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Published: March 22, 2017

Signs Of Low Self-Esteem And The Root Causes You Might Not Know

People who have low self esteem are always hard on themselves. Sometimes they even cannot truly accept compliments because they would second guess people’s intentions.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Unable to trust your own opinion
  • Always overthinking
  • Afraid to take challenges, being worried you wouldn’t overcome them
  • Hard on yourself but lenient with others
  • Frequent anxiety and emotional turmoil

Some lesser-known symptoms:

Being a workaholic

At work expectations are set clearly. Even if there’s pressure in the workplace, compared to relationships or the social world where so much is unknown and uncontrollable, work is more straightforward. It’s easier to meet the expectations and perform well at work. Therefore, some people with low self-esteem would shift their focus to work and put all their energies there.

Overachieving or underachieving

Many of us have already heard that people with low self-esteem tend to be under-achievers as they’re too afraid to take new challenges and not confident enough to fully utilize their talents. However, there’s another extreme. Some of them are too anxious of failure and being rejected, so they will try their very best to be outstanding to prove their worth.

What are the causes of low self-esteem?1

Most of the time it stems from our childhood.

Negative early experience that leads to low self-esteem:

  • Frequent punishment
  • Frequent neglect
  • Chronic abuse
  • Harsh parental standards
  • Being bullied/boycotted
  • Being on the receiving end of someone else’s stress or despair
  • Lack of praise, warmth and affection
  • Staying in a family or group where other members are prejudiced towards

Childhood is when we form our “Bottom Line” and “Rules for Living” which affects the way we think, that’s why all the negative early experiences can have a very long-lasting effect on our adulthood.

What is “Bottom Line” and how does it affect your self-esteem

“Bottom Line” is how you usually feel about something, based on your early experience. For example, “how you felt when you first left home becomes the emotional bottom line for when you leave other things in your life.”, according to therapist Robert Taibbi 2.

When we talk about self-esteem, the bottom line is about how people around you treat you, as we grow up taking the voices of people who are significant to us. Did they say you’re adorable, or you’re always not good enough? Did they neglect you that made you feel worthless?

That largely affects the way you view yourself and hence affect your self-esteem.

How does “Bottom Line” determine your “Rules for Living

Based on the “Bottom Line”, we would form our “Rules for Living”, which are the strategies for dealing with life. For example, if you have the belief that you are always inferior to others, your Rules for Living would be “better not to speak up and to keep a low profile”.

How low self-esteem affects every aspect of your life

It makes you confuse love with low self-esteem

Having a low self-esteem, you expect people to treat you badly. When people are being just quite nice to you, you feel overjoyed and have unrealistically good feelings for them. This can be easily mistaken as love and also scare people away who might be just interested in being friends with you (at first).

It makes you have a lower hand in the relationship

As you think your partner is too good for you, you bear things that you shouldn’t stand for. Sometimes you even confuse love with self-esteem. Are you giving in really because you love him/her so much or you just dare not to speak up and bargain?

It makes your employers feel that you’re not talented

People with low esteem sometimes are actually gifted. But they don’t know how to show it and “sell” themselves. During meeting they keep quiet, during presentation they speak weakly, during daily conversation they say “sorry” and “maybe” too often…As a result, employers and other colleagues perceive people with low esteem as people without much talents.

It can lead to depression

Over time low self-esteem can lead to depression according to a study done by University of Basel researchers3. Psychologist Dr. Lars Madsen added that low self-esteem is “a key factor in both the development and maintenance of depression”.

So how to improve self-esteem?

As we can see, low self-esteem is a deeply rooted issue and leads to lots of consequences. To solve it, it’s not an easy task, but it’s possible. The key is, to use the right ways.

Ignore all those “positivity” advice

Very often we hear people say “Stay positive”, “Hey cheer up!”. People with depression know all these do not help. It just makes them feel worse.

Same for low self-esteem, simply telling people “To me you’re wonderful!”, “You’re actually awesome”, “Why don’t you appreciate yourself more?”, or even worse “Hey you should be more confident” does not improve their self-esteem. Instead they would feel inadequate or even guilty of their behavior.

To improve self-esteem, you need to focus elsewhere

“Healthy self esteem needs to emerge subtly”4.

Same as happiness, you don’t immediately feel happier when you tell yourself to be happier. You need some concrete ways to do so like pursuing a goal that truly matters to you, like spending quality time with your loved ones.

When you want to improve your self-esteem, don’t try too hard on thinking of ways to do so. There’s no direct way to improve it. It should be a by-product of our overall life’s satisfaction.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow5, to live a fulfilling life, you should take care the 5 levels of human basic needs. To help you understand more about this psychological model we made a video to explain it. Or you can refer to the graph below first:

5 levels of human basic needs

To focus elsewhere, we’ve summarized the above items and put them into this list for you to focus on:

  • Deep connection with loved ones
  • A healthy body
  • Sense of control
  • A meaningful life purpose
  • Recognition and respect from others
  • Sense of security
  • Creativity

As you gradually equip yourself with the skills to fulfil the above needs, you’ll forget about self-esteem and suddenly you’ll find that you just feel proud of yourself when you know so much that others don’t.

To start with, here’s a list of the best self-help books that can help you fulfil the goals:

  1. How to Win Friends & Influence People
  2. Outliers: The Story of Success By Malcolm Gladwell
  3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
  4. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
  5. The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health
  6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Busines
  7. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
  8. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
  10. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

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