Dealing With Low Self-Esteem

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the way we see ourselves compared to others or to a certain assumed standard. If our standard is too high, we may feel less worthy or less competent. It may be a life-long feature of our way of self-appraisal which we have learnt in early years. We tend to build our self-respect and our self-concept from early childhood though experiences associated with positive or negative emotions.

How we gain our self-esteem?

We build our concept about ourselves from our relationships with others. We see ourselves through the eyes of others. Early experiences are formative and leave a strong impact on how we perceive ourselves. Our success and our achievements are important in building our self-esteem but more important is how we recognise the value and merit of these achievements. It is also how we experience being loved by important figures in our life, in particular our parents. Those who have found unconditional love in their childhood are more likely to gain a positive self-image and self-respect. Living with a parent who is depressed, self-depreciating, self-effacing may leave a person with a distorted model of how a person should feel about himself. Parents who are punitive, harsh, disciplinary or asking for hard-to-achieve standard may leave the child with a permanent sense of failing to live to the expectation of his parental figures. A trauma in childhood either psychological or physical may leave a child or a young person with a sense of inadequacy and being different from his peers. Psychological trauma undermines self-image in persons who are subjected to abuse either physically or sexually and who live with a sense of guilt or ambivalence towards the abuser.

Why some people grow up with low self -esteem?

The parent

There are many different causes for ending up with low self-esteem. Sometimes the relationship with one's parent may be the cause. A depressed mother does not show enough attention or love and affection to her child. The parent may be uncaring, critical, harsh, abusive, difficult-to-please, cold or unaffectionate. The over-protective, anxious, self-depreciating parent may leave his impact on the child's belief about his ability to cope with life and a lasting sense of insecurity.

The trauma

Physical trauma, such as injury or burn which leave anatomical defect or disfigurement contributes to future poor self-image if it was not dealt with appropriately at an early stage. The attitude of others to such defect by bullying, mocking, remarks or sarcasm may add to the emotional injury. Other disabilities, physical or mental, including speech impediment (such as a stammer, or stuttering) can lower self-image and esteem. Physical, emotional abuse and sexual abuse are known causes of sense of inadequacy, guilt, anger, and low self-respect.

The poor achievement:

The child may be forced to face challenges which he is incapable to overcome and feels defeated and self-depreciating. Unrealistic expectation by parents may leave him with sense of failure. The person may evaluate his successes unfairly and unduly as poor performance.

What are the features of a healthy self -esteem?

  • Sense of Self-worth
  • The right for a good quality life, the right for the best available chances in life.
  • The belief of having good personal qualities, which are desirable by others
  • Belief in ability to do things as well as most other people
  • Feeling proud of oneself
  • Positive attitude toward myself
  • Feeling satisfied with self
  • Respect for myself
  • Feeling useful most of the times.

How to avoid feeling a low self esteem ?

Avoid self-criticism, self-blame and abusive rejection-ridden relationships which may have a hugely negative effect on your self-image. Arguments can really fuel your self doubt because you will exchange critical and hurtful words with the other person. Blame is thrown around as you argue. You may feel guilty afterwards and all these negative feelings can put a huge strain on you.

Rejection can make you believe there is something wrong with you or that you deserve to be rejected. Criticism is mutually damaging. Obviously, criticism from others will hurt you but when you criticize others you invite a negative response and possible guilt when you think about what you have said in the heat of the moment. Abusive relationships can destroy your self esteem because abuse hurts on so many levels. The scars can last for the rest of a victim's life.

How to improve your self-esteem:

1. Stop the inner critical voice.
2. Do not argue or be critical of others.
3. Do not generalise from a single or few incidents.
4. Do not make a mountain out of a molehill (be objective).
5. Challenge the past negative experiences.
6. Forgive yourself.
7. Challenge the illogical negative thoughts about yourself.

One way to boost your self-esteem is listing your positive aspects. You will discover that you have many things you should be proud of. Try to answer the following incomplete sentences about yourself:

1. I have good qualities such as …

2. I am proud of myself for …

3. I am self-satisfied for being …

4. I respect myself for …

5. I do not feel myself useless or a failure because …

Another variation would be listing 10 of your good qualities, 5 reasons why you would be proud of yourself, 5 reasons for being satisfied of yourself, 5 for respecting yourself, 5 success stories and 5 stories of being helpful and caring.