As a person who suffers from chronic anxiety, low self-esteem is something I experience frequently. For me, low self-esteem isn’t just feeling low self-worth or a negative self-image. It’s more often a feeling that I am incapable of doing things that come easier for others; it’s overthinking my every move; and it’s predicting that terrible things will befall me basically all the time.
Low self-esteem is something that so many of us suffer with, and it can be confusing because it looks different for everyone. In a nutshell, experiencing low self-esteem simply means that you do not generally have a positive perception of your worth, strength, or status. And while common, low self-esteem can have far-reaching consequences for just about every aspect of our lives.
What Does Self-Esteem Include?
Low self-esteem is not an officially recognized mental health condition, but experiencing it can trigger mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. People who have low self-esteem generally have a more negative perception of themselves and of their ability to succeed in life. They may not believe they are worthy of love, security, praise, or success. Even when these innate human needs are met, those with low self-esteem may refuse them or find them hard to accept.
Other symptoms of low self-esteem include:
- Inability to trust yourself or your instincts
- Fear of failure, and therefore not accepting challenges
- Consistent overthinking
- Obsessing over each small mistake you make
- Expecting the worst
- Constant self-critique and self-hating thoughts
- Seeing the worst in yourself before recognizing negative qualities in others
- Not feeling able to stand up for yourself or what you believe
- Being a workaholic, to prove you can succeed; or, contrarily, feeling unable to accomplish anything
- Finding it difficult to reach out for help, or feeling undeserving of help
- Feeling anxious or depressed
The causes of low self-esteem vary from person to person, but most cases of low self-esteem stem from messages we received growing up about our worthiness and ability to succeed. If we were bullied in school, experienced childhood trauma, or came from an unstable home without a strong role model, we are also more likely to battle low self-esteem.
Of course, the media — with its onslaught of messages about unattainable physical perfection, wealth, status, and success — doesn’t help matters.
How Low Self-Esteem Impacts Our Daily Lives
Having negative thoughts and feelings is bad enough, but experiencing chronic low self-esteem can negatively impact so many facets of our lives.
For example, if you are in a constant state of believing that you are unworthy of love or affection, it may be difficult for you to bond with others and sustain meaningful relationships. You may also find it hard to express your feelings honestly for fear of judgment and criticism.
Studies have shown a correlation between low self-esteem in childhood and addiction later in life. One study out of Florida State University found that boys who grew up with low self-esteem were more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as they hit adolescence.
“Low self-esteem is kind of the spark plug for self-destructive behaviors, and drug use is one of these,” John Taylor, one of the study researchers, said. “It’s a fundamental need to have a good sense of self. Without it, people may become pathologically unhappy with themselves, and that can lead to some very serious problems.”
Anxiety and depression
Low self-esteem has also been correlated with increased rates of anxiety and depression, according to research. It’s often difficult to say whether low self-esteem causes anxiety and depression, or vice versa. One thing is certain though, working on your self-esteem is a great way to combat any mental health conditions you struggle with.
Therapists’ Advice on How To Improve Low Self-esteem
If you struggle with low self-esteem, you are far from alone. But, you should know that it doesn’t always have to be this way. We can’t always go back and change whatever negative messages we received growing up or through the media, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make an effort to improve our self-esteem in the here and now.
We caught up with some Talkspace therapists to offer some simple, but effective tools to give your self-esteem a boost.
1. Write it down
“Make a list of your positive qualities, post it where you can see it daily and keep adding to it,” offers Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT. “If positive qualities are too challenging to start with, focus on facts about yourself to avoid judgements.”
2. Change your thoughts
Hinkle adds that making an effort to change your negative thoughts to more positive ones can be powerful as well. “It’s helpful to replace judgmental thoughts with curiosity,” she says. For example, instead of saying, “I’m terrible because I criticized my friend” try, “I wonder what that means when I am critical of my friend”
3. Try mindfulness and meditation
Incorporating mindfulness and meditation into your life can also increase your self-esteem, suggests Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S. She recommends incorporating positive self-affirmations into whatever practice you choose.
4. Accentuate the positive
Taking time each day to find your positive attributes can be very helpful as well. “Find things you feel good about and/or that you’re good at and find ways to do them more in your daily life,” says O’Neill.
5. Keep a gratitude journal
Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal can have a positive impact on your mental health. Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP, says the practice can really boost your self-esteem. “Every night, write something good or positive about you or something you did during the day,” she recommends. “In the morning, read it as soon as you wake up and let it set the mood for the day.”
You Are Stronger Than You Know
One of the most awful things about struggling with low self-esteem is that it blocks you from seeing just how strong and resilient you actually are. No matter how we feel about ourselves, we have all had times where we did the hard thing even when it was uncomfortable. We’ve all had moments when we push past our self-doubt and take a risk.
We are all stronger than we know. If you have taken the time to read this article, and thought about implementing steps to improve your self-esteem — well, you are already doing an amazing job right now, and making yourself and your self-esteem a priority. You deserve it.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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