(Low)-Self-Esteem

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the degree to which one feels confident, valuable, and worthy of respect. It exists on a continuum from high to low. Where a person’s self-esteem falls on this spectrum can influence one’s overall well-being.

People with high self-esteem often feel good about themselves and their progress through life. People with low self-esteem often feel shame and self-doubt. They often spend lots of time criticizing themselves. Low self-esteem is a symptom of several mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Low self-esteem is not represented as its own diagnosis in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). Yet its symptoms and effects are very real. People who wish to improve their self-esteem can get help from a therapist.

RECOGNIZING LOW SELF-ESTEEM

Self-esteem draws on beliefs about oneself. Thus, people with low self-esteem is likely to have a low opinion of themselves. They may compare themselves to others, then judge themselves inferior. 

People may cope with low self-esteem in different ways. According to the Counseling and Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin, low self-esteem often presents in one of three patterns:

  1. Imposter Syndrome: A person uses accomplishments or false confidence to mask their insecurities. They fear failure will reveal their true, flawed self. The person may use perfectionism or procrastination to deal with this anxiety.
  2. Rebellion: A person pretends they don’t care what others think of them. Their feelings of inferiority may manifest as anger or blame. They may act out by defying authority or breaking laws. 
  3. Victimhood: A person believes they are helpless in the face of challenges. They may use self-pity to avoid changing their situation.  They often rely on others to save or guide them.

Internally, poor self-regard often manifests as self-criticism. Common examples of negative self-talk include:

  • There’s nothing I truly like about myself.
  • I’ll never do well enough at school or work to succeed.
  • I’m not worthy of seeking things that interest me.
  • Other people are more deserving of happiness.
  • No one wants to hear about my life or the issues I’m facing.
  • It’s all my fault I can’t seem to find people who are good to me. Good people wouldn’t want to be with me, anyway.

Over time, negative thoughts can become so frequent the person sees them as fact. When left on a loop, this thought process can be very damaging. 

EFFECTS OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM

The cycle of self-criticism can sap away a person’s joy in life. They may stop doing hobbies they once enjoyed for fear of judgment. Feelings of anger, guilt, or sadness may keep them from enjoying what activities they do try. Some people may do self-destructive behaviors such as abusing substances or neglecting hygiene.

Self-doubt can interfere with productivity at work or school. A person may worry so much about others’ opinions that they don’t focus on the task at hand. They may avoid taking risks or making goals out of a certainty they will fail. A person with low self-esteem may lack resilience in the face of a challenge. 

Self-esteem issues can also impact one’s social life. Someone with low self-esteem may believe they are unworthy of love. They may try to “earn” the love of others and accept negative treatment. Others may bully and criticize others to compensate for their own insecurities. A fear of rejection can prevent people from seeking relationships at all. Social isolation can further feed into a negative self-image.

Low self-esteem can contribute to mental health concerns. It is especially common among people with the following concerns:

self-esteem
self-esteem

HOW LOW SELF-ESTEEM DEVELOPS

Some people develop low self-esteem in childhood. When adults harshly criticize children for mistakes, kids may internalize those messages. Adverse childhood experiences, such as child abuse or bullying, can also contribute to low self-esteem. 

In adulthood, any demoralizing life experience can reduce self-esteem. Loss of employment, breakups, and other life changes can cause fear or self-doubt. These feelings can affect one’s self-worth, confidence, and resilience. Once these factors are compromised, a person may be more prone to developing negative beliefs and self-talk patterns.