Self-esteem is the way we regard ourselves, almost as though we were evaluating someone else. Some people find that their self-esteem depends on what others think rather than relying on their own judgement.
What contributes to low self-esteem? Early experiences contribute to adult self-esteem. As children if we are praised and helped to recognise what we do well, while being encouraged to make choices about how we might do things better, we learn to assess our worth for ourselves. However, if we are criticised, judged, labelled and punished harshly for mistakes we learn that we don’t have control over whether things go well or not and that others are the best judges of how we measure up. We then internalise the criticism, judgement and labelling and, as an adult assume it as our own.
How do I know if I have low self-esteem?
Do any of the following apply to you?
- Measuring your worth using external references such as material possessions, your job, income, physical appearance, how clean your house is etc.
- Feelings of anger, anxiety, envy, guilt, jealousy and shame.
- Being unable to accept compliments and praise.
- Having trouble feeling you deserve even the most basic of human needs met.
- Always putting others first.
- Having an internal critical voice that always kicks in.
- You are a perfectionist (in a bid to avoid internal and external criticism).
- You don’t like how critical and judgemental of others you are.
I recognise some of these, what can I do? Understanding what leads to low self-esteem is a start. As children we accept what adults tell us without question, however, you are now an adult and are allowed to question the way others regard you. If someone criticises you, question whether they are right or not (maybe they too have an internal critical voice, towards themselves and others). It may be easier to do this with an experienced professional who is trained to recognise low self-esteem and can help you to evaluate yourself in a more adult way. Remembering past criticism can be painful but productive in the long run and a counsellor can support you through this process.