Low self-esteem is one of the main reasons that people enter therapy with me, and the reasons that they have developed low self-esteem are often varied. Despite this fact, there do seem to be some common themes that individuals with low self-esteem share. These are issues and concerns that have plagued them, often their whole life, and followed them into their adult life. They are issues that will continue to cause those issues and loss of opportunities if not worked out. If you are struggling with low self-esteem, it is encouraged that you seek some type of help and support to work through this issue, and to help you be the best version of yourself that you can be. So what are these common themes that cause low self-esteem?
A student may be struggling academically without parental or scholastic support. Children who do have a hard time in school in general, or even in a particular subject, who do not receive the help and support they need at school, or at home, are at a greatly increased risk of suffering from low self-esteem. They feel "stupid," and ill-equipped. They have no way of knowing if others are struggling as well, but they often feel like they are the only person who does not understand. This makes them feel like they cannot be successful, and that they are not smart or good at school. The sad thing is that with a little support, an adult figure noticing they are struggling and trying to intervene, this issue can often be resolved. While parents and teachers are over-worked and tired themselves, perhaps if they understood the long-term implications of the matter, they would find a way to help. Often if does not take much to help the student and turn the situation around.
Bullying is another issue that can start young, and last a lifetime. Children and teens who are bullied, teased, and put down, develop a negative self-image that can carry over into their adult lives. If parents, teachers, administrators, or a solid peer group does not step in to undo the damage that a bully is causing, the individual can hold on to this pain and negative self-image for a lifetime. A child that is told they are fat and stupid just a single time, can hold on to that belief throughout their lives. They start to believe what the bullies are saying and internalize it, and some even start to believe that they deserve it. There are so many individuals who grow up with low self-esteem and a negative self-image because not a single person stepped in and stood up for them or told them that what they were being told was not true. Such a simple act of kindness or courage could change the way an individual views themselves for the rest of their lives. At a minimum, they know that there was someone in their lives that cared enough to tell them differently.
Someone who suffered trauma during an important developmental time in their lives. This could be physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If they do not get help to work through the trauma at this essential point in their lives, the trauma could have a permanent impact on the way the individual sees and feels about themselves. Trauma can make the person feel like they did something wrong, like they were not good enough, or as if they deserved the abuse. They have either been physically or emotionally violated, and many believe that it was somehow their fault. Even if they know it was not, they know that no one stepped in and protected them or stood up for them. This makes them feel like they were not worth that protection, or that there was a reason they were traumatized. If they do not get supportive help to work through these issues, and to learn that what happened was wrong and undeserved, these issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth can last a life time.
Society and the media can have a very negative impact on in individual's self-esteem. While slight progress has been made, we still present young people with unrealistic images of what they should look like, and what makes people popular. From airbrushed pictures, to models with unattainable figures, youth are left believing that this is what they are supposed to look like, and that they are worthless if this is not what they can achieve. They are provided poor role models, who have fame for behavior and accomplishments that are not truly to be admired. However, when the person is not able to accomplish even fraction of what they see, despite their hard work, they feel like a failure. They do not realize that what they are comparing themselves to is to is not reality, and not attainable. They are left thinking that they are a failure because no one has stepped in and explained that what they are seeking is not reality. That what they have done is an achievement, and that they should set realistic goals that make them feel good about themselves.
There is help to address these issues that often stem long into adulthood. Individuals can attend face to face or telehealth therapy with providers like, BetterHelp, AmericanWell, or Teladoc. They can read inspiring articles that help them build self-esteem like those in the elephant journal or zen habits. Or the can meet individuals with similar interests through groups like meetup, and develop a new network and social support system, which tends to boost most people's self-esteem.