Understanding How You Feel About Yourself

The National Association for Self-Esteem defines self-esteem as, “The experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.” Without a doubt, at some point in our college experience, we will question some aspect of our appearance, second guess our ability to perform well, doubt our relationship, or want to improve something we feel has gone awry in our life. Our ability to replace these negative thoughts with positive ones, persevere through difficult situations with self-assurance and a sense of personal satisfaction, and tell ourselves that we are deserving of happiness is a measure of our self-esteem.

Self-esteem is initially acquired through two main sources:

  • how others treat us now/how we have been treated in the past, and
  • what others tell us/have told us about ourselves.

As college/graduate students approaching adulthood, our self-esteem is largely based on two sources of self:

  • our perceived self: who we think we are
  • our ideal self: who we think we ought to be

Self-Esteem: How Does it Add Up?

The difference that exists for each of us between the perceived self and the ideal self can be a measure of our self-esteem. If the difference is small, our self esteem is high, but as the gap widens, our self-esteem drops. Sufficient amounts of self-esteem will enable us to act in our own best interests. Low or no self-esteem, however, may cause us to feel overwhelmed, anxious, less than others, depressed, unlovable, etc.

Turning it Around

Sometimes realizing our worth seems a goal beyond our reach. Correcting what we feel is wrong with us will not change how we feel about ourselves or make us magically approve of ourselves. Self-worth does not require “doing” or “being” more, being an all “A” student, always being “nice” no matter how people treat us, losing weight, having a significant relationship, never becoming angry, etc. Self-worth requires inner-acceptance and approval. If self-approval is not there, meaning we allow our self-worth to depend solely on our accomplishments, on our relationships, or on the approval of others, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. Admittedly, approval from others will feel great in the moment; however, in the long-run, if and when the external approval, attention, or interest from others stops or fails to meet our needs, we can be left feeling less worthy than we did initially.

In other words, no outside source (especially other people’s opinions about you or your accomplishments) can bring self worth and self value.

When to Get Help

Working with a mental health counselor can provide a safe, nurturing environment where you can really explore the issues that can arise from low self-esteem. With the help of a mental health professional, you can begin to learn how respecting, cherishing, and liking yourself can greatly enrich your sense of purpose in the world, deepen your interactions with others, and improve your relationships.

How to help yourself Nurture yourself!

  • When you fail at something, say: “That’s okay. I’ll do better next time.”
  • Try to find one thing a day about which you feel proud and praise yourself.
  • When you’re feeling blue, say, “It’s okay. I will be alright.”
  • Let yourself cry when you feel like it.
  • If your day was rough, relax in the evening or as soon as you can.
  • Accept compliments from others with pride.
  • Accept “mistakes” you’ve made without condemning yourself.
  • When you try something new and don’t catch on right away, give yourself credit for trying.
  • When you succeed, say it was because you worked hard.
  • Reward yourself sometimes for no particular reason at all.

How to help a friend

  • Involve them. Try to get your friend or relative involved with others. This will help them see that they can make a positive contribution to events, people, etc.
  • Give them positive feedback. Tell your friend or relative about his or her strengths, accomplishments and assets. This will let them know that you think they are important enough to remember these things, as well as help them learn to positively reinforce their own behavior.
  • Express your care and concern. Let your friend or relative know how much you value them and their place in your life. This will give them a greater sense of belonging.
  • Encourage them. Try to get your friend or relative to learn something new. Applaud successes, attempts, and even failed attempts.
  • Laugh with them, not at them. Help your friend or relative to laugh at their and your mistakes by trying to find some humor (when appropriate) in their life.
  • Listen to them. Allow your friend or relative to express themselves by giving him or her your complete attention while they are speaking to you. This will let them know that their opinions matter to you and that their concerns are important enough to be heard, paid attention to, and understood.