Low Self-Esteem

Understanding Low Self-esteem

Low self-esteem refers to a negative perception about one’s worth. It is often characterized by a lack of confidence, negative thinking, and difficulty making decisions and communicating one’s needs effectively. A person’s sense of competence and self worth influences one’s ability to face new challenges. Those with low self-esteem often experience anxiety and self criticism that can lead to negative thinking, a lack of satisfying relationships, and reluctance in pursuing future goals.

Signs of Low Self-esteem

Signs and symptoms may be different for everyone and these are only guidelines. Individuals may experience:

  • Anxiety, depression and shyness.
  • Negative thoughts about themselves and their abilities.
  • Pessimism about capacity to be successful.
  • Addictive or compulsive behaviours (e.g. alcoholism, drug abuse, food, shopping and smoking).
  • Negative and hopeless thoughts.
  • An inability to overcome past negative emotional experiences.
  • Avoiding making eye contact with others and/or walking with head down.
  • Feeling uncomfortable and isolated.
  • Difficulty accepting compliments and easily hurt by criticism.
  • Frustration and impatience with oneself.
  • Tendency to blame oneself for negative events and not take credit for positive ones.
  • Avoidance of risks in personal and professional lives.
  • Negative comparison of self versus others.
  • A lack of confidence in decision making abilities.

Low Self-esteem in University Life

University students who have low self-esteem often experience:

  • Unhealthy and dissatisfying relationships with friends and family members.
  • Impaired academic and job performance.
  • Anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression.
  • Vulnerability to addictions: drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, online addiction, and/or sexual promiscuity.
  • Avoidance of social interaction and isolate oneself.
  • Feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness which interfere with learning and working more effectively.
  • Academic failure (low grades) due to lack of confidence (eg. performing poorly on a single test makes one underestimate their abilities and prevents future attempts to improve their grades).

Causes of Low Self-Esteem

  • Experience of failure in school, sports, or other activities.
  • Being ridiculed or teased.
  • Physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse.
  • Being highly criticized by parents, peers, or teachers.
  • Being expected to be “perfect” at all times.
  • Unrealistic expectations from parents, peers, and or/ teachers.
  • Overprotective and/or authoritarian parents.


  • Acknowledge your strengths and don’t focus on the negatives.
  • Speak positively about yourself.
  • Avoid negative people and spend time with people who are nurturing and optimistic.
  • Permit yourself to assert your wishes and needs, even if you think it will conflict with others’ expectations.

Coping Strategies

There are many factors that contribute to self-esteem. The following are some things you can do to improve your self-esteem.

  • Think positively about yourself and accept compliments from others.
  • Learn from your mistakes rather than seeing yourself as a failure.
  • Think of your successes, positive qualities and talents.
  • Spend time engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Do not focus on the achievement of others.
  • Do not become overly dependent on validation from others.
  • Get involved in meaningful projects.
  • Exercise regularly, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Counselling can help you to explore what factors contribute to your low self-esteem while focusing on ways to improve your self-esteem.

When to get help

At times, everyone doubts their own worth and abilities. However the following are indicators that you can benefit from professional counselling:

  • You have difficulty making your own decisions.
  • When making decisions you focus on pleasing others rather than yourself.
  • You often feel depressed, lonely and/or worthless
  • You have a tendency to become involved in unhealthy relationships.
  • You often find yourself doing things you don’t want to do in order to maintain relationships with others.

Self Esteem Workbooks

  • Breaking the chain of Low Self-Esteem, Marilyn J. Sorenson
  • The Self-Esteem Workbook, Glenn R. Schiraldi
  • Self-Esteem & Peak Performance, Jack Canfield
  • Develop Your Self Confidence, Glenn Harrold