By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jun 10, 2022
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Struggling with low self-esteem." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 10 Jun. 2022, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/struggling-low-self-esteem. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2022, June 10). Struggling with low self-esteem. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/struggling-low-self-esteem.

Dear Alice,

Do you have some advice for someone suffering from low self-esteem? Some things that I struggle with: comparison of myself to others ("She is so "together!" Why am I not like that? What is lacking in me that makes her better?"), lack of faith in my abilities ("I'll never be as good as him at that — I might as well not try."), lots of self-criticizing ("Why did I sign up for this class — I should have known I couldn't handle it."), always saying yes to people or feeling like I've said the wrong thing... you get the idea. I've been feeling pretty unmotivated lately too, and I think this just adds to the problem. Can you give some advice, dear Alice?

Thanks, feeling blue

Dear feeling blue,

It seems that you've been pondering your low self-esteem for some time now, given your familiarity with many of its symptoms. You also appear to be experiencing some idleness at the moment, which can contribute to — and even create a cycle of — feelings of low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. However, know that you're not alone in feeling the way you do, as many people have been in your shoes and felt similarly. There are also a number of ways that you can start to improve your self-esteem so that you can move into a place of having healthier self-esteem. 

Self-esteem is what you think about yourself. This can include your positive attributes, your flaws, your strengths, and it's formed by your own thoughts, how people respond to you, your life experiences, messaging from media, among other factors. People with low self-esteem tend to focus on their flaws and compare themselves to others more, while those with a balanced self-esteem have a more accurate view of themselves. 

In that same vein, there is another concept, similar to self-esteem, known as self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means that you accept yourself for who you are, as you are — including your strengths, weaknesses, feelings and emotions — without self-judgement. As you may be able to tell, self-acceptance contributes significantly to the development of a healthy self-esteem and can affect how you live your life. When you have healthy self-esteem, you're aware of your potential, your value, and you respect yourself. However, you know that your imperfections or inadequacies aren't inherently bad and don't define your value and self-worth. With a healthy self-esteem, you're aware that it's human to have limitations and make mistakes.

Regardless of the level of self-esteem that you may have currently, it's fairly common to doubt your self-worth at one time or another, as self-esteem can shift depending on what's going on in your life at the time. It can become all too easy to compare yourself to others. When this self-comparison is occasional, it may be beneficial and help you achieve certain goals, ideals that you admire and respect in other people. However, when self-comparison becomes more frequent, all-consuming, and makes you feel that you don't — and can't — measure up to your perception of others, it becomes self-destructive and can affect the quality of your life. However, while it may be challenging, it's not impossible to start feeling better about yourself. There are a variety of ways to help you boost your self-esteem, such as:

  • Practicing self-acceptance.
  • Forgiving yourself for mistakes and seeing them as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Taking time to nurture your talents and passions, i.e., reading, gardening, painting, volunteering at community organizations.
  • Setting realistic goals for yourself and taking pride in your achievements, whether they're big or small.
  • Replacing negative self-talk with positive, kind, loving statements.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by being physically active, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people that make you happy.
  • Seeking counseling or self-help/support groups if you feel you need it.
  • Making choices that reflect your beliefs, values, and actions.
  • If you can't control comparing yourself to others, how about focusing on your similarities with others, particularly those you admire?

This process of getting to know yourself may help you better understand the underlying issues contributing to your low self-esteem. Everyone has flaws, but these imperfections don't reflect a person's self-worth or value. It may also be helpful to ask yourself some questions about when you began to have feelings of low self-esteem. For example, has there been a particular event or person who sparked these feelings? Is this the first time that you have felt this way, or have you always felt this way? Finally, have you considered speaking to a mental health professional or with someone you trust? Seeking help when you need it may make it easier to get through those times of low self-esteem.

Take care, and be gentle with yourself,

Additional Relevant Topics:

Mental and Emotional Health
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