Self-Esteem & Its Role in Our Lives

Self-esteem is an essential component in and individual’s mental health. When it is either too low or too high, it can affect a person’s well being. Self-esteem relates to how we perceive ourselves and our worth. In the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, it is identified as the core driver behind all human behavior. 

Self-esteem fluctuates over time, but does not change in an instant. Changes in self-esteem result only from long-term patterns of thinking. 

Self Image vs. Self-Esteem

Some may be confused as to whether there is a difference between self image and self-esteem. The distinction between the two hinges on the individual’s feelings towards them self. 

To clarify, self image is comprised of all the ideas you have about yourself and your role in the world. “I am a lawyer, which means I went to school longer than most and am now a professional.” Your self-esteem, as a contrast, defines how you feel about that image. Our lawyer might think, “I’m proud of being a lawyer” as an example. A lawyer with disordered self esteem might think “I’m a fool to have spent so much time becoming a lawyer.”

The Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Learning to spot the signs of low self-esteem can help someone determine whether or not they want to seek out help. Oftentimes, self-esteem decreases over time without us realizing.

Some symptoms of low self-esteem can include:

  • Disliking or avoiding compliments
  • Bullying others
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Experiencing profound feelings of shame
  • Doubting oneself constantly
  • Being overly pessimistic
  • Blaming
  • Not maintaining healthy boundaries

Sometimes physical symptoms present, such as:

  • Digestive issues
  • Stooped posture that causes back pain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia or disordered sleeping

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can stem from quite obvious places such as trauma, abuse, or conditioning. Sometimes the causes are less clear and require therapy to uncover them.

Common causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Disapproval of parents or mentors
  • Domestic or emotional abuse
  • Bullying
  • Detached parents
  • Witnessing parental conflict
  • Difficulty at school
  • Religious beliefs
  • Cultural beauty standards 

Encouraging Healthier Self-Esteem

There are a number of ways in which individuals can help rebuilding their self-esteem. Working with a therapist is the best answer, and can incorporate some of the following. 

Taking Power Away from Thoughts

Many of us give a good deal of power to our internal thoughts, considering them to be truths. They are not. Patients with low self esteem can work toward neutralizing the power of their thoughts to encourage higher self-esteem.

When a negative thought presents itself, the individual can take a moment to acknowledge that it is just a thought. It is not a law or an absolute truth. This takes practice, but can have an effect over time. 

Turn Negative Thoughts into their Inverse Thoughts

When negative thoughts appear, flip them over. You can work to turn your negative thoughts into positive ones: 

“I’m an idiot” becomes “I’m competent.”

“My spouse has to do too much for me” turns into “I’m glad my partner cares enough to help.”

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

In the age of social media, many of us spend time comparing our lives to ideal images we see online. You should always avoid comparing yourself to others. You have no idea what the true state of someone’s life is.

Treating Low Self-Esteem through Therapy

Working in partnership with a mental health professional is the most effective way to address low self-esteem. This process can be difficult, since the patient has to expose his innermost thoughts and most insecure ideas. The patient may think that revealing things about themselves may inspire judgment or rejection from the therapist. Any trained mental health professional should seek to treat you with objectivity and compassion. While sharing may be difficult at first, it can lead to enhanced mental health and well-being.