All people have a unique perspective on who they are and what they have to offer. Many of our thoughts about ourselves come from the world around us, like our achievements and accolades, like a degree; our position, such as a job or a parent; or what we’ve been told by others.
Our self-perception is also grounded in the thoughts we have about ourselves and whether the patterns of thoughts that replay in our minds are positive, neutral or negative.
Our self-perception, how we think and feel about ourselves, colors our everyday life. A positive image of oneself can bestow confidence in social situations, create a feeling of security in our relationships and lead to success in our chosen field. When we think poorly of ourselves, however, it can sap our dignity, our motivation and our outlook.
If you’re affected by low self-esteem, here’s what you need to do to break out of the cycle.
Define low self-esteem
If you’re wondering what low self-esteem means, it’s a common term used to designate a person who perceives him or herself as having little value or worth. Low self-esteem is a person’s opinion of him or herself, and while we all have faults, are generally not based in reality or are exaggerated.
Someone with low self-esteem will tend to focus on negative character traits, dismiss positive traits or explain away successes as chance. Poor self-worth can lead to daily distress and functional issues and can be a precursor to clinical conditions like anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
What does low self-esteem feel like?
If you think you may be experiencing low self-esteem, check out the following signs and feelings that accompany a negative self-image.
- feeling incompetent, or experiencing imposter syndrome
- feeling unloved
- taking all the blame for failed relationships
- feeling isolated
- feeling that your faults alone define you
- feeling that you can’t do anything right
- constantly comparing yourself to others
- struggling to feel joy in your achievements
- always holding your successes up against your failures
- feeling like you’ve let down friends and family
- being disappointed when you can’t reach difficult goals you’ve set for yourself
- having unrealistic standards for yourself
- focusing on maintaining a certain appearance
- excessively working out
- controlling your diet
- pushing yourself to perform perfectly in academics or career
- beating yourself up over small mistakes
Low self-esteem is a chronic mindset, and the longer a person feeds this negative thought pattern, the more ingrained it becomes.
Where does low self-esteem come from?
Many people who have been affected by low self-esteem have wondered, “where does low self-esteem come from?” If the thought pattern you’re experiencing has become worse over time, you may have tried to trace back the origin. Here are a couple of common roots of low self-esteem.
If you grew up in a household where your parents or caregivers offered more criticism than affirmation, it may have initiated a pattern of low self-worth. The language that was used in early childhood and teenage years can shape the manner in which we think and feel about ourselves for a lifetime.
High stakes performance
Many children who participate in ultra-competitive sports or activities growing up may develop low self-esteem. The praise and sense of success that accompanies competitive outlets can sometimes backfire, resulting in a loss of identity and affirmation of self once participation ceases. Coaches and mentors can also contribute to a highly critical pattern of self-perspective.
Poor academic performance
Children who struggle academically are more inclined to face low self-esteem. Traditional schooling offers a very public and quantifiable comparison between students, and those who struggle to grasp subject material, sit still during school, adjust well socially and relate to school staff will likely face consequences that impact confidence and self-worth.
Feeling like you stand out of a crowd can lead a child to pathologize those differences. Children who live in a different neighborhood from their peers, come from a unique family structure, have visible medical conditions, wear glasses, have speech difficulties and so forth may face criticism or bullying from peers and internalize the behavior of others.
How to overcome low self-esteem
If you feel that you’ve been affected by low self-esteem, regardless of the origin, the next step is learning how to overcome low self-esteem.
Step 1: acknowledge the damaging thoughts
Low self-worth may have been prompted by numerous experiences in childhood and adulthood, as well as biological and environmental differences, but a poor self-image can only be perpetuated by your own thought pattern.
Take time to be aware of your thoughts for ten or more minutes a day. Write down every negative thought that crosses your mind. After a few days or weeks of pinpointing negative thoughts, you’ll start to see patterns develop and reoccurring thoughts. The most damaging are the ones you should tackle first.
Step 2: address the basis of the thought
Many of the thoughts we have evolved out of insecurity. They are often hyperbolized or not based in reality and may have been thought we’ve fed unconsciously. For each negative thought, consider what leads you to believe that and what evidence you (or your friends and family) might give to the contrary.
Step 3: replace the thought with something neutral or positive
Each negative thought should be replaced with a helpful, affirming, productive or neutral thought. This process is what mental health practitioners call self-talk and is used in a framework of treatment called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to change negative experiences by changing thoughts and then behaviors.
Step 4: get connected
Reversing poor self-esteem isn’t exactly a quick fix. It takes plenty of work and effort, and sometimes it’s too much to try it alone. If you’re struggling with low self-esteem reach out to The Light Program. You’ll find all the affirmation you need within yourself when you’re guided by a compassionate and understanding mental health professional. Call today.