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
Building Healthy Self Esteem & Self Image
Unhealthy self esteem and self image can change over time. The following are some techniques people can use to build healthy self esteem and self image.
Take Power Away from Negative Thinking
The thoughts that run through our heads are just thoughts, not hard truths. One way to help self esteem is to acknowledge that thoughts are ephemeral and not facts. This takes the power away from the negative thinking.
Flipping Things Around
When negative thoughts happen, flip them on their heads. Respond to a negative thought with its positive counterpart:
- “I’m unattractive!” becomes “I have a lovely profile.”
- “I’m a burden to everyone.” becomes “I’m grateful for love and support I receive.”
- “I don’t deserve a promotion.” becomes “I’m working hard and doing my best.”
In the age of social media, many of us compare ourselves to others constantly. It is important for those working on their self esteem to avoid comparing themselves with others. Keep in mind that everyone is always trying to put their best face forward and that you might not be seeing the struggles in the lives of others.
Any of these techniques can be useful for people with unhealthy self esteem, but working on these issues in therapy can create the most effective change.
Therapy for Unhealthy Self-Esteem
Mental health professionals can use psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to help those with faulty self esteem. The process begins by identifying the causes of the unhealthy self esteem. The therapist and patient can then work on building a healthier perspective on these triggers and the patient’s self esteem.
CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, can work effectively in this process. Therapists may also give patients things to work on at home that can add value to therapy, such as journaling.
Teletherapy for Self-Esteem
When patients are unable to come into our offices, LifeStance offers teletherapy as an alternative. Teletherapy allows patients to access all the benefits of in-office therapy from their own homes. All that is needed is an internet-connected device and software that LifeStance will provide.
You do not need to stop treatment for self-esteem issues if you have to stay at home or are otherwise prevented from getting to our offices. Get in touch with us today to discuss your options. Our teletherapy sessions can give you the same level of care and consideration as in-office sessions, no matter your location.
Low Self-Esteem FAQ
People with low self-esteem have a negative opinion of themselves. They often think that they are fundamentally flawed in some way, and place a generally negative value on themselves as a person.
Low self-esteem can cause a number of challenges in a relationship including jealousy, insecurity, clinginess, and a willingness to do anything to stay in the relationship, even if it is unsatisfying.
Being a people pleaser is often a sign of someone with low self-esteem. People who try and please others do so because they measure their self-worth from the amount of approval they can elicit.
Low self-esteem is not a mental illness, but mental health and self-esteem are related. Some signs of low self-esteem can also be signs of a mental health issue, particularly if it negatively affects your life.
Having low self-esteem can create anxiety, stress, loneliness, and an increased likelihood of depression. It often causes problems with friendships, romantic relationships, and work performance.