What is Low Self Esteem
Self-esteem usually refers to how we view and think about ourselves and how we value ourselves as a person. Low self-esteem is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating oneself negatively, and placing a general negative value on oneself as a person. Have you ever been dissatisfied or unhappy with yourself on the whole? Do you ever think that you are stupid, not good enough, flawed in some way, inferior to other people, useless, worthless, unattractive, unlovable, a loser, or a failure? If you often think about yourself in these terms, then you might have a problem with low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem might say about themselves: “I get nervous talking to people I don’t know at parties. I’m socially inept and I hate it!” “I couldn’t understand a lot of what the instructor was saying today. I must be really stupid.” “I’m overweight. I am so fat and ugly.” “I’m unimportant.” “I’m a loser.” “I’m unlovable.” “I’m not good enough.” In essence, people with low self-esteem usually have deep-seated, basic, negative beliefs about themselves and the kind of person they are. These beliefs are often taken as facts or truths about their identity. As a result, low self-esteem can have a negative impact on a person and their life.
How Low Self Esteem can affect us and our lives
People with low self-esteem are likely to say negative things about themselves. They might criticise themselves, their actions, and abilities or joke about themselves in a very negative way. They might put themselves down, doubt themselves, or blame themselves when things go wrong. Positive qualities often go unrecognised. When compliments are given to them, they might brush such comments aside or say that “it was all luck” or “it wasn’t that big a deal.” Instead, they might focus on what they didn’t do or the mistakes they made. People with low self-esteem might expect that things would not turn out well for them. They might often feel sad, depressed, anxious, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, and angry. They might have difficulty speaking up for themselves and their needs, avoid challenges and opportunities, or be overly aggressive in their interactions with others.
Low self-esteem can also have an impact on many aspects of a person’s life. It can affect a person’s performance at work or at school. They might consistently achieve less than they are able to because they believe they are less capable than others. They might avoid challenges for fear of not doing well. They might work extremely hard and push themselves to do more because they believe they need to make up for, or cover up, their lack of skill. People with low self-esteem might find it hard to believe any good results they get are due to their own abilities or positive qualities. In their personal relationships, people with low self-esteem might become upset or distressed by any criticism or disapproval, bend over backwards to please others, be extremely shy or self-consciousness or even avoid or withdraw from intimacy or social contact. They might also be less likely to stand up for themselves or protect themselves from being bullied, criticised, or abused by their partners or family members. Their social, leisure or recreational activities may be limited, as they might believe that they do not deserve any pleasure or fun. They might also avoid activities where they could be judged or evaluated in some way, such as competitive sports, dancing, art/craft classes or participating in any type of competition or exhibition. Their personal self-care might also be affected. People who do not value themselves might drink alcohol to excess, abuse drugs, and neglect caring for themselves. They might not bother to dress neatly, wear clean clothes, style their hair or buy new clothes. On the other hand, they might try to hide any inadequacies by making sure that every detail of their appearance is attended to and not allow themselves to be seen by others unless they look absolutely perfect.
Low Self Esteem and other problems
Low self-esteem can be part of a current problem. If you’re experiencing clinical depression, low self-esteem can be a by-product of your depressed mood. Having a negative view of oneself is a symptom of depression. So is feeling very guilty and worthless almost all the time.
Low self-esteem can be a result of other problems. Low self-esteem can sometimes be a result of current difficult and stressful life circumstances such as prolonged financial hardship, persistent illness, an accident that has caused some kind of impairment, chronic pain, relationship difficulties, or some other problem or source of stress. Sometimes when a problem is experienced over an extended period of time, one can become discouraged and demoralised. Self-confidence can be undermined and low self-esteem can develop. Experiencing other psychological problems such as panic attacks, chronic worrying, or social phobia can also affect self-esteem.
Low self-esteem can be a problem in itself and be a risk factor for other problems. Sometimes low self-esteem can be a problem in and of itself because it puts the person at risk for experiencing other problems such as depression, having persistent suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and social anxiety. You may recognise that while things might be okay at the moment and you don’t feel very depressed or anxious, or experience other difficulties, things might not have been that well in the past. If your mood often fluctuates depending on your circumstances or you have experienced depression in the past, and you recognise that you might have low self-esteem, then this could put you at risk of experiencing depression again. Low self-esteem as a vulnerability factor is like something that is hiding in the background that could jump out and bite you when you least expect it.
Healthy self-esteem is not about being successful and confident or being able to make your mark on the world. It is possible for a person to think well of themselves despite having little wealth or power. It isn’t about what you have, what you’ve achieved or even about what you can do.
Healthy self-esteem means having an enduring sense of yourself as a fundamentally valuable and worthwhile person. Where you treat yourself with compassion and appreciation. You do not rely on outside opinions to think well of yourself. It means accepting yourself even when you’re faced with failure.
Healthy self-esteem means liking who you are, while simultaneously striving for personal development. It is knowing that you are worthwhile and lovable even when a long term relationship ends.
It is not based on what you can achieve or what the rest of the world approves of and is impressed by. It is understanding yourself as a complex unique and intrinsically valuable person regardless of external factors.
With healthy self-esteem you’re much more likely:
- To be more assertive for example in expressing your needs and opinions so that you can have your needs met
- To be more confident in your ability to make decisions
- To be better able to make and maintain secure and honest relationships — and be less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
- To feel much more comfortable about setting boundaries with others
- To be much more likely to regularly self care
- To be more realistic in your expectations of yourself and others, and less likely to be overcritical not just of yourself but others too
- To be more resilient and better able to deal with stress and setbacks
How to improve Low Self Esteem
The good news is that low self-esteem can be treated. Medication is not something that tends to be prescribed specifically for this problem. What is needed is a course of psychotherapy treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been demonstrated to be effective in treating low self-esteem. Using cognitive and behavioural methods, CBT can help you to change how you think and feel about yourself.