In most cases, low self-worth starts off in childhood and is easily carried into adulthood. This interferes with a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling, healthy life. The following are some common situations that factor into self-esteem, and getting familiar with them can help us identify at least some of the causes.
Uninvolved/Negligent Parents – In many cases, and particularly when we’re young, our feelings about ourselves are heavily influenced by how others feel about and treat us – especially our parents or guardians. Everyone deserves a loving family, but some young people have the misfortune of not getting adequate support at home. Parents or guardians with mental health issues, substance abuse issues or other challenges may not be able to provide their children with the care, guidance and attention they need and deserve. This can cause significant self-esteem problems for young people, as those who are supposed to care for them most may not seem to.
Trauma/ Abuse – Whether physical, emotional, sexual or a combination of these, abuse often causes feelings of shame and even guilt. A person may feel that he or she did something to deserve the abuse, that he or she was not worthy of the respect, love and care of the abuser. People who have suffered abuse may have a significant amount of anxiety and depression associated with the event as well, which can interfere with a person’s ability to lead a fulfilling life.
Negative Thought Patterns – When you get used to feeling, thinking and talking about yourself in a particular way, it becomes habit. You’ve probably heard of muscle memory – once you’ve performed a certain physical activity like riding a bike over and over again, your brain automatically signals your muscles to do whatever that activity requires – keeping you balanced on the seat, for example. Your thoughts and feelings actually work in the same way sometimes. If you have often felt that you’re worthless or inferior, if you constantly think negative thoughts and say negative things about yourself, then you’re likely to go on feeling and thinking the same way unless you break the cycle by challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself. Just as our muscle memory can learn the wrong way to perform a physical activity, our thought and feeling memories can learn inaccurate patterns.
Society and the Media – It’s no secret that people in media (and on social media) are packaged and airbrushed into unrealistic levels of beauty and thinness. It’s an epidemic that’s only getting worse. Now, males and females alike feel they can’t measure up to what’s out there. Maybe the seeds of low self-esteem are sown elsewhere, but now society and the media make imperfections so immediately accessible, there is no relief from feelings of inadequacy. As media access is available more and more easily, kids are subjected to these unfair comparisons earlier and earlier.
The important thing to remember is that in almost every situation or condition, you can make choices that will improve your thinking and improve your life. Whether you believe it at this very moment or not, you have unique interests, strengths, skills and feelings that suit you for many purposes and, in the long run, can be of great benefit to you and those around you.
One of the most important things to know is that low self-esteem is not an accurate reflection of reality or something set in stone. Sometimes the cause of low self-esteem may be rooted, to some degree, in reality, but the idea that your feelings about yourself can’t be changed is simply not accurate.