored, ridiculed, or teased, Being expected to be perfect all the time.
People with low self-esteem were often given messagesfrom parents, teachers, peers, or othersthat failed experiences (losing a game, getting a poor grade, etc.) were failures of their whole self
Effects of Low Self Esteem
Low self-esteem can have devastating consequences. It can:
create anxiety, stress, loneliness, and increased likelihood of depression, cause problems with friendships and romantic relationships, seriously impair academic and job performance, lead to increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse
Worst of all, these negative consequences themselves reinforce the negative self-image and can take a person into a downward spiral of lower and lower self-esteem and increasingly unproductive or even actively self-destructive behavior.
Benefits of High Self Esteem
People with high self-esteem generally Have:
More success at school and work
Better social relationships
Improved mental and physical health
Less anti-social behavior.
The Benefits persist through adolescence to adulthood and old age.
Self Esteem Building Strategies
Step 1: Rebut the Inner Critic
The first important step in improving self-esteem is to begin to challenge the negative messages of the critical inner voice. Here are some typical examples of the inner critic and some strategies to rebut that critical voice.
Unfairly harsh inner critic:
"People said they liked my presentation, but it was nowhere near as good as it should have been. I can't believe no-one noticed all the places I messed up. I'm such an imposter."
Acknowledge strengths: "Wow, they really liked it! Maybe it wasn't perfect, but I worked hard on that presentation and did a good job. I'm proud of myself."
An inner voice that generalizes unrealistically:
"I got an F on the test. I don't understand anything in this class. I'm such an idiot. Who am I fooling? I shouldn't be taking this class. I'm stupid, and I don't belong in college."
Be specific: "I did poorly on this test, but I've done O.K. on all the homework. There are some things here that I don't understand as well as I thought I did, but now I have a better idea of how to prepare and what I need to work on. I've done fine in other tough classes; I'm confident I can do this."
An inner critic that makes illogic leaps:
"He's frowning. He didn't say anything, but I know it means that he doesn't like me!"
Challenge illogic: "O.K., he's frowning, but I don't know why. It could have nothing to do with me. Maybe I should ask."
An inner voice that catastrophizes:
"She turned me down for a date! I'm so embarrassed and humiliated. No one likes or cares about me. I'll never find a girlfriend. I'll always be alone."
Be objective: "Ouch! That hurt. Ok, she doesn't want to go out with me. That doesn't mean no one does. I know I'm a nice person. I'm confident that in time I'll find someone who's as interested in me as I am in her."
Step 2: Practice Self-Compassion
Rebutting your critical inner voice is an important first step, but it is not enough. Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself with the same empathy you would show others. If a friend were having a hard time, you'd be likely to be extra caring and supportive. You deserve the same treatment! Rather than focusing on evaluating yourself, instead you can acknowledge when things are difficult and try to nurture and care for yourself in these times especially. For example:
Forgive yourself when you don't do all you'd hoped. Try to be gentle with yourself rather than critical of yourself when things don't go as you had hoped.
Recognize your humanness. As humans we all make mistakes, and we are all impacted by external factors that we can't control. Accepting our "humanness" helps us to feel more connected to others rather than feeling we are enduring these types of experiences all alone.
Be mindful of your emotions. If you do feel upset about a situation, try to allow yourself to experience that emotion in a balanced way, without suppressing it or getting completely swept up in the feeling.
Step 3: Get Help from Others
Getting help from others is often the most important step a person can take to improve his or her self-esteem, but it can also be the most difficult. People with low self-esteem often don't ask for help because they feel they don't deserve it, but other people can help to challenge the critical messages that come from negative past experiences. Here are some ways to reach out to others:
Ask for support from friends. Ask friends to tell you what they like about you or think you do well. Ask someone who cares about you to just listen to you vent for a little while without trying to fix things. Ask for a hug. Ask someone who loves you to remind you that they do.
Get help from teachers & other helpers. Go to professors, advisors, or tutors to ask for help in classes if you need it. Remember: they are there to help you learn! If you lack self-confidence in certain areas, take classes or try out new activities to increase your sense of competence. For example, take a math class, join a dance club, take swimming lessons, etc.
Talk to a therapist or counselor. Sometimes low self-esteem can feel so painful or difficult to overcome that the professional help of a therapist or counselor is needed. Talking to a counselor is a good way to explore these feelings and begin to improve your self-esteem.
If you feel that you need help please reach out to a professional.
UT's Counseling & Mental Health Center (CMHC) Call 512-471-3515 for information on setting up an appointment with a counselor.
CMHC also offers the CMHC Crisis Line: 512-471-CALL for a telephone counselor.