The Root Causes of Low Self-Esteem May Surprise You

Author - Mari L. McCarthy
Published - July 11, 2019

Low self-esteem is one of those nagging problems that can be difficult to fight and overcome. Typically, there are root causes that also may prove difficult to determine – but low self-esteem does not happen on its own. A poor sense of self-worth is the result of situations, events, or influences in your life that may not be readily apparent but, nevertheless, have been impactful. As a result of their influence, you’ve developed a largely negative opinion of yourself that is wholly unwarranted. 

So here’s the good and bad news for individuals with low self-esteem: the problem really is you. Now, before you jump off a cliff, it’s important to realize that what I mean by that statement is that we alone are responsible for how we perceive ourselves – we have created the inner critic and the voice that tells us that we are somehow worth less than others. And since we developed that narrative on our own, we can change it. But it’s also equally important to understand that a person with low self-esteem who does not take action to improve it risks building on those original bad experiences and compounding them into even lower self-esteem in a cycle of growing negativity.

To begin the process of self-examination and understanding, here are four common root causes for low self-esteem: 

  1. Negative environments: These can be created by an overly critical parent, friend, or someone else close to you. Perhaps a person in your life behaved in a way that made you feel incapable of making your own decisions or trusting yourself. 
  2. Loss or trauma: The death of a loved one, divorce, a major illness or injury, or abuse at the hands of someone you trusted can leave you feeling out of control or abandoned.
  3. Rejection: This can come from a loved one or a peer group at work or school and can result in feelings of perceived inadequacy.
  4. Unspoken pressure: from friends, family, co-workers and even society in general can present perceived “standards” you’ve tried to live up to, but always felt like you were failing.

That inner critic and negative voice inside your head can be responsible for creating some common mistaken beliefs that can feed your cycle of negativity: 

  • I’m powerless in the face of situations and events greater than me
  • Life is hard and I’m constantly struggling
  • If I try, I will fail – I just know it
  • Everyone demands too much from me
  • I don’t matter
  • I’m fat/skinny/ugly/unattractive
  • I need ______ to be successful or worthy
  • I am never good enough – I always fall short
  • No one will ever love or respect me – I don’t deserve it

Do any of these sound familiar? When you are aware of how these kinds of thoughts became stuck in your head, you’re better able to identify them for what they are and move swiftly to reject them. The more and more you practice, it’s like playing a sport – you may not win an award, but every day you’re getting better and better.

Individuals with low self-esteem are more critical of themselves; however, people with high self-esteem build from that confident opinion of themselves and become happier – theirs is a positive cycle. Understanding the root-cause of your low self-esteem is the beginning of your ability unravel those external negative influences, take positive action to counter them, and get onto a path of personal growth and fulfillment.

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