The Top Common Causes for Low Self-Esteem

Author - Mari L. McCarthy
Published - June 13, 2019

Low self-esteem almost always has roots in childhood and how we, as individuals, are raised and nurtured by parents, peers, and environment.

Let’s be clear, though, that low self-esteem is not inherited. There are always external causes which can be corrected if recognized and addressed. How we evolve through childhood as a result of the outside stimuli that affects us has a significant impact on how we view ourselves later in life. If we receive a boatload of negative stimuli about who we are and the abilities we possess, that can have a stifling effect upon our development, filling us full of “I can’ts.”

It all starts with parents. Our parents are the most prominent figures in our lives, especially when we are little. It’s no surprise then, that bad parenting can be one of the leading causes of low self-esteem. Children are little sponges and absorb an astonishing amount of input, positive and negative, retaining whatever values and self-image that input instills in the child long after they become an adult.

A parent who has impossibly high expectations for their children can easily set the bar too high for a child struggling to come to grips with their own abilities, capabilities, and preferences. Trying to bear up under a disapproving parent whom you can never please can create unshakeable low self-worth.

Indifferent parents can have the same effect. It can be debilitating when we feel as though nothing we do can gain their loving attention or approval. That can make anyone feel useless and even worthless.

Teachers can have the same effect. If they employ a negative teaching strategy that creates fear-of-failure, punishes mistakes, and focuses on weakness, that can have a profoundly negative effect on self-image and crush any desire to improve.


Social acceptance – or, more precisely, lack of it -- is another common cause of low self-esteem. Social media today can be brutal on individuals who don’t fit in with what’s considered commonly acceptable. Gender identity, fashion, fitness, and looks are just a few of the myriad standards by which people are judged socially acceptable or unacceptable by any given group.

We’re trained to believe that by not being any of those socially-acceptable things, we have somehow failed at life.

Women especially are susceptible to social shaming and “failure to achieve.” Every decade or so, trends in women’s “ideal” appearance change – few of which are achievable by most women. And although women can acknowledge how ludicrous these expectations are, they still feel demoralized if they don’t fit the mold, leading to one of the most prevalent causes of low self-esteem among females.

Unrealistic self-expectations can trip up even the most pro-active and positive individuals of both sexes. We set impractical goals for ourselves and when we inevitably fall short, we punish ourselves. Setting goals that are unachievable creates an environment in which failure is not an option but a certainty. And with constant failure comes lower self-esteem.

Over time, these and other causes of low self-esteem create growing stress in an endless cycle of negative self-worth that festers until it openly  manifests itself. We then engage in some bad, life-altering incident or activity that results from a misguided effort to somehow make all that negativity go away. And that’s no way to live.

It’s time to take action

Fortunately, it‘s never too early or too late to tackle the issue of low self-esteem. Even the smallest of steps is a step in the right direction. For example, start a process of self-examination by journaling to uncover the roots of what makes you think less of yourself.  Here's a great actionable guide to use in your self-esteem challenge journaling process:   How To Fight Low Self-Esteem

The simple act of writing down your experiences from childhood and growing up may help you discover the initial causes of negative thinking. Did your parents always expect too much? Did you have a teacher who never seemed satisfied with your efforts? Was there a bully in your past who got under your skin? Even the smallest of negative incidents can have a profound effect if it happens at just the wrong time or place in your life. Capturing it on the pages of a journal can help you analyze it in the safety and comfort of a time and place of your choosing, help you see it for what it is, and take away its power over you.

Self-esteem lives in the unconscious realm of our psyche and it takes a little effort to tease it out into daylight. Journaling can help with this process. Writing honestly about what you have felt and believed in your life is a great way to slowly, methodically take action; to overcome negativity with the power of positive thinking and help you develop the high self-esteem you rightfully deserve.  



Leave Comment