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Low Self-esteem & Difficulties with self-worth.

What is low self-esteem?

Your self-esteem is the opinion you have of yourself. When you have healthy self-esteem, you tend to think positively about yourself, and optimistically about life in general. When you encounter challenges, you feel confident that you will be up to the task. People with healthy self-esteem know that they are valuable and will be able to name at least some of their positive characteristics such as “I am a good friend”, “I am kind”, “I am honest”, or “I am a good father”.

When you have low self-esteem, you tend to see yourself, the world, and your future more negatively and critically. When you encounter challenges, you doubt whether you will be able to rise to them, and you might avoid them. You might talk to yourself harshly in your mind, such as telling yourself “You’re stupid”, “You’ll never manage this”, or “I don’t amount to anything”. You might feel anxious, sad, low, or unmotivated.

Nobody is born with low self-esteem – it develops as a result of the experiences we have throughout our lives. At the centre of low self-esteem are the beliefs and opinions we hold about ourselves. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and form conclusions about ourselves. These opinions can get ‘fixed’, as though they are ‘truths’ for all time. In reality, though, they are just stories or labels, and they don’t capture the full truth of who we are.

What causes low self-esteem?

Negative early experiences are very important for the development of low self-esteem. Some of the factors that make it more likely that a person will develop low self-esteem include:

Early experiences include punishment, neglect, or abuse.

Early experiences such as abuse, neglect, bullying, or punishment are very important. Children who suffer these kinds of experiences often form the belief that they are bad and must have deserved the punishment.

Failing to meet other people’s expectations.

You may feel that you are not good enough because you failed to meet someone else’s expectations – this might have meant your parent’s unrealistic standards – note that this does not mean that the expectations were fair or balanced in the first place.

Failing to meet the standards of your peer group.

Being different or the ‘odd one out' during adolescence, when your identity is forming, can powerfully impact on your self-esteem.

Not receiving enough warmth, affection, praise, love, or encouragement.

It is possible to develop low self-esteem even without overt negative experiences, but just through a deficit of enough positive ones. Without enough reinforcement that we are good, special, or loved, children can form the impression that they are not good enough.