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Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

  • IU Health Center
    4th Floor
  • For information or to schedule an appointment
    (812) 855-5711

Self-Help

Self-Esteem

The psychiatrist Alfred Adler once said, "To be human is to be insecure."

It can be hard to like and accept yourself. Perhaps you fear being "conceited." Maybe you gew up in a family where you were frequently criticized. Maybe you are afraid of trying and failing.

How to Improve Your Self-Esteem

Seek out the company of people who make you feel good about yourself. Avoid people who put you down. You don't have to spend a lot of time with people who make you feel bad. Even if they're your family.

Stop imagining people are thinking negative thoughts about you. People with low-self esteem tend to exaggerate other people's reactions to them. In reality, most people have other things on their minds.

Try not to compare yourself with others. Accept that no matter who you are, there is always someone who is prettier, smarter, more athletic, thinner, fatter, shorter, taller, or better dressed. Make a deal with yourself. Every time you catch yourself comparing yourself with others, take an equal amount of time to appreciate something about yourself. Because you're wonderful.

Develop at least one physical skill that makes you feel competent. It can be a sport, a craft like cooking or sewing, or even just exercising 30 minutes a day (which takes discipline). When you are feeling inadequate, think about how you feel when you are using this skill. It's pretty good, right?

Spend time focusing on things outside yourself. Explore current events, history, philosophy, or social issues.

Engage in positive self-talk. Figure out ways to talk to yourself as helpfully as you can. For example: "Math may not be my strongest subject, but if I work every day, I can pass calculus."

Try the triple column technique. Divide a page into three columns. Write down your "automatic negative thoughts" in the first. In the second column, analyze the cognitive traps related to each (see below). In the third column, compose rational rebuttals to those thoughts.

Find a support group. CAPS offers group counseling for people dealing with low self-esteem. Call (812) 855-5711 to talk to a counselor about how you can join.

10 Cognitive Traps

Watch out for these behaviors, which can damage your self-esteem. (The list is adapted from The Feeling Good Handbook by David. D Burns, M.D.)

All-or-nothing thinking. If a situation is less than perfect, you see it as a total failure.

Overgeneralization. You see a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Look out for the words "always" and "never."

Mental filter. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. One word of criticism erases all the praise you've received.

Discounting the positive. You reject positive experience by insisting they "don't count."

Jumping to conclusions. You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Two common variations are mind-reading (you choose to believe someone is reacting negatively even if he or she has not said anything) and fortune-telling (you assume and predict things will turn out badly).

Magnification. You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings and minimize your desirable qualities.

Emotional reasoning. You assume your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.

"Should" statements. You tell yourself things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. Many people try to motivate themselves with "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," as if you have to be punished before you can be expected to do anything.

Labeling. This is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying, "I made a mistake," for instance, you say, "I am a loser."

Personalization and blame. You hold yourself personally responsible for events that aren't entirely under your control.