Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Self-Esteem Struggles

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By Raphael Niu (23A01A) and Sabrina Tong (23S03Q, Peer Helper)

Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month. 

— Stuck In My Own Skin

Dear Stuck In My Own Skin, 

All of us in RI have probably experienced some degree of self-loathing from time to time. It’s hard not to, especially when you’re rushing tutorials late into the night, berating yourself for not having started earlier, or when you’ve gotten a less-than-satisfactory result on your Economics paper after you’ve spent hours poring over lecture notes and essays on IVY. It doesn’t help that your classmates seem to be breezing through their schoolwork while simultaneously juggling multiple commitments, while you feel like you’re floundering under the sheer volume of expectations placed upon you.

As such, even though the term “self-love” is plastered everywhere from the self-help books that line Popular’s shelves to your CT’s presentation slides during Civics, we know that it is easier said than done. For many of us, we are each our own worst critic.

In fact, self-hatred is perhaps a uniquely painful feeling, because while we can run or hide from people we don’t like, we cannot hide from ourselves. Hence, each of us needs to eventually make peace with who we are, however difficult that might seem at times.

We won’t be able to transform the way we think about ourselves overnight. However, here are some personal recognitions that have helped us in times of low self-esteem, and we hope they will help you too.

The Problem of Self-Love

In our pursuit of self-love, we too often forget that the odds are naturally stacked against us. This is because we see ourselves as we are, with our flaws captured in full focus and our cracks illuminated with perfect clarity. However, we see others as they would like to be seen, only from the stoic and invulnerable side they present to the world. 

In this way, we often end up comparing others’ public confidence to our private doubts. It is therefore easy to forget that we are not the only ones struggling beneath the surface: that even those we admire or envy often have their own demons to fight and insecurities to overcome. 

In fact, we tend to view others’ lives through the lens of our own individual desires and preferences, mistakenly believing that they must be happy because they have something we don’t have. You might envy someone with stellar grades, not knowing that they quietly wished they had more friends to go out with. You might yearn to be in a relationship, not knowing that the couple in your class is thinking of breaking up. In this manner, others’ lives often look a lot better to us than they actually are.

Furthermore, the difficulty of self-love is inscribed within human nature. We live on what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill”: the happiness we gain from accomplishments tends to pass quickly. If you have ever felt strangely empty after you achieved a major goal or did well at a competition, this is likely part of the reason why.

Of course, this applies to negative emotions too. However, psychological research also suggests that we remember negative events more vividly that positive ones: insults linger while compliments fade, and failures gnaw at us while successes are forgotten. Earlier in human history, dwelling on the negative was the brain’s way of keeping us safe, as paying attention to dangerous occurrences could have been the difference between life and death. As a result, it is natural for many of us to spend more time feeling upset than feeling content.

All this is to say that it is okay that you are feeling this way: we all do at some point in time. Take comfort in the fact that even though you might feel like the only one mired in self-doubt, you are actually together with many others, each trying to find their own way towards self-love.

The Possibility of Self-Love

It is not easy to forgive ourselves for all our flaws when we are confronted with them every day, but here are a few ways to feel a little more comfortable in our own skins.

First, it can be liberating to remember that few people, if anyone at all, are scrutinising your flaws. Just as you don’t move through the world with the mission of criticising the weaknesses of others, others aren’t watching your every move to laugh at your failures: they’re more frequently thinking about their own hopes, fears and insecurities. 

As such, even though a mishap or setback may have felt like an immense embarrassment to you, others may have barely paid attention. Your past failures, therefore, exist less in others’ minds than in your own memory: you have the power to let them go. 

Second, try to treat yourself as you would treat a friend. When our friends are in distress, we naturally offer compassion and grace to them, because we recognise that their failure does not diminish their worth in any way. It is puzzling why we do not extend that same compassion and grace to ourselves. 

If you would take a friend out for ice cream when they’re disappointed with their grades, remember to do that for yourself if you’re feeling down after an exam. If you mean it when you tell your friend “it’s okay” when they aren’t selected for a leadership position, remember that it is also okay if an application of yours doesn’t succeed.

Additionally, you might want to identify what induces your feelings of inadequacy and avoid these triggers when you can. For some, looking at the curated lives of others on social media might be a major source of insecurity. For others, spending time with people who put them down could be eating away at their self-esteem.

On the flip side, it is also helpful to determine what makes you feel better: different people process their emotions in starkly different ways. While one person might need to get their feelings off their chest in a heart-to-heart talk with a close friend, another might prefer to spend a quiet night journaling in their room. You might even want to devote some time to finding and doing something you’re good at, which can not only lift your spirits but also fill you with a sense of purpose. By discerning the emotional outlets that work for you, you can not only help yourself resolve your feelings of self-hatred, but also let others around you know how to help you.

Finally, have faith in the power of time: this too shall pass. Often, in the depths of affliction, our flaws and failures can seem to matter far more than they actually do. However, as life goes on, we come to realise that much of what our young selves considered important weren’t quite important after all. In the same way that a failed spelling test or a rejection from a childhood crush is little more than a distant memory, your setbacks now will likely mean much less to you a few years into the future.

Ultimately, we are our own companions from the cradle to the grave, and so we hope you will eventually begin to enjoy your own company.


Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website

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