Low Self-esteem: Causes and Consequences of Not Appreciating Yourself

By Dotun Ola

Self-esteem, the appreciation we feel for ourselves, begins to develop early in life based on the experiences we go through.

Everything that we have been experiencing since then is shaping our self-perception and the concept that we form about ourselves (self-concept) and based on this we will develop low or high self-esteem.

What experiences are related to your origin?

Some examples of factors that contribute to us developing poor self-esteem may be the following:

  • Repeated abuse, neglect, or punishment
  • Not meeting parental standards
  • Not meeting the standards of the peer group (people of the same age)
  • Being the subject of another person’s stress or anxiety release
  • Belonging to a social group towards which there are prejudices
  • Lack of affection, affection, or interest
  • Being “the ugly duckling” in some significant context such as at home or school
  • Negative adult life experiences such as abuse, bullying, trauma, or violence

As we grow up, the criticisms, the negative evaluations, the comparisons, or the judgments that we have received, leave their “seed” in us and it is those negative evaluations that shape our self-concept. In this case, all those negative evaluations will lead to a negative self-concept and low self-esteem.

How do you take hold and maintain poor self-esteem?

Later, we will be facing different situations in life that could question the negative concept we have about ourselves but this self-concept is quite rigid so, instead of modifying it, we will adapt what we experience to the self-concept.

This occurs because we bias our perception and interpretation of the world so that the experiences we live are consistent with our self-concept, confirming the negative beliefs we have about ourselves.

An example may be that we receive a compliment about our physical appearance and think that they are only saying it because they are trying to be nice, not because we deserve it.

These biases contribute to maintaining negative beliefs about us over time, largely determining our way of perceiving the world, anticipating negative events, and remaining alert to detect any event that confirms that we were right when we anticipated it. This closes the circle and we confirm our beliefs.

Consequences of low self-esteem

A negative self-concept translates into low self-esteem since negative beliefs about ourselves lead us to think that we are not valid enough people, so self-love is usually quite poor.

These beliefs of incapacity make us feel insecure when we face or anticipate situations or events in our lives because we think that we will not be able to carry them out successfully, and this insecurity can lead us to act in the following ways:

  • Avoidance of situations that we perceive as potentially “dangerous” for our emotional stability, such as giving a talk to a group of people, a situation in which we are exposed to the evaluations of others, and that further compromises our self-esteem for fear of negative reviews. In the short term, avoiding these situations is a relief, but the downside is that, by not exposing ourselves to the situation, we do not have the opportunity to see that our negative beliefs about ourselves are wrong, so we contribute to maintaining the negative self-concept.
  • Facing situations with extreme precautions, continuing with the previous example, practicing the talk that we are going to give over and over again until we learn it by heart and make sure that we will not make any mistakes. As in the previous case, we do not have the opportunity to see that our beliefs are wrong and if we are successful in giving the talk we will think that it is due to our precautions, so we continue to reinforce our beliefs.
  • Our performance can be affected when we carry out a task because we face it with greater insecurity by thinking that we will not be capable, which causes us high anxiety, which translates into poorer performance. We reconfirm our beliefs.
  • Our performance can be affected when we carry out a task because we face it with greater insecurity by thinking that we will not be capable, which causes us high anxiety, which translates into poorer performance. We reconfirm our beliefs.
  • Finally, low self-esteem can lead us to detract from the achievements we achieve, attributing success to factors such as chance, external help, or anything unrelated to our ability.

Low self-esteem daily

In everyday life, low self-esteem can manifest itself in many ways. People with low self-esteem tend to be self-critical, feel guilty relatively easily and be very insecure, focusing on their weaknesses instead of their strengths.

In addition to the behaviors described in the previous point, they may also be unassertive and feel angry, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, or sad, which can have a significant impact on their physical health as well.

In the workplace, it can translate into poor performance or a high level of perfectionism motivated by a strong fear of failure.

On a personal level, people with low self-esteem may be oversensitive to criticism, overly accommodating, or overly controlling.

As for leisure activities, they tend to avoid all those that are competitive or in which they have to expose themselves to other people’s evaluations.

Finally, low self-esteem can bring with it problems of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, or social anxiety, among others.

Self-esteem must begin to be cultivated from childhood, and it is the task of parents and educators to ensure that the child develops it. In this way, we avoid the vicious circle of negative beliefs-belief confirmation, which in the future will result in negative emotional (and/or physical) health.