For some of us, winter is a time where we feel cold and unhappy. It’s gray outside, it’s hard to be excited about the cold and the lack of sunlight. And in times when we aren’t feeling our best, it is easy to be self-critical and start getting down on ourselves. For first year students who took part in recruitment for Greek life, that is a process that can rattle one’s self esteem – even if they got in to the organization of their choice.
Maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem is something many people struggle with. It can be especially hard for Wake Forest students, because they are surrounded by other very talented people who are smart, or artistic, or athletically gifted, or very beautiful, or whose lives seem like they are so easy.
It’s easy to make comparisons – what if your child thinks her roommate is the prettiest girl on campus? Or the smartest? Or is the smashingly popular lead in the new play at the University Theatre? Or has tons more friends? Or has parents with significantly more money? Or has the perfect boyfriend? Your child might feel much less by comparison.
College students can have unrealistic expectations of their peers – they think other students they see are always happy, always getting As in their classes, always popular, never struggling. This of course is not the case – we ALL have problems and struggles as well as successes. But if students measure themselves against an unrealistic perception of other people, it can cause them to feel bad about themselves.
Psychology Today offers ten things people can do to help raise their self esteem
Change for Good has six steps to help boost self esteem
There is also a notion I learned when I spent my WFU semester in the Dijon, France program from my French host mother, a psychologist. She talked frequently of the French belief that one must be ‘comfortable in your own skin’ – in other words, really understanding who you are and then being that person (rather than trying to live up to some perceived ideal of what you should be or what you think other people want/expect you to be). This is a great article that talks about how to begin getting comfortable in your own skin. If you can do that, self- esteem most often follows.
Parents can play a crucial role in their student’s self esteem too. When you tell your son that you don’t expect him to be perfect – but that you love him for who he is, the good and bad points alike – that helps reinforce that you have a realistic view of him and your love doesn’t depend on external factors like grades or popularity. And as you practice healthy self-esteem as parents, you are providing a great role model for your student to be ‘comfortable in his own skin.’
Having a good sense of self esteem is one brick in the wall of overall wellbeing. Personal wellbeing spans many dimensions – emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and more. There are a few different models on how many dimensions of wellbeing there are; for sake of illustration, this website from University of California Riverside has an easy-to-understand description. (They use the term wellness instead of wellbeing, but the intent is the same.)
The fact of the matter is that our students need to be spending a little time and energy on developing in each of these dimensions. Being attentive to matters of the mind, and spirit, and body will help them become more resilient and more capable of handling all the things life throws their way.