Low self-esteem can prevent you from getting the most out of life. Learning how to change the negative thoughts that trip you up can be life changing.

The image you have of yourself is an important factor in creating a satisfying life. Feeling good about yourself contributes to feeling in control of life, and to feeling positively about other people and situations. If you feel good about yourself you are more likely to set realistic expectations for yourself, and to be willing to take actions you consider to be right even at the risk of others' disapproval.

A positive attitude will help you to approach challenges, such as achieving academically, making friends, performing in a job, and entering new situations. You can demonstrate a positive attitude by:

  • Being willing to learn new things
  • Showing enthusiasm
  • Expecting and preparing for growth, development, and change
  • Cultivating a sense of humour
  • Listening to others

The inner critic

At times, we all criticise ourselves in an unjustified or unhelpful manner. Having an overly harsh inner critic tends to lower our self-esteem. For example, when faced with a challenging situation, you automatically doubt your ability to deal with it, rather than focusing on the strengths and skills that you do have.

The inner critic lowers our self-esteem in the following ways:

  • Destructive thoughts—for example, believing that you are weak, unworthy of good things in your life, or not smart enough to succeed, rather than recognising that strength, goodness and success come in many different forms.
  • Inaccurate thoughts or beliefs—for example, you may have successfully dealt with a challenging situation in the past but believe you are unable to deal with similar current events.
  • Hurtful thoughts—if you don’t feel worthy of love or respect, for example, this can manifest in harmful ways such as thinking you are not worthy of success in any area of your life.
  • Self-limiting thoughts and beliefs which prevent you seeing the opportunities for personal growth. A harsh inner critic can make you feel you lack the skills to deal with a stressful situation or take advantage of a positive opportunity, preventing you. Toning down the harsh inner critic allows you to see the possibilities, such as learning the skills you need to deal with similar events in the future.
  • Unreasonable expectations which further compound feelings of worthlessness or fear. For example, feeling you should be able to cope with a situation even though you have never had the opportunity to develop the skills required.

Some negative thoughts and beliefs are unavoidable at times, and can be appropriate if it means avoiding a potentially dangerous situation. Some forms of negative thinking have developed to motivate us to do better or to learn from our mistakes. However, if your inner critic is overwhelming or inappropriately harsh, it can limit the fulfillment you can gain from your experiences, and lower your mood, causing feelings of anxiety or hopelessness.

Learning how to tone down your harsh inner critic involves looking at your criticism more objectively and developing the ability to treat yourself with compassion.

To build your self-confidence, consider the following strategies:

  • Emphasise your strengths by noticing what you have done and giving yourself credit for effort
  • Approach new situations as opportunities to learn, rather than as win-lose situations
  • Avoid dependence on others' opinions by getting into the habit of self-evaluation

Self-esteem issues are common and the counsellors at Student Counselling are skilled at helping students to build their self-esteem.