How Self-Esteem Impacts Our Lives
Self-esteem plays an essential role in a person’s emotional life. This key component makes up how we feel about ourselves, our bodies, our worth, and our relationships. In fact, self-esteem is so critical that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights it as the thing that drives every decision people make.
A person’s self-esteem may ebb and flow over time. However, it doesn’t change overnight. Self-esteem is the result of well-established thought patterns, so it takes time to change a person’s self-esteem.
Self-esteem that is too high or too low can be a sign of a mental health disorder. For example, people with low self-esteem may live with depression while those with self-esteem that is too high may have narcissistic personality disorder.
The Difference Between Self-Image & Self-Esteem
Although self-esteem and self-image are closely related, they are two separate parts of a person’s emotional makeup. Your self-image is how you see yourself based on your standing in life. On the other hand, self-esteem is how you feel about that image.
For example, a healthy self-image may have you think something like, “I’m a hard worker with an excellent job.” In turn, your self-esteem may say, “I’m proud of my work ethic; it makes me a good provider.”
Because self-image and self-esteem are so closely tied, people with negative self-image often have low self-esteem.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
It is imperative for people of all walks of life to learn the symptoms of low self-esteem. Because decreasing self-esteem changes slowly, it can be hard to identify at first. However, keeping a close eye on your self-esteem can keep you from slipping too far.
Living with low self-esteem without help can lead to the development of emotional disorders. Some common signs of depressed self-esteem include:
- Maintaining little to no boundaries with others
- Avoiding or rejecting compliments
- Blaming others for issues
- Bullying others
- Unusual pessimism
- Avoiding social interactions
- Excessive shame
- Constant self-doubt
Physical symptoms of low self-esteem:
- Curved posture and back problems
- Digestive discomfort
- Frequent headaches with no known cause
- Chronic fatigue, even when rested
- Sleeping too much or not enough
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Sometimes obvious things cause low self-esteem. For example, having a relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive can tear down self-esteem. However, it’s not always obvious what causes low self-esteem.
Counselors can work with patients to find what caused the issue through psychoanalysis. This effective tool takes several sessions and helps patients understand the source of their pain. At this point, counselors can help patients reverse their thought patterns.
Possible causes of low self-esteem include:
- Unrealistic standards of beauty in popular media, including altered images
- Parents and teachers who criticized the person as a child
- A history of abuse
- A tendency for perfectionism
- Being the victim of a bully
- Religious practices that guilt and shame people
- Parents who were emotionally unavailable
- Witnessing too much conflict in childhood, such as in divorce
- Having academic trouble in school
Cultivating Healthy Self-Image and Self-Esteem
With commitment and patience, people can improve their self-esteem. Below are just a few techniques that can help.
Don’t Give Thoughts Power
A negative internal dialogue is often at the root of low self-esteem. These destructive thoughts only have power when you decide to believe them. Decide to stop believe every thought you have, especially the negative ones.
You might say something like, “that’s just a thought. Having a thought doesn’t make it true.” On the other hand, you can actively think the opposite of your automatic negative thought.
Flip Negative Thoughts on Their Heads
If simply dismissing a thought isn’t enough, try thinking the complete opposite. In this technique, you replace negative thoughts with ones that build your self-esteem. Some examples include:
- “I’m just dumb,” becomes “I’m good at this!”
- “I am ugly and gross,” transforms into, “I love my body as it is.”
- “I am a burden to all who love me,” turn into, “I’m so thankful to have people who love me.”
Comparing yourself to other people is a recipe for low self-esteem. This is particularly common since the dawn of social media.
Not only are they destructive, but comparisons are also based on false assumptions. Remember that when you compare your life to another’s, you’re comparing their highlight reel to your practice footage.
Therapy for Low Self-Esteem
Although self-help exercises can allow many people to improve their self-esteem, these tools are not always enough. Some people need professional help in addressing the causes of their low-self esteem and rebuilding. A psychoanalyst can help you identify your unique triggers.
Although therapy is useful, patients should know that it takes dedication. Opening up to a counselor can be difficult, especially for people with low self-esteem. While you may expect rejection, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that your counselor accepts you for who you are.