Understanding self-esteem

Broadly speaking, self-esteem is your general opinion about yourself. This involves feelings and beliefs about your worth, abilities, achievements, strengths and weaknesses. Exactly what self-esteem is, or its value, is a matter of debate. One thing most people agree on, is that it’s unhelpful to have low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is closely related to numerous other concepts. Self-worth, self-belief, self-respect, self-acceptance, self-love, self-care, self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-doubt, self-centredness, selfishness, self-pity, self-loathing. Each of these concepts interact with and inform self-esteem. They are all relevant to our relationship with our internal self.

Self–esteem can be specific or general. Specific self–esteem is acknowledging that you have a strength or skill in a particular domain. General self–esteem is a broader sense of being a good, valuable or moral person.

Low self–esteem is commonly associated with feelings of shame, worthlessness, incompetence, guilt, embarrassment, self-loathing, pessimism, a negative worldview and general life dissatisfaction.

Other symptoms of low self–esteem include:

  • Feeling overwhelmingly self-conscious, and avoiding socialising or other opportunities
  • Putting yourself down or criticising yourself often
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling guilt or responsibility for events or situations beyond your control

What causes low self-esteem?

It’s not uncommon for people to feel low self–esteem at various times in life. This often happens after a major setback or perceived failure, such as job loss or a relationship breakdown. It usually declines during periods of high stress or when things aren’t going according to plan.

Causes for low self-esteem might include:

  • Difficulty adjusting to setbacks or perceived failures
  • Struggling with finances, addiction, physical or mental health issues
  • Bullying
  • Surviving an abusive relationship or childhood
  • Trauma including physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Negative self-talk

Low self-esteem in relationships

The people we interact with can also influence our self–esteem, particularly in close relationships. People with low self-esteem sometimes pursue relationships with others who mistreat them, as it confirms core beliefs they hold about themselves. This perpetuates feelings of worthlessness. Experiences of excessive criticism and conditional love during childhood tend to contribute to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem tends to originate in adolescence and early adulthood, but our later relationships can help maintain these feelings and beliefs.

Increasing self-esteem

Self–esteem can be a difficult goal to aim for. It doesn’t appear to be strongly correlated with material wealth or achievements. Some people are able to acknowledge many positive qualities and life circumstances yet still have a generally low opinion of themselves.

It tends to increase as a result of other positive actions and developments. There are few known reliable paths to increasing self–esteem. Self–esteem tends to be a by-product of how we relate to others, how we spend our time, the values we hold and the extent to which we live in accordance with them.

People whose self–esteem is tethered to external factors or temporary circumstances may run into trouble at some point. More fixed, essential parts of ourselves such as personality traits and deeply-held core values, are sturdier foundations on which to base self-esteem. Relying upon the validation and praise of others is also unreliable, as they cannot fundamentally change our relationship with our internal self.

How Seed Psychology can help you

The highly trained and experienced psychologists at Seed Psychology can help you to improve self–esteem by developing new cognitive skills and coping strategies. Our psychologists use client-focussed, evidence-based psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to assist you in identifying unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. We can help you to build assertiveness, confidence, resilience and increase your awareness of your own strengths and abilities. We will use these psychotherapeutic techniques to help you to build self-compassion, increase self-esteem and regain your mental health and wellbeing.

Contact us now to book an appointment.