The etiology of most human behavior can be explored in the nature/nurture debate. But when it comes to self-esteem, we now know with certainty there are always external causes why you have low self-esteem.
No one is born with low self-esteem. For most individuals who struggle with low self-esteem, self-critical thought patterns develop over time as a result of external stimuli and input from others. This typically happens during adolescence and teenage years as a result of internalized messages from parents, friends, and teachers.
Below are some common causes of low self-esteem. Remember that low self-esteem can be improved, but simply identifying potential causes isn’t enough to make lasting changes. This is something that can and should be explored through therapy or coaching.
Why you have Low Self-Esteem
1. Parental Input
The most important influence in a child’s life is their parents. If the parents themselves have a healthy self-esteem they will be able to more easily pass it on to the child. Conversely, children of parents with low self-esteem will, more often than not, adopt this belief about themselves.
To help instill a positive self-esteem in children, parents should always offer love, patience and encouragement and avoid criticism, unfair comparisons and unrealistic expectations.
2. Negative Self Talk
When children are criticized to much, they typically develop a negative pattern of thinking. If not corrected, these patterns often turn into a destructive loop of negative thoughts like:
- I’m not good enough.
- I’m not pretty enough.
- Everyone’s laughing at me.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I can’t do it.
These self-critical thoughts eventually become core beliefs, and the person’s behavior then changes to match those beliefs.
Given this info, it’s easy to see that self-esteem is not an inherited trait like eye color or height, but rather a set of acquired beliefs. And like everything that is acquired, self-esteem can be altered.
3 Ways To Improve Self-Esteem
1. Challenge Your Inner Critic
That self-critical voice in your mind must be silenced and replaced with a supportive one. So how do you do this? First, when a negative thought pops into your head, simply become aware of it and treat that thought like an object in a store you’re deciding whether you want to buy or not. Ask yourself, “If I allow myself to get attached to this thought, does this move me toward the life I want, or away?”
You could also challenge the thought by asking two questions:
- Is there any evidence that proves this thought is correct?
- Would my trends and family agree with this self-critical thought?
Chances are the answers you’ll get most often are “no” and “no.” When this happens enough times, you’ll start to believe that just maybe, your inner critic is entirely…well, an asshole. Mine certainly is. ????
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
So many people spend countless hours measuring their worth and value against others’ instead of embracing what makes them unique. Hello social media!?!? Don’t believe me about social media? Ask yourself how often you feel better about yourself after scrolling on social media.
If you want to have any chance at improving your self-esteem, it’s critical that you stop spending time comparing yourself to others and start spending time sharing your unique talents and ideas with the world.
3. Stop Striving for Perfection
After practicing therapy for a decade and a half, I’ve yet to encounter a truly happy perfectionist.
Perfection is a myth. Just like The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and The Easter Bunny. The sooner you let go of the need for perfection, the sooner you will find peace and happiness.
Human beings are never finished. We are lovely works in progress, ever-changing and growing. And, since we will never stop evolving, we must recognize that we can never be better than we are in this moment, only in the next.
So, stop trying to be perfect and just focus on learning from your mistakes and working on your weaknesses.
Life is hard enough as it is without letting the asshole that lives in your head make it harder. If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help teach you how to tune out the nonsense your mind is giving you so you can focus on what’s right in front of you.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.