Low self-esteem can overshadow your entire life.
You lack confidence relating to others. That makes it difficult to establish relationships and thrive in social environments. It makes it difficult to hold your own with your friends and partners. Low self-esteem also impacts your career and working life.
But perhaps the worst part of low self-esteem is that you feel it even when you are by yourself. You feel inadequate, you compare yourself negatively to others, you don’t believe in yourself.
Overcoming low self-esteem can be a long journey.
And while it is very helpful to practice new behavior patterns and change unrealistic negative thinking, it is equally important to look at what caused your low self-esteem in the first place. Some of the main causes of low self-esteem are childhood experiences that undermine your confidence and change the way think of yourself.
Some of the main childhood causes of low self-esteem are
As a child, you seek your parents’ love and approval. Toddlers run up to their moms and shout: “Look what I did! Look what I can do!” Even very small children try to coax a smile out of their dads by behaving in ways they hope will find approval. For a small child, parental approval means survival. The parent will continue to care for the child.
It also means a sense of security. And from that sense of security, the child can grow. However, if the parents withhold approval, or if they actively disapprove much of the time, the child will start to feel insecure. They will feel they did something wrong. But most of the time, they don’t know what. Should they not have shown their dad the picture they just drew? Should they not have been proud of their new dance steps?
This kind of experience is one of the major causes of low self-esteem.
If it happens repeatedly, then the low self-esteem is reinforced.
Fear based teaching
Fear generates low self-esteem. In some learning environments, fear plays a big part. It may be a fear of punishment, made worse by unclear rules, that the child is always uncertain about doing something wrong. This then, transforms into a fear that there is something intrinsically wrong with them, or shame, whatever they do.
Pressure to perform, or even to overachieve, can also be one of the causes of low self-esteem. The child learns to value themselves only through grades and awards or by some other system of highly visible external approval valued by authority figures. The impact is equally damaging for high achieving and low achieving students.
Unfortunately, parents and teachers are not the only ones who can undermine a child’s self-esteem. Bullying by other kids, at school or in the playground, is a huge challenge to the way a child feels about themselves.
While parental approval, love and encouragement are the main sources of healthy self-esteem in early childhood, approval by the peer group becomes more and more important as we grow up. A fear of not ‘fitting in’, of being bullied for being different in terms of race, background, gender, religion or social behaviour is a major childhood cause of low self-esteem. Loss of confidence is the natural consequence of being bullied.
In the most severe cases, the cause of low self-esteem can be childhood trauma such as sexual or physical abuse, disasters, severe illness or bereavement. All of these experiences send a message to the child that the world around them is not safe. Nothing can be trusted. Survivors of childhood abuse often also have to contend with being blamed for the crimes that were committed against them.
The causes of low self-esteem are indeed often rooted in childhood. This is why counseling and psychotherapy are so useful and so successful in treating it. By healing the deep original wounds to self-image and our view of the world you can begin to repair the small child inside you who needs to believe in him or herself and be at peace.
For further information, please take a look at my specialty page on individual counseling.