Our confidence and our self-esteem have an undeniable effect on how we behave in our day-to-day lives, be that in our conversations with other people, the ways we approach tasks, assignments and tutorials, or even the way we carry ourselves when walking around. Our sense of self-confidence and self-esteem can vary from high to low at numerous points during a day, owing to the fact that there will inevitably be aspects of our life in which we are more confident. Some of us may feel confident academically, musically or in a sport, but feel far less so with regard to our appearance or conversational skills.

Realising this then, it is valuable to think about what causes us to feel worse about ourselves in a given situation, and to think about the different ways we respond to people and occurrences in different moments. Becoming more aware of the distinct responses and thoughts that you have in each situation should enable you to be more aware that you are in charge of how you perceive yourself and that you are the one in control of raising your self-esteem. If you convince yourself that you have low self-esteem, then that will impact on your life. Positive affirmation about yourself, telling yourself that ‘I am a confident person and I can do this’, may seem like a daunting, and perhaps hopeless tactic initially, but really it is the most effective way to overcome low self-esteem. By convincing yourself that you are confident and acting as such, you will eventually find that you have in fact become a more confident person. Obviously there will be dips in your confidence, and areas in which you feel less so than others, but realising that this is not a reflection on your worth, and that such feelings are conquerable, will be of great benefit in overcoming any sense of low-esteem you may have.

Many things can cause rises and falls in our confidence and self-esteem. Events involving loss or threat or uncertainty, such as losing your job, ending a relationship, being bereaved, falling ill, making transitions, or having your house broken into, can give your self-esteem a huge knock. On the other hand, when you do well in an exam, are promoted, fall in love, face a challenge or win a prize, then you feel pleased and proud; your self-esteem is boosted.

Starting university and being a member of the dynamic landscape and community of college life can be a jarring experience for one’s confidence. Those who may have once felt like a big fish in a small pond, confident and assertive, may suddenly find themselves a bit lost and taken aback. On the other hand, those who may have been shy and lacking in high self-esteem before may discover that they flourish and become infinitely more confident in college. NUI Galway aims to promote student wellbeing in every way it can and wants to encourage anyone feeling low in confidence to not allow it to take over and to instead tackle those feelings head on.

What causes low self-esteem?

If you have suffered from low self-esteem, it can be useful to try and understand where that comes from. Everyone is different of course, but perhaps some of these scenarios commonly linked to low self-esteem will resonate with you:

  • Powerlessness
  • Other people
  • Our labels
  • Rejection or loss
  • Physical ill-health
  • Self-Defeating Thought Patterns
  • Childhood Experiences

Low self-esteem is a hole that can be hard to crawl out of, there is no denying that.Patterns develop in your mind and recurring feelings make feelings of low self-esteem fill your mind like an overgrown forest. These are some common negative thought patterns that develop with regard to low confidence and self-esteem. Do you recognise any of them in yourself?

  • All Or Nothing Thinking - ‘If I’m not perfect I’m rubbish and worthless’
  • The sea is full of icebergs – Even when things are going well, you don’t enjoy it, as you know there are icebergs out there somewhere, waiting to sink your ship. Constant vigilance is emotionally draining and does not allow space for enjoying the calm sea
  • Magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive
  • An overuse of absolute statements – “I must, I should, I can't”
  • Unreasonable expectations – “I should be able to manage this difficult external situation perfectly well, all on my own, without any help from others, even though I have no experience of it before. If I don’t, this proves there is something wrong with me”
  • I don’t allow myself to accept compliments from others

Rejection, loss, hurtful comments from others, and negative feelings about your physical appearance act in a similar way and are indeed difficult to ignore. There’s no denying that you are entitled to feel hurt by these things, but, after that, it is crucial for you to take those feelings and turn them around. Only you can change the way you feel about something

Ways of tackling low self-esteem

  • Record how you feel and think. For example, a journal can help you to be in touch with what you feel and to understand your behaviour and actions.
  • Develop an optimistic attitude and use affirmations, positive statements to empower you.
  • Avoid comparing with others.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses, and, when it is time, ask for help.
  • Look after your body. Exercise. Eat well. Get enough sleep. A healthy body will lead to a healthy mind.
  • Manage stress and negative emotions: if you find yourself angry, sad, and anxious, stop and take action.
  • Nourish your relationships. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Instead of saying something that you will regret, stop and come back to the conversation when your emotional turbulence is gone.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Use positive self-talk.
  • Practice self-acceptance: accept what you can’t change, and also what you can.
  • Value your successes, whether they are big or small.
  • Take more considered risks.
  • Tell your friends that you are attempting to face some old childhood wounds, and enlist their help. They may have had similar experiences, and have useful advice and suggestions.
  • Learn to be assertive.

Assertiveness is an important trait to have when trying to boost your confidence around other people. This does not mean that you become arrogant, blunt and loud. Rather, it means being clear and honest in the way you speak, communicating what you want and feel in a clear way. This will make you a stronger conversationalist, and will encourage others to listen to what you have to say. 

Assertive body language will aid you in the process of both appearing and becoming more confident.

  • Stand up straight and make eye contact with the person you are talking to
  • Listen carefully to what they say
  • Keep your voice calm
  • Make sure your body language is in line with the words you are expressing
  • Being direct and clear with what you want, and feeling free to say no, will make conversation flow far better and will help you and the other person/people reach any decisions or agreements more effectively.

Boosting Confidence

  • Be nicer to yourself – practice treating yourself as you do your friends; with compassion, realism and support
  • Write down your qualities – draw on your past successes (making sure you don’t dismiss them as pure luck). Keep you list close by, so you have a tangible piece of evidence to remind you that you are a worthy person
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes – no one is perfect all the time
  • Accept and give compliments. You might shudder to do so, but it is really important to be open to compliments. Notice when people smile at you, make an effort with you, or praise you
  • Do more of the things you enjoy or you know you’re good at. Spend more time with people who help you to feel good. Spending time with others can be hard when you’re doubting yourself, but spending time in the right environment is a great way to raise your self esteem
  • Notice what you do differently when you are in situations where you feel okay. Do you walk taller, make more eye contact, communicate more, worry less, assert yourself more? Use these skills that you already have, in other, more tricky situations.
  • Look after your general wellbeing – if you eat and sleep well and engage in regular exercise you are likely to feel much better about yourself. Exercising with other people is also a social experience and so can doubly increase your chances of raising your self-esteem
  • Understand your self-esteem trap and where you learnt to fall into it. Recognise this is something that, with action, you can change
  • Get involved in something different. Join a club or society, volunteer for something, catch up with old friends, make some new friends. Keep a track of all your successes
  • Challenge your inner critic

NUI Galway Services for overcoming low self-esteem