Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself, and your beliefs about your abilities and limitations. Self-esteem is shaped by your thoughts, relationships, and experiences, including those related to culture, religion, and societal status. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you've received from others over time. Students in their college years often re-examine their values and develop new or altered perceptions of themselves.

The Ranges of Self-Esteem

It is natural to feel better about yourself some days more than others, but you want to keep your overall self-esteem in a healthy range. Here is what the different ranges look like:

Overly high self-esteem:

Feeling superior to others. People with overly high self-esteem are often arrogant and self-indulgent and express feelings of entitlement. They tend to overlook their own flaws and criticize others.

Low self-esteem:

Feeling inferior to others. People with low self-esteem value the opinions of others above their own. It is sometimes difficult for them to accept compliments, as they tend to focus on their perceived weaknesses rather than their assets. They are often afraid of failure and believe everyone else is better than they are.

Healthy self-esteem:

Having an accurate and balanced self-view. People with healthy self-esteem recognize and accept their abilities and their flaws, their strengths and their weaknesses. They hold realistic expectations for themselves and others.

Benefits of Healthy Self-Esteem

Healthy self-esteem contributes to feelings of worth and security. If you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to have positive relationships with others. Your confidence enables you to do your best at school or work. Healthy self-esteem helps you maintain a positive outlook even when you don’t meet expectations, as you can be more open to feedback and growth opportunities. Your self-acceptance frees you from the need to conform in order to be accepted by others. When your self-esteem is healthy, you are less likely to develop mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or addictions.

Signs of healthy self-esteem:

  • Assertive in expressing needs and opinions
  • Confident in ability to make decisions
  • Able to form secure and honest relationships, and discontinue unhealthy ones
  • Realistic in expectations; not overcritical of self or others
  • More resilient; better able to endure stress and setbacks

Costs of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem makes it difficult to make decisions. If your self-esteem is low, you depend excessively on the approval of others. Lacking confidence, you tend to avoid taking risks because you fear failure. You generally expect to be unsuccessful, and you are overly self-critical when you make mistakes. You frequently put yourself down and tend to disregard compliments you receive. Having a negative view of yourself increases you chances of having unhealthy relationships with others.

Signs of low self-esteem:

One of the easiest ways to identify low self-esteem is to pay attention to your thought patterns. Here are some of the ways that you might find yourself thinking if you have low self-esteem:

  • All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad.
  • Overgeneralization. You assume that one negative fact or event creates a general rule for your life.
  • Mental filtering. You focus only on the negative aspects of life, dwell on them, and magnify them.
  • Converting positives into negatives. You disregard or reject the positive aspects of life. You make excuses for your achievements.
  • Jumping to negative conclusions. You assume the worst, even when you have no evidence to support it.
  • Mistaking feelings for facts. You feel stupid, lazy, or ugly, so you conclude that you must really be stupid, lazy, or ugly.
  • Personalizing everything. You assume everything negative has something to do with you. You take inappropriate responsibility and feel inappropriate guilt.

Improve your Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can negatively affect your entire life, including school, work, relationships, and health. So improving your self-esteem is a very worthwhile task, and your college years are an ideal time to engage in this process. Here are some ideas to help you achieve higher self-esteem:

  • Adjust your negative thinking patterns:
    • Search for shades of gray. Almost nothing is all good or all bad.
    • View all the evidence, including signs that you’re okay.
    • Seek positives. Challenge yourself to find the positive aspects of life.
    • Accept your strengths. Take in compliments and celebrate your accomplishments.
    • Separate feelings from facts.
    • Own only what’s yours. Don’t take emotional responsibility for others.
  • Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.
  • Take risks. New experiences are opportunities to learn.
  • Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes.
  • Avoid comparisons. Evaluate yourself independently. Don’t rely on the opinion of others or compete with others for your own self-worth.
  • Use positive self-talk. Argue with your inner critic.
  • Utilize positive affirmations. Make a list of your positive qualities and accomplishments, and use it to improve your self-esteem:
    • Keep it in a handy, visible place. Put it in your nightstand, enter it in your phone, or tape it on your bathroom mirror.
    • Refer to it when you’re feeling low. Remind yourself of your strengths.
    • Read it regularly. The more you read it, the more you’ll believe it.
    • Add to it regularly. This will heighten your awareness of new accomplishments and the positive qualities they represent.



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