Low self-esteem can have a deeply negative impact on a person’s life and affect all aspects of his existence. This can be brought on by several factors that a person is affected by in his early childhood, which includes negligence, punishments and lack of praise and appreciation. In addition to these, there are several other causes of low self-esteem that can be listed by studying the history of a person. Let us shed some light on the same.
Dispelling a Myth
It’s a myth that people with low self-esteem turn into bullies and criminals. In reality, people with low self-esteem tend to cause self-harm rather than harming others.
Self-esteem is described as the evaluation that one makes about oneself, based on one’s self-worth. In simple terms, it is how one judges oneself. This judgment that one draws about the self is based on several factors, and can either lead to a person developing a high self-esteem or a low self-esteem. Whether one has a high or a low self-esteem is based on the experiences that one goes through during their childhood. While a high or a positive self-esteem allows a person to develop a realistic sense of self and their surroundings, low self-esteem can cause a person to harbor a negative and defeatist attitude about themselves, and life in general.
Low self-esteem leads to feelings of incompetence, worthlessness and a lack of confidence in a person and can thus severely lower the quality of a person’s life in all its forms. It also forms a base by which a person harbors negative and destructive tendencies and extreme emotions – these could lead to depression, suicidal tendencies, mental and physical disorders and other forms of self-destructive behavior. The end result of low self-esteem usually leads to self degradation, which robs a person of self-confidence and rational thinking. Since it can have such a huge impact on the life of a person, it becomes important to identify the varied causes of low self-esteem whereby a person can face them head on and undertake steps to develop a positive self-esteem.
How Low Self-esteem Develops
The development of self-esteem is based on several factors and experiences that one goes through in their childhood. Depending on whether those experiences are negative or positive, one develops a sense of self, which then determines their self-worth. There are several factors that can lead to a low self-esteem (which we will be concentrating on in the next section) and once that is developed, it can carry over into adulthood, becoming a scale against which one basis their success and failure. But since this scale has been wrongly determined, it reiterates a person’s belief that he is worthless and adds on several other negative emotions and traits as well. That is why it is important to zero in on the factors that cause low self-esteem so that they can be dealt with effectively. Usually, the traits of low self-esteem are developed due to certain experiences in childhood. At this age, the child’s mind is highly impressionable and to add to that, the child does not know how to distinguish between what is right and wrong.
What Causes Low Self-esteem
Low self-esteem is caused by certain factors depending on the background and status of the person, his surroundings, age, association with the outside world and varied experiences in childhood and early adolescence. Let us study these low self-esteem causes in more detail.
Child Abuse and Punishments
Most people with low self-esteem have a history of both, physical and mental abuse during their childhood. Abuse of any kind gives a child the impression that he is simply a thing to be used and punished and that in some way he deserves it. The effects of abuse are deep-rooted and extremely difficult to treat. The most likely culprits of child abuse are family friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers and foster or step parents.
Every child requires love, attention, praise and affection while growing up so that he can develop a positive sense of self. But when children are brought up in conditions where love and affection is lacking and their emotional and/or physical needs are not fulfilled, they feel abandoned, insecure and insignificant. They find it very difficult to trust people, fearing that they will be abandoned again. This then hampers their ability to mix with others and leads to asocial traits which could ultimately lead to low self-esteem.
When a child is constantly reminded that he is no-good, it results in the child feeling inadequate and he loses his self-confidence. Such events create a feeling of worthlessness, making them pessimistic and hesitant from doing anything positive.
Comparison with Others
Being compared to others (especially siblings) and constantly being told that they are not as good as them, or asked to be ‘more like them’ can cause a child to lose confidence in his abilities.
Some parents may have certain expectations from their child (realistic or otherwise). If a child is not able to fulfill those, he gets the feeling of having let down his parents. It usually happens in case of parents who tend to influence a child with the reflection of their unfulfilled dreams.
Since one’s face is the first thing that leads to forming an impression, many people with a not so attractive physical appearance may tend to feel inferior when compared to a better looking person. Some may then try and isolate themselves from an active social life and retreat into a shell.
Peer Pressure and Bullying
Peer pressure can lead to a lot of internal battles within a person, especially when it is an activity that he does not want to indulge in. This can lead to stress and anxiety of standing up to a group and/or cause for a falling out with them, thus giving him a sense of failure. Similarly, facing bullying is similar to abuse and can lead to the same effects as that of abuse.
Financial and Social Position
Belonging to the lower strata of society in terms of financial or social position can lead to an inferiority complex in a person. This in especially true if his peers enjoy a better standing in society. This might cause the person to develop a low self-image and overtime, a lowered self-esteem.
People work to achieve success in their life and when they fail after working hard, they treat failure as the ultimate truth which results in loss of self-esteem.
A person who is unemployed may end up feeling helpless and worthless. The failure to provide for their family can be very daunting and can lead to low self-esteem.
Betrayal in a romantic relationship can lead to a person doubting himself and his self-worth. He might feel that there is something lacking in him and that is why the person has left and gone.
Ill-health and Trauma
Ill-health due to trauma (or otherwise) can take a toll on a person (especially if it is prolonged and causes them to be isolated from others). If the quality of life is compromised then it might lead to them feeling down in all aspects of their life and lead to a lowered self-esteem.
Some low self-esteem issues are caused due to negative experiences. Children tend to take in the negativity around them and this affects their sense of self. Similarly, some adults are easily affected by the negative experiences that they go through and may develop a low self-esteem.
Characteristics of a Person with Low Self-esteem
There are certain characteristics that a person with low self-esteem will exhibit. They are as follows:
- They lack social skills and self-confidence. This makes them avoid social settings.
- They are highly sensitive to criticism and lack the ability to take it in the form of constructive criticism.
- They tend to be very hostile and go on the defensive whenever faced with a negative situation.
- They overanalyze and overthink their problems, making them preoccupied with their own problems.
- They might exhibit physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and insomnia.
- They are prone to harbor several negative traits about themselves like feeling worthless, unloved and incompetent.
- They are drawn to bad relationships that are bound to fail.
- They hate change in any form.
- They are prone to negative thinking and being pessimistic. They also harbor a lot of fears about varied things.
- They are always anxious and fearful. They also tend to be overly sensitive, wherein they take everything personally.
- They tend to get angry very fast about the most mundane things.
- They have a tendency of trying to please people.
- They cannot accept compliments and always try to find faults in the same.
- They might suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia.
- They have a poor body image of themselves.
- They are afraid to take up responsibilities.
- They fail to recognize their potential.
Dealing with Low Self-esteem
The following are the ways in which low self-esteem can be dealt with effectively.
- Avoid negative situations whenever possible.
- Use a journal to record the positive things happening around you.
- Whenever a negative thought creeps in, stop it right in its tracks and replace it with something positive.
- Exercise. Exercising not only helps to keep the body fit, but also helps in releasing the negative toxins from the body and thereby leads to great mental health as well.
- Join an activity that will help you succeed and thereby gain confidence. This will then slowly filter onto other spheres of life and help gain confidence overall.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle which includes getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet, along with drinking plenty of water.
- It is always advisable to seek professional help when things seem beyond one’s reach. These could include joining self-help groups or talking to a therapist.
Low self-esteem can have a crippling effect on a person’s life in its varied forms, and that is why it becomes necessary to study the causes of the same. Once we know the source of a problem, it is possible to take up steps to improve self-esteem.