People are not innately born into the world feeling critical of themselves, yet low self-esteem is a very common experience. Some of the strongest causes of low self-esteem include:
Living in a culture that emphasizes competition, achievement, and appearances over everything else
Social media has magnified socialcomparison, causing many people to negatively evaluate themselves against the unrealistically perfect lives and images presented online
Negative experiences in early life, such as neglect, abuse, or consistent criticism can severely impact self-esteem and lead to feelings of inadequacy
Experiences at school or work, like bullying, exclusion, or perceived failure, can foster low self-esteem.
Possible signs of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is not just feeling bad about oneself. People with low self-esteem can exhibit a range of symptoms and behaviors, such as:
Negative Self-Talk: Perpetually criticizing themselves and focusing on perceived flaws and failures.
Perfectionism: Holding themselves to unrealistically high standards and always feeling like they’re falling short.
Reluctance to Try New Things: Avoiding opportunities or experiences out of a fear of failure or ridicule.
Performance Anxiety: Strongly fearing situations where they need to perform or demonstrate competence, such as during tests, presentations, or competitive events.
Difficulty Accepting Compliments: Downplaying or dismissing positive feedback and feeling undeserving of praise.
Body Image Issues: Having negative perceptions of their physical appearance, regardless of how they might objectively look.
Frequent Comparison to Others: Comparing themselves unfavorably to others and seeing others as more successful, competent, or attractive.
People-Pleasing: Going to great lengths to please others, often at the expense of their own needs or boundaries, in an attempt to gain acceptance or avoid conflict.
Overcompensation: Trying to overcompensate for what they perceive as their inadequacies by working excessively, trying to perfect their appearance, boasting about achievements, or adopting aggressive behavior.
How can therapy for self-esteem help?
Low self-esteem is not an innate quality–just as it can be conditioned into us by culture and hurtful life experiences, so too can it be conditioned out and replaced by healthy self-esteem.
Therapy can help people examine how painful beliefs about their self-worth have been ingrained in them and begin to reject those beliefs. As this happens, people have more space to cultivate their own, healthier value systems that are less focused on self-perfection and more focused on pursuing the things that give them a sense of meaning and connectedness.
As this happens, self-criticism starts to fade and become replaced by self-acceptance.
Therapy can also help people learn how to challenge the beliefs that keep them from taking the risks they may need to take to build relationships and to thrive in the workplace. People suffering from low self-esteem will often almost reflexively dismiss their capacities and in doing so choose to withdraw from potentially enriching relationships and endeavors.
Through therapy they can begin to notice how this process plays out, interrupt it, and cultivate affirming self-statements that help them engage rather than withdraw. As they start to have more success in shaping the experiences they want, they are able to develop healthier self-esteem. When they run into bumps in the road in this process, they can learn to have self-compassion and to not lose sight of their strengths and their growth.
An affirming therapeutic relationship that consists of warmth and curiosity helps to facilitate this process.
Reach out and let’s talk about how I can help you become the most energized, confident version of yourself.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller
Difficulties with self-esteem often co-occur with a variety of other emotional challenges. People struggling with self-esteem often have many symptoms of depression, and may struggle with body image issues. The thought of having to be evaluated by others may trigger significant anxiety, and fears of being rejected may lead to intense reactions to perceived criticism, fueling struggles with anger management. For people who are showing improved self-esteem from individual therapy, group therapy can often help to accelerate their progress.