While overcoming a negative self-image can be a challenging process, there are many students who are working on developing a healthier view of themselves.
Men and women of all ages struggle with self-image issues that can lead to feelings of inadequacy, perfectionism, damaged social lives, anxiety and depression.
Jonathan Cox, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor in the Counseling and Career Center, said he believes the way people describe events in their lives can lead to a negative self-image.
“There’s research to show that people feel better about themselves when they experience success and when they’re able to explain negative events that happened to them in more situational, changeable, less-personal ways,” Cox said. “When they are able to explain negative events in that way, instead of using permanent, pervasive and personal ways, they feel better about themselves, and they experience less anxiety and depression in their lives.”
He explained this concept using the example of a test-taker. If a student fails a test and thinks he or she is stupid, the student is giving a personal, pervasive and permanent explanation. However, if others fail the same test and think, “I didn’t study as hard as I should have,” or “I’ve been sick for the past week, and I didn’t feel well,” they are using a situational and changeable explanation.
“You can tell (people) are going to feel better about themselves, or not as bad about themselves, because they are explaining the negative event in a changeable, situational, less-personal manner,” Cox said.
He suggested that if people recognize they are starting to explain events in negative ways, they challenge their thoughts and think of how they can explain the same events without harming themselves.
Carly LeBaron, a marriage and family therapy intern in the BYU Women’s Services office, said she believes self-image can affect every aspect of life including making friends and deep connections in relationships, feeling confident and secure in a marriage and finding work.
“It just completely covers everything in your life if you don’t feel like you’re of value or of worth,” LaBaron said.
LeBaron said almost 100 percent of the women on campus that go to Women’s Services for confidential consultations struggle with a negative body image, eating disorders or low self-esteem. To overcome feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, LeBaron said everyone will have a different path that works for him or her.
On campus, where religious undertones are prevalent, she likes to focus on helping others look at themselves through God’s eyes and remember that at the end of the day, they are valuable to Him.
“If that’s the only thing you can hold onto, that’s pretty powerful and it can help propel you to feeling better about yourself,” she said.”
LeBaron said self-esteem issues do not discriminate based on gender and she sees many men who struggle with the same self-image problems as women.
“I just don’t think that the little niggling feeling in the back of our minds avoids people,” she said. “I think everyone struggles.”
Sharissa Nielson, a junior from Orem, sees the importance of having a positive self-image because it affects people’s views of the world. To build a positive self-image, Nielson said people should surround themselves with others who are complimentary and uplifting.
“We’re our own worst critics,” Nielson said. “It helps to look at the things you do well and to ask others what you do well and why they like you. It helps you see the good in yourself.”