Our lives are full of ups and downs. From exam grades and work achievements to relationship issues and daily woes, daily life is full of rewarding and challenging experiences that can temporarily impact how we feel about ourselves.

Self-esteem, however, is fundamentally different from the everyday highs and lows—it's the value that we believe we are worth. For people with good self-esteem, normal ups and downs may lead to temporary fluctuations in how they feel about themselves, but only to a limited extent. In contrast, for people with poor self-esteem, these ups and downs drastically impact the way they see themselves.

What is Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem, or when we rate ourselves of little value or worth, is characterized by thoughts such as: believing that we are inadequate, flawed, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent. Low self-esteem can be caused by a number of factors, including negative life experiences, abusive relationships, bullying, and even very stressful life events. Self-esteem may stay low due to our own self-critical thoughts, which may be triggered by criticism or perceived criticism.

Dr. Sorensen, a leading expert in this area, suggests that low self-esteem can be the root cause of most of the pain and discomfort people continue to experience. 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.

Developing Your Self-Esteem

While many suggestions to raising your self-esteem may seem easier said than done, it is possible to develop your self-esteem and decrease self-critical thoughts and behaviors. Below is a series of changes you can try to make in order to develop your self-esteem, but you may always schedule a meeting with one of our counselors for more personal guidance.

Behave Differently

  • Communicate assertively with others
  • Accept compliments
  • Thank others. Show appreciation and you will be appreciated in return
  • Reward yourself for achievements and successes, no matter how small
  • Visualize positive change. Try relaxation or mindfulness practices
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthily, exercise, do more of what you love
  • Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby
  • Try to walk and talk more confidently
  • Set realistic goals. Reward yourself upon achievement and allow others to congratulate you as well.

Think Differently

When you notice self-critical thoughts, stop. Take a breath and ask yourself:

  • What would I think about someone else in this situation? What would I say to a friend?
  • Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Are my expectations of myself unrealistic?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions? Am I misreading what this person meant?
  • Am I focusing on the negative? Worrying about the past, future, or things outside of my control?
  • Am I highlighting the good in others and putting myself down?
  • Is there another way of dealing with this?

Most importantly, be compassionate with yourself. Acknowledge your strengths. Notice the positives. Learning to love yourself can be the first (and biggest) step toward good self-esteem. Check out the resources below for more tips on developing your self-esteem.