What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to how much confidence someone has in their own worth or abilities. The well-known Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places self-esteem at the center of what drives humans along with things such as having enough food, safety, and even love.
Self-esteem affects not only our thoughts but also how we act. As an example, someone with low self-esteem may not believe they are good enough for an opportunity and therefore might not even try for it, even if they could actually achieve it.
Self-esteem goes up and down throughout anyone’s life. It does not change quickly, however. Instead, it gradually changes as a result of an ongoing internal monologue about a person’s sense of self-worth.
Improving self-esteem takes time and effort. In some cases, individuals may have unusually high self-esteem, which can also be unhealthy and might indicate a narcissistic personality disorder. Those with low self-esteem can suffer from other issues such as depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem
It can be hard for an individual to recognize low self-esteem or a negative self-image in themselves. These thought patterns can be long-standing and therefore normalized. Checking in on your self-esteem and self-image on occasion is important to self-care.
People with low self-esteem or poor self-image may act meek, but they may also overcompensate by acting confident. Overcompensating can also take the form of belittling others, which can be harmful to relationships.
For some, low self-esteem and poor self-image can lead to mental illness. Mental health issues such as social anxiety or depression, for example, can result. Low self-image can also lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
People with low self-esteem may:
- Doubt their skills
- Feel ashamed or embarrassed
- Believe they will always fail
- Blame other people for everything
- Set little or no boundaries
- Avoid social engagement
- Hurt others to feel better about themselves
- Avoid compliments
Sometimes, people with self-esteem and self-image issues can have physical symptoms, including:
- Digestive issues with no identifiable cause
- Back pain from poor posture
What Causes Low Self-Esteem
Every case of low self-esteem is different. Sometimes a person has low self-esteem because of a traumatic inciting event. In other cases, several small events in life may have chipped away at someone’s esteem.
Uncovering the causes of one’s self-esteem can be achieved through therapy. Working with a mental health professional can help people find and address what has triggered their self-esteem issues.
After uncovering the causes of low self-esteem, patients can work to realize that these thoughts were not necessarily right in the first place and that they are deserving of good things.
Common causes of low self-esteem include:
- The disapproval of authority figures
- Emotionally distant parents
- Sexual, emotional or physical abuse
- High-conflict divorce by parents
- Bullying with no parental protection
- Difficulty in school
- Religious guilt
- Perfectionist tendencies