As a therapist, I often work with clients who struggle with low self-esteem. While there can be many factors that contribute to low self-esteem, it’s important to identify the root cause in order to develop effective treatment strategies. In this blog, I’ll explore some of the most common root causes of low self-esteem and offer some tips for overcoming these issues.
Childhood experiences can have a profound impact on our self-esteem. Children who grow up with critical or neglectful parents, for example, may internalize the belief that they are not good enough. Similarly, children who experience bullying or other forms of abuse may develop a negative self-image.
Childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, can also have long-lasting effects on self-esteem. If you have experienced childhood trauma or have a history of difficult relationships with your parents, it’s important to work through these issues with a therapist in order to heal and develop a more positive self-image.
Social comparison: In our culture, we are often bombarded with messages that we need to be thinner, more successful, or more attractive in order to be happy and accepted. This can lead to a constant sense of comparison and a feeling that we are not good enough. Social media can exacerbate this problem, as we are constantly exposed to the highlight reels of other people’s lives. If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and feeling like you don’t measure up, it’s important to practice self-compassion and focus on your own strengths and accomplishments.
Perfectionism: Many people with low self-esteem are also perfectionists. They set impossibly high standards for themselves and are never satisfied with their achievements. Perfectionism can be a form of self-sabotage, as it sets us up for failure and disappointment. If you struggle with perfectionism, it’s important to set realistic goals and practice self-compassion when you fall short.Perfectionism: Many people with low self-esteem are also perfectionists. They set impossibly high standards for themselves and are never satisfied with their achievements. Perfectionism can be a form of self-sabotage, as it sets us up for failure and disappointment. Research has found that perfectionism is a risk factor for developing depression and anxiety. If you struggle with perfectionism, it’s important to set realistic goals and practice self-compassion when you fall short.
Negative self-talk: The way we talk to ourselves can have a big impact on our self-esteem. If you find yourself constantly criticizing yourself or putting yourself down, it’s important to challenge these negative thoughts. Negative self-talk involves criticizing ourselves, putting ourselves down, or engaging in negative self-evaluation. This can be a vicious cycle, as negative self-talk can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, which in turn can fuel further negative self-talk. If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, it’s important to challenge these thoughts and reframe them in a more positive light.
Trauma can have a profound impact on our sense of self-worth. People who have experienced trauma may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness. Trauma survivors may also develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can further impact their self-esteem. It’s important to work through these feelings with a therapist in order to heal and develop a more positive self-image.
Learned helplessness is a phenomenon where people feel like they have no control over their lives or their circumstances. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and a belief that things will never get better. Research has found that learned helplessness is associated with depression and anxiety (6). If you struggle with learned helplessness, it’s important to identify areas of your life where you do have control and to take action to change the things you can.
Lack of social support: People who lack social support or who feel isolated may struggle with low self-esteem. Social support theory suggests that social support can provide emotional and tangible resources that help individuals cope with stress and adversity (7). It’s important to build strong, supportive relationships with friends and family in order to feel connected and valued.
Here’s some strategies to help you boost your self-esteem
Practice self-compassion: One of the most effective ways to boost self-esteem is to practice self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness and understanding, rather than self-criticism and judgment. When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to be imperfect. Be gentle with yourself and offer yourself the same kindness and support you would offer a good friend.
Focus on your strengths: Rather than dwelling on your perceived weaknesses, focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Take time to reflect on your positive qualities and the things you do well. Write down your achievements and remind yourself of them when you’re feeling down.
Challenge negative self-talk: When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, challenge these thoughts and reframe them in a more positive light. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I’m such a failure,” try to reframe this thought by reminding yourself of times when you have succeeded and focusing on your strengths.
Set realistic goals: Setting realistic goals and working towards them can be a powerful way to boost self-esteem. Rather than setting impossibly high standards for yourself, break your goals down into smaller, achievable steps. Celebrate your progress and be proud of yourself for the things you accomplish along the way.
Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can help to boost self-esteem. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise. Take time to do things you enjoy and that make you feel good, such as reading a book, taking a bubble bath, or spending time with friends.
Build supportive relationships: Building strong, supportive relationships with friends and family can be a powerful way to boost self-esteem. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and support you. Seek out positive relationships and avoid relationships that are toxic or negative.
Seek professional help: If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, it may be helpful to seek out the support of a mental health professional. A therapist can help you work through underlying issues and develop strategies to boost your self-esteem.
Remember, building self-esteem is a process, and it takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way. With time and practice, you can develop a more positive self-image and a stronger sense of self-worth.
- Burns, D. D. (1999). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. Harper Collins.
- Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. HarperCollins.
- Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society