“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
― Gautama Buddha
“I’m no good.”
“I’m not worth much.”
“I don’t have anything to offer.”
“Who would want someone like me?”
How does a person’s self-esteem get so low? When does the slide from healthy contentment and self-confidence to shame and persistent self-hatred begin?
When does low self-esteem begin?
Who you believe yourself to be really does feel like fact.
It really does seem that what you know about yourself is undeniably, inescapably true.
But no matter how strongly you feel, you should understand that what you believe about yourself is really just a conglomeration of internal opinions. These opinions result from a myriad of life experiences that you’ve consciously, and unconsciously, translated into messages about the type of person you are, and what you’re worth to others.
Your experiences are powerful.
Negative experiences often communicate negative messages, and soon, negative beliefs about yourself take root. And too often, your self-esteem begins its decline.
Attacks on self-perception are defining moments.
The most formative experiences of our lives tend to occur early on. The things you heard, saw, and felt, physically and emotionally, make an indelible mark on your childhood self-perception. When the potential for positive interaction is abused, wasted, or ignored – intentionally or otherwise – it’s difficult to recover.
Early social theorist, George Herbert Mead (1934), suggested that early childhood self-esteem is generally a reflection of how meaningful others communicate their view of us. The messages you interpreted from your caregivers, family, neighborhood and school community influenced you. If you found yourself unattached, mistreated, or overlooked, your self-esteem took the hits.
Consider this sampling of childhood self-esteem damagers:
*persistent, ongoing, or systematic punishment
*neglect or abuse from a person in authority or caretaker
*failure to live up to parental standards
*failure to meet peer-group standards
*serving as the receiver of other people’s stress
*belonging to a family or social group rejected or ostracised by others
*living without the warmth, affection, praise, or interest of loved ones
*consistently being the odd one out at home or school
It should be noted that self-esteem can be undermined later in life as well.
A deluge of negative beliefs about yourself may be caused by a relationship with an abusive partner, workplace bullying, or by intimidation in other types of relationships. Well-known American psychologist of the last century, Leon Festinger, determined that social comparison plays a key role when building and amending our self-esteem later on too, as may occur in periods of economic or social hardship. Unchecked stress and trauma often damage the way people see themselves as well.
From Defining Experiences to Stubborn Conclusions
The damaging experiences we internalise gnaw at us physically and emotionally. We take them with us. Our inner thoughts and self-talk take on the tone and language of those who set our self-esteem on its downward motion. General, unyielding conclusions are made. No matter how unhelpful, misguided, or misinformed, low self-esteem settles in.
Once the low-esteem train gets moving, it’s hard to stop it. It gains steam from damaging, defining experiences to general conclusions, to the unchallenged thinking that is consistent with our poor opinion of ourselves. If you live with low self-esteem, often shame, withdrawal, and embarrassment become constant companions. There is a significant toll taken on personal contentment and the potential for fulfilling relationships.
To improve your self-esteem, help from a trained professional is ideal. With help, you can identify and process the relationships and circumstances that are in your way, and start forming more positive opinions of yourself.