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What is low self-esteem? What causes low self-esteem?

Posted Jun 10 2013 5:00am

Is self-esteem related to confidence?

Self Esteem

Self Esteem

Low self-esteem, despite all the talk we hear about it is not a specific mental health diagnosis. Low self-esteem does co-exist with several mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

While it is hard to define precisely it is easy to see in practice and if you have suffered from low self-esteem you know the devastating effects it can have on your life.

Definitions of self-esteem vary widely. The Dictionary definition includes such things as your confidence in your merit as an individual person.

Also contained in the concept of self-esteem are such things as self-confidence, self-respect and problems solving abilities. In effect self-esteem is all about your ability to cope with life.

There are many causes of low self-esteem but regardless of the cause low self-esteem can be overcome.

People with low self-esteem are frequently high in self-monitoring they are constantly on the lookout for errors they might be making. The result of high self-monitoring is that we find what we are looking for, if you expect to find yourself making mistakes and that is all you look for then you will come to believe that everything you do is wrong.

In extreme cases people who over self-monitor, who never give themselves credit for things well done, become increasingly helpless and hopeless.

There is a major connection between low self-esteem and depression. Being depressed reduces your ability to do things you used to be able to do. One consequence of depression is reduced or low self-esteem. But the connection works in the opposite direction also. Having low self-esteem increases the probability that your will rate yourself harshly and one result of this over negative evaluation is to become depressed.

Depression is not the only mental health challenge that stems from harsh self-evaluation and low self-esteem. People who believe they are not able to do things and look for evidence become fearful that they will make mistakes. The beginning to expect others to have negative evaluations of them and they look for ways to avoid those negative evaluations.

Low self-esteem is a major cause of some anxiety disorders. But this excessive self-evaluation this inability to give yourself credit for things you are able to do can lead to other problems also.

One way a person with low self-esteem tries to protect themselves is to constantly check everything. They expect to do things wrong, they expect others to be negative about them as a result of their errors so they develop routines of constant checking of everything trying to prevent or correct the smallest of errors.

While not the only cause, low self-esteem and overly harsh self-evaluation are causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms. In extreme cases this becomes Obsessive Compulsive personality disorder.

A significant cause of low self-esteem is growing up in a non-affirming family. There was a time that parents were told that to praise the child would give them a “swelled head.” Many parents find it difficult to praise their children for things done right but a quick to fulfill their parental duties by pointing out the child’s flaws. The result is that the child only hears about the things they do wrong and begins to thing that they are “wrong.” Believing that it is you that are at fault not that you are unable to do something is a precipitator of much low self-esteem.

Even if your family did on occasion affirm you, failure to affirm yourself or having non-affirming friends can also create these symptoms. Being bullied teased or rejected are reasons many children come to believe that there is something inherently wrong with them. The result is chronic low self-esteem. 

One antidote for low self-esteem is high self-confidence. Being high in self-confidence is a cultural thing. Some cultures believe that to but yourself forward to assert your ability to do things is narcissistic and wrong. Our American culture often values those who are high in self-confidence possible even high in narcissistic tendencies. We accept sports heroes and politicians who brag about their abilities as long as they produce the results.

People with low self-esteem find it difficult to achieve in life. They expect to fail and so do not often try. The result is that if you do not attempt things you never achieve them. Low self-esteem is in this way self-perpetuating.

If you have low self-esteem you can learn to accept yourself and feel good about yourself. Raising your self-esteem does not put you at risk to be arrogant or have an excessive opinion of yourself. Increase your self-esteem or better yet stop judging yourself harshly and you may find that your anxiety and depression are reduced or eliminated. Get treatment for that depression or anxiety and you may find that you feel better about yourself and your life.

More to come in future posts on ways to reduce or eliminate the problem of low self-esteem.

“Image courtesy of (graur razvan ionut)”. 

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

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