Written by: Kevin White
Everyone has opinions about the type of person you are. These opinions are at the heart of self-esteem and affect how you value yourself. Beliefs about yourself can change in your life as a result of experiences and circumstances and a low self- esteem will result in negative beliefs meaning you may focus too much on your mistakes and weaknesses. High esteem usually results in you seeing yourself in a positive light.
What causes low self-esteem?
Events such as being bereaved, ending a relationship or losing a job can result in a lack of self- esteem but high esteem can help you through the bad times. What you believe can be the difference between low and high self-esteem and remember these are only opinions not fact and there are steps you can take to change them.
Low self- esteem is not a mental problem but it can affect your mental health. Having low esteem affects your ability to cope with life’s stresses and put you at a higher risk of developing a mental health problem such as depression, eating disorders or social phobia which are related to mood and self-belief. Existing mental health problems can trigger low self-esteem such as schizophrenia or panic attacks. The stigma that is associated with mental health problems plus pressure of other symptoms, may impact on how you see yourself.
The cause of low self-esteem is different for everyone because we have different paths in life and the belief you have in yourself can be a complex process. We are all born with an inbuilt nature and temperament, but relationships and experiences in life play a big part. Negative experiences when young can damage self-esteem. In your early years your personality is being formed and bad experiences can leave you feeling undervalued. You can develop negative thoughts about yourself because you haven’t had time to build any resilience. Bad experiences in adult life can knock your beliefs and cause you to change them, but this normally happens over a longer period of time and at first you may not even notice that your self-esteem is being lowered.
A few impacts on people’s beliefs include:
- Being subjected to abuse
- Having physical and emotional needs neglected
- Failing to meet others expectations
- Feeling like the ‘odd one out’
- Peer pressure
- Bullying or excessive pressures
- Physical ill-health
- Isolation or loneliness
Negative core beliefs about your intelligence, appearance and abilities may often be formed – “I’m ugly and others are more intelligent than I am”.
When something happens that reminds you of these significant experiences, you expect the worst and may react badly. You may feel anxious, shaky and panicky. This reaction will only leave you feeling negative, but it’s crucial to remember that these are beliefs not facts and can be changed!
Consequences of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem can have a significant impact on your life and can damage it in more ways than one:
- Personal relationships – you may feel you don’t deserve love or respect and allow friends or partners to control you
- Social life – It can be very difficult to take criticism when you have low self-esteem, you may be over-sensitive or get upset very easily
- Work – you may feel incompetent or unintelligent and struggle with your work. Applications or interviews may seem a huge task as you believe you are not good enough
- Negative behaviour – you may start to behave in ways that damage you and others around you. You may want to escape and engage in risky behaviour to hide your vulnerabilities
Not everyone is happy all the time; good emotional health and positive self-esteem are strong predictors of happiness. If your core belief is mainly positive you will cope much better.
Your self-esteem comes from your core beliefs about your value as a person. To increase your self-esteem you need to reconsider these beliefs. Identify your negative issues and go from there, have a friend or family member help you. If you feel distressed it is best you contact a health professional for support.
Building self-esteem may seem impossible, but with these useful activities and techniques you may find it easier to deal with;
- Identify what makes you feel weak or a failure
- What do you think others think of you?
- Sum up yourself in one word “I am….”
- Ask yourself when and why you started to feel like this
It may be useful to keep a diary to note down situations that make you feel low.