How we view ourselves can significantly impact how we behave, feel, and think. Self-confidence changes situationally. It can be shattered when we’re romantically rejected. On the other hand, it can sky-rocket when you land that job that you didn’t think you qualified for.
But there is another, more potent aspect of the way we perceive ourselves that can dictate whether we even take those risks.
Self-esteem is our overall view of ourselves and does not oscillate so easily. Self-esteem is what we truly believe about ourselves as a person. Having issues with low self-esteem can be wildly detrimental to our mental health and our lives overall.
What Low Self-Esteem Looks Like
Low self-esteem can manifest differently for everyone. Sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes you show it and talk about it frequently. Regardless, low self-esteem behaviors and beliefs can lower the quality of life a person is capable of having.
Signs of low self-esteem include:
Being highly critical of yourself (about appearance, actions, thoughts, and reactions)
Not taking credit for achievements, or believe that they weren’t earned
Conversely, blames themselves when things go wrong
Not setting goals
Generally thinking you’re worthless
Low self-esteem can be overwhelming. Even if it only manifests in one way or two, it can still impact your whole life. Sometimes people feel it about themselves as a whole, or in regard to a specific trait.
For example, someone may have an overall healthy self-esteem outside of work. But when it comes to their career, they do not believe they’re capable of doing their job or that they haven’t earned it.
Another example is that a person made their school’s soccer team, but they would rather sit on the bench because they believe they are a terrible player. They believe any mistake they make proves how incapable they are, regardless of how well they play overall.
Maybe a person avoids dating because they cannot fathom how anyone would be interested in them romantically.
No matter the situation, a person with low self-esteem believes that they have no value either in one area of life, or in all of it. Low self-esteem can be debilitating and stop people from living the life they want, or enjoying the life they do have.
Low self-esteem is often accompanied by another condition called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome usually applies to the workplace, but it can plague people in other areas of their lives as well. A person dealing with imposter syndrome believes that they don’t deserve their success. They feel like they’ve somehow fooled everyone into believing that they know what they’re doing or they deserve to be here, but they are really just an imposter.
The Effects of Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem can cause people to “give up,” avoid challenges, or stop trying before they even start. Every endeavor feels pointless. It makes it difficult for people to put themselves out there and take chances for what they want for their life. It can make people avoid activities and social situations that they actually wish to be a part of.
Low self-esteem can affect people’s work and create problems within relationships. People with low self-esteem often stop taking care of themselves, or become hyper fixated on their appearance. The person is unable to see their own value or think they will never measure up.
Low Self-Esteem and Depression
Depression and low self-esteem are like the chicken and the egg scenario—it’s hard to tell which one came first. Depression causes feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that can permeate your mind and spread to many aspects that contribute to your view of yourself.
Low Self-Esteem and Anxiety
Anxiety and low-self esteem can also spark a vicious cycle. Imposter syndrome and self-defeating attitudes associated with low self-esteem can bring about feelings of anxiety. Many symptoms of low self-esteem can exacerbate anxiety and depression symptoms, and anxiety and depression can exacerbate existing low-self-esteem problems. Needless to say, they’re usually comorbid with each other.
Unengaged or cruel authority figures or caregivers can lead children to developing low self-esteem. Bullying, in childhood especially, from other kids, parents, or anyone can be a big factor. Trauma, big or small, can manifest itself into low self-esteem.
Being brought up in a household or community with rigid religious or cultural beliefs can contribute to low self-esteem in some ways. The expectations and norms derived from strict customs may lead to some people feeling criticized and judged.
Some carry the heavy weight of:
Simply being who they are
Not meeting expectations
Actions they’ve taken that do not align with their family’s beliefs
Any enforced values that lead a person to feel “less than” can lead to low self-esteem.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
In today’s modern world, social media is another huge factor contributing to low self-esteem, especially among the youth. Social media bombards you with perfectly curated feeds of other people’s “ideal” lives, accomplishments, bodies, vacations, and relationships. When you compare your real life to another person’s highlight reels, you usually wind up feeling worse about yourself.
Overcoming Low Self-Esteem
While your self-confidence may waver a little bit, the deep rooted view of yourself is not so easily altered. Changing what you truly believe and think about yourself isn’t always easy, but it will allow you to truly live the life you deserve. Overcoming low self-esteem is all about intention, mindfulness, and grace.
For starters, watch your self-talk. When you notice negative self-talk towards yourself, out loud or in your head, ask yourself if you would let your friends or loved ones talk about themselves this way. If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be doing it to yourself either.
Try to say something positive instead, even if you don’t believe it just yet. If you’re at a loss at what to say, think about what your friends or loved ones would say about you. Positive self-talk and affirmations can help reprogram your brain out of those old, negative thought patterns and into new, healthier ones.
Low self-esteem doesn’t stem from nowhere, usually there are underlying causes. Self-esteem counseling can help uncover those underlying causes and assist a client in working through them. Therapy for low self-esteem can also help people identify triggers and learn healthy ways of pulling themselves back up when those negative beliefs about oneself come creeping back.
Who you surround yourself with can have a big impact on how you think, feel, and behave. Remove yourself from any negative social circles or people and spend more time with people with a healthy self-esteem. They’re more likely to support you, make you feel good, and have fun with you.
How to Help a Friend
If you have a friend who struggles with low self-esteem, you can remain a positive and encouraging voice and supporter for them. As a friend, you can provide consistent positive feedback, not only in frequency, but in what you say.
While constant compliments may seem disingenuous, returning to something nice you’ve said about them before may help them feel like you truly mean it.
And last but certainly not least, you can lend an ear and listen to them. We all need someone to turn to when we’re down. Without judgment or agenda, be a safe place for this person.