Dear Diary: Dealing with Low Self Esteem

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

We’ve all been in situations where we felt inadequate or couldn’t seem to stop critiquing our own actions. These are hallmarks of low self esteem. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about self esteem with a search online.

At its core, low self esteem is a biased viewpoint that we hold against ourselves. It’s a little voice that tells us we are not as good as the people around us. There are a few ways that you can combat low self esteem in your daily life.

How does low self esteem develop?

One could say that self esteem is created when we take what we have heard people say about us and internalize it. It is one aspect of the way we view ourselves. Our self esteem generally develops at a very young age. The viewpoints of our parents, teachers, and friends all inform our self esteem because we hear what they say about us before we’re able to differentiate it from the truth.

By the time we are old enough to realize that what others say about us isn’t always 100% true, we’ve already internalized it. When a person’s internal voice is a negative force in their life, we call that low self esteem.

What situations lead to the development of low self esteem?

There are key experiences that we have early on in life that inform our self esteem. These experiences are things like making friends, interacting with authority, and other stressful situations. They are hardships that are meant to test us, and the way that we respond to them helps determine our self esteem.

If you are faced again and again with strife or trouble, you may begin to feel like the only connecting factor is you, which causes you to see yourself in a negative light.

What does it feel like?

Having low self esteem is a horrible feeling. It’s as if every negative thing people have said about you gets repeated in your head over and over. You say things to yourself that you would never dream of saying to a loved one or friend because you don’t realize how damaging it truly is.

The longer you live your life with low self esteem, the harder it is to remedy because you become accustomed to living with a biased perspective, which means that you may be more willing to jump to conclusions if it affirms a negative belief about yourself.

How come people have low self esteem even when they’re successful?

One important thing to realize about low self esteem is that it’s not based on our self-image (i.e., the way we look and physically see ourselves). It’s purely an emotional reaction to the negative voices in our heads.

This means that even if a person has a perfect life, with a perfect family or perfect job, they won’t feel satisfied. They’ll still fixate on all of the negative aspects of themselves that they can find, and catastrophize about the potential of things going wrong.

What are some consequences of low self esteem?

There are many negative side effects from low self esteem, other than the obvious continual feelings of inadequacy and sadness. Another side effect can include relationship insecurity. A person with low self esteem will generally project their feelings of unworthiness onto a partner. For example, if they don’t feel like they deserve respect, they will often disrespect their partner as a defense mechanism.

Other times, people act as if they think they’re the coolest person in the world, in order to cover up the fact that they really feel the opposite. Many times, the people who brag or treat people with calculated indifference are actually those with the lowest self esteem.

Is low self esteem something we can change?

Our self esteem is something that, with careful effort and hard work, we can change. It’s hard to undo a lifetime of damage if you suffer from low self esteem, but with some calculated work, it can be done. It’s important to remember that our self esteem is really just an opinion – not a fact.

Even if it seems like every little detail of your life is pointing to the fact that you’re not as good as everyone else around you, try to keep in mind that this is an example of confirmation bias. We tend to notice things that confirm an existing opinion, not form a new one.

Here are a few things that you can do to help improve your low self esteem.

Talk to a therapist

Getting an appointment with a therapist that you connect with is the first step on your journey out of low self esteem. A therapist can help you get to the root of why you have low self esteem in the first place, and can help break down some negative beliefs you have about yourself.

The first step in getting a therapist is reaching out to find one that you trust. If you’re able, consult some friends and see if they have any recommendations. Then, search in your area and see if any listings pop out to you. Don’t be afraid of asking any therapist for a quick interview to see whether or not you would be a good fit for their practice.

Practice being non-judgmental

We are often so harsh with ourselves that we would be horrified if anyone ever heard us speak those words. We would never speak to a close friend or family member the way we speak to ourselves. So, next time you’re tempted to pass judgment on yourself, pretend that the same thing happened to a friend of yours.

Experiment with speaking to yourself in the same way that you would nurture a loved one. This may help alleviate some of the damage that low self esteem has caused.

Practice mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness is the study of being present in every moment. With all of the distractions that we experience daily, mindfulness is a way of taking time out for yourself, so that you’re able to enjoy exactly where you are without seeking to change either your circumstances or yourself.

It also helps you to recognize your thoughts for what they are – emotions or opinions, but never facts. There are several great apps out there that can help you on your mindfulness journey. One of the best is Headspace, which has both a free and paid component, and can help guide you through several different kinds of mindfulness meditations.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to see your thoughts written out on a page, so that you can begin analysing them for ways that they contribute to your low self esteem. Writing can also bring things from your subconscious mind into your conscious mind, so that you’re able to really look at why you think a certain way.

If you’re new to journaling, try to start by spending at least five minutes a day writing freely, without stopping or editing yourself. You can gradually increase the time that you spend on your journal, but the important thing is just to start!

Let go of your desire to please others

Often people have low self esteem because they feel like they aren’t good enough, or aren’t as good as the people around them. This leads to people faking emotions in order to fit in better with those around them. While it might be tempting to “fake it till you make it,” it’s more important that you’re honest with yourself.

Don’t try and please others by acting a certain way. The people that you choose to spend time with should love you no matter what. If you find this isn’t the case, maybe it’s time to rethink who you’re spending your time with.

Remember that you only live once

Sure, it’s cheesy, but it’s also true. You only live once. While it might be tempting to live your entire life afraid of failure, it’s important to remember that life is about learning, and the only way that you learn is by making mistakes.

You cannot possibly believe that you’re born knowing all the answers, so don’t be afraid of getting out there and getting a bit messy in your quest for a healthy, meaningful life.

Jordana Weiss