What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

Throughout the recent decades, psychology has become extremely popular in western countries. Starting from all kinds of coaching programs, personality trainings, and professional psychotherapy sessions, psychology is constantly being at the center of public attention. Terms like “subconsciousness,” “psychological resistance,” “self-esteem,” calls to “love yourself” and “accept your uniqueness” sound from almost everywhere. At the same time, people seem to often simplify and misunderstand the basics of psychology. People talk about how important it is to increase self-esteem and accept oneself—but no one says how exactly this can be done, or what may become an obstacle. Self-esteem, in particular, is the term that is juggled with the most frequently; “increasing self-esteem” is probably the most popular advice people give to each other on every possible occasion. At the same time, as it is often the case in psychology, low self-esteem is not just the way a person thinks about himself or herself, but rather a complex aggregate of behavioral and mental patterns, changing which requires much more patience and effort than simply saying to oneself, “I am awesome.” Let us take a closer look at what exactly causes people to underestimate themselves.

Decreased self-esteem, or the inhibited feeling of self-worth is influenced, as it is often the case, by the problems in communication with authoritative others in childhood. This is especially true if a child is raised while being constantly criticized, taught how to do things “right,” and not appreciated no matter how hard he or she tries, or shamed and blamed. This causes a child to grow up into an adult that constantly doubts his or her worth, trying to please other people in order to gain acceptance or to avoid critics. At the same time, there is a “passive” way parents can harm their child. Even if they do not criticize their child, inactive, emotionally-cold parents contribute to a child developing low self-esteem in the future; children need to feel love and attention from their parents, and if parents are preoccupied and do not (or cannot) notice their child’s behaviors, accomplishments, and manifestations, it can also cause psychological harm. A child in such a family may feel unnoticed, unimportant, and abandoned. This may cause a person to develop a need to “apologize” for their existence—for example, trying to be “useful,” or justify the fact of his or her life in some other ways. In addition, when parents or other authoritative figures raising a child are in conflict with each other, it can pose psychological danger as well: feeling overwhelmed and scared by constant conflicts, a child may develop a sense of guilt, considering himself or herself somehow responsible for the fact that adults are fighting with each other. This may result in feeling “tainted,” “guilty,” and can be carried on into adult life (Psychology Today).

Children, when in groups, can be extremely cruel—this is a well-known fact, although it does not mean that children are bad: because they are in the process of adopting and understanding social norms, since they are only learning empathy and compassion, children often cannot distinguish between what is wrong and what is right. As a result, they can cause physical and psychological pain to each other. Rather often, there is a child who is somehow different from others: poorer, smarter, awkward, and so on; such children usually become objects for bullying and hatred. Negative attitudes from peers and being subjected to bullying decreases self-esteem dramatically. It is an innate need of every person to be a part of some group, to be respected and recognized; even for adults, it can be difficult to stay in a hostile or negligent collective of people. For children, it can be devastating: having to face hostile environments day by day, year by year (for example, because a child has to go to the same school, and is ashamed to tell his or her parents about being bullied and humiliated) may cause an individual to think that something is wrong with them, that they are somehow “bad” or inferior (Good Choices Good Life). Needless to say that such feelings transit to adult life, causing painful doubts in a person’s self-worth, obstructing communication and trust with other people, and making such a person to feel ashamed for every small discrepancy in their looks, way of thinking, and so on.

Yet another way to cause a child to develop low self-esteem is abuse: emotional, physical, or sexual—it does not matter. Any case of abuse is a potential psychological trauma, which can remain in a child’s psyche for years (sometimes for his or her entire life); abuse in the past may even cause PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which only makes a child’s condition worse, making him or her constantly feel “damaged” and worthless (self-confidence.co.uk). For many people, the facts of physical or any other abuse cause severe distress, and can lead to depression, addiction, and other forms of negative self-attitude. An abused child requires psychological help—the sooner, the better.

There are many ways in which parents, environments, and peers can cause a child to develop low self-esteem, which later transits to adult life. Negligence, emotional coldness, criticism, a lack of appreciation, bullying, humiliation, as well as abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) can harm a child’s psyche. In order to help a person overcome such traumas, the help of a professional psychotherapist may be needed.

Works Cited

Lachmann, Suzanne. “10 Sources of Low Self-Esteem.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 05 July 2017.

“8 Common Causes of Low Self-Esteem.” Good Choices Good Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2017.

“Top Ten Facts About Low Self Esteem.” Self-confidence.co.uk. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2017.

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