Having a low opinion of yourself is not modesty – it is self-destruction. Bobbe Sommer
The Self Esteem Institute defines low self-esteem as ”a thinking disorder in which the individual views (thinks of) himself as inadequate, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent – thinking that permeates every aspect of a person’s life”.
Dr Marilyn Sorensen argues ”once thinking is formed, emotions and feelings follow that are also irrational and distorted, causing the person to have difficulty knowing who and when to trust, inciting fear and trepidation in new situations in which a person may not know what is expected of him/her.”
Having low self-confidence means you doubt your abilities, and this may vary from situation to situation. A person may have healthy self-esteem but have low confidence in writing a maths test because of past failures in tests.
Having extremely high self-esteem comes with its own pitfalls, as illustrated in the picture below.
It seems being ”average” in self-esteem is the best thing for us. In his book, Emotional First Aid, Guy Winch states that ”ideally our self-esteem should lie in a range where our feelings of self-worth are both strong (not too low) and stable (not too high and fragile).”
What are the signs of having low self-esteem?
- to withdraw socially
- to be sensitive to criticism
- feelings of hostility
- excessive preoccupation with personal problems
- physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue and insomnia (sleep disorders)
In short – low self-esteem makes us feel insecure, ineffective, unconfident and disempowered.
Note: Depression can masquerade as low self-esteem, where a person feels negative not only about themselves but also about everyone around them.
What causes low self-esteem?
According to Dr Sorensen, ”low self-esteem ALWAYS forms in childhood when the individual is developing an initial view of how he or she, as a person, fits into the world. This process begins at birth and may continue to be cemented up to the age of 8 or 10.” Examples are:
- being subject to abuse – sexual, emotional or physical, and the loss of control associated with this
- having your physical and emotional needs neglected in childhood
- failing to meet the expectations of your parents
- feeling like the ‘odd one out at school /bullying
- coming from a community that often experiences prejudice, such as being an asylum seeker, or being poor but living in a wealthy neighbourhood
- peer pressure to conform to social norms which you disagree with
- bullying or excessive force at work
- physical ill-health – its impact on your quality of life and activities you can do
- facing redundancy or being unemployed
- social isolation and loneliness.
Questions we can help with:
• How do I know I have low self-esteem?
• Can I improve my self-esteem?
- How can I learn to be self-compassionate?
- How do I identify and re-affirm my own strengths?
- How do I learn tolerance to accept compliments?
- How do I improve my self-control and willpower to reach my goals?
- How do I manage and avoid temptations?
You can do a quiz to determine whether you have issues with your self-image.
- Dr Marilyn Sorensen. The Self Esteem Institute, http://getesteem.com/about/
- Emotional First Aid. Guy Winch. 2013.