Top Ten Facts about Low Self Esteem
By: Mark Tyrrell
If you suffer from low self esteem (or have been told you do), or treat people with low self esteem (or think you do), please read on. There are a fair few self esteem myths that can block your progress when trying to lift self esteem.
Low self esteem has been scientifically studied and the findings of this research helped inform the facts you’ll find here. (1)
Mark Tyrrell, co-author of the Self Confidence Trainer, completed a UK tours in 2002, 2003, 2004 & 2005 teaching thousands of health professionals the facts about self esteem and how to treat low self esteem in their patients. He has also co-authored a book on self esteem for Axis Publishing called The Giant Within – Maximise Your Self Esteem.
As you can imagine, Mark did a lot of research for his seminar ‘How to Lift Low Self Esteem’. He has listed his 10 most important ‘Tips’ for you here.
1) Low Self Esteem Not To Blame for being bad!
Firstly people with genuinely low self-esteem, a poor self image and low confidence, have been insensitively lumped together with bullies, narcissists, criminals and child abusers. No, really!
Popular assumption was that people did bad things to other people because they, themselves have low self esteem. But if you have ever asked yourself: “Do I have low self esteem” fear not. All the evidence points to the conclusion that low self esteem is a distinct condition, so if you do have self esteem you don’t have to feel that you are in the same group as bullies or abusers.
Research has found that people with genuine low self esteem tend to treat themselves badly not other people. Stopping people being bullies by trying to lift their self esteem may be like trying to get an obese person to lose weight by feeding them lots more cake.
In the 1980’s there was a movement to raise self esteem in schools in the belief that this would stop bullies bullying and prevent future crime in society. But peer reviewed research has shown schools trying to raise self esteem don’t prevent bullies bullying (2) (because low self esteem wasn’t causing them to bully).
Artificially and ineffectively focusing on lifting self esteem doesn’t raise academic performance either (3) As you’ll see in fact 4 the methods schools attempted to raise self esteem may have even damaged the sense of self worth in those suffering genuine low self esteem.
Low self esteem is not to blame for nearly as many problems as has traditionally been thought. It was also assumed that self esteem could never be too high.
2) Too high Self Esteem Linked to Criminality
It is now clear that too high self esteem or ‘High Self Esteem Disorder’ is often more of a problem. (This is NOT merely a ‘disguised’ form of low self-esteem, as commonly thought). So, if you are the victim of a bully then you can rest assured you don’t have to feel sorry for them.
Hundreds of pieces of reliable research now show that bullies and many criminals are much more likely to suffer from unrealistically high self esteem and impulse control problems than low self esteem. An exaggerated sense of entitlement – expecting much from many situations – is more likely to lead to frustration and aggressive, antisocial, or even criminal behavior. If self esteem can be too low it can also be too high. It was a crazy and unwarranted assumption that all human behavior could be explained a way by low self esteem.
1. Social withdrawal
2. Anxiety and emotional turmoil
3. Lack of social skills and self confidence. Depression and/or bouts of sadness
4. Less social conformity
5. Eating disorders
6. Inability to accept compliments
7. An Inability to see yourself ‘squarely’ – to be fair to yourself
8. Accentuating the negative
9. Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
10. Self neglect
11. Treating yourself badly but NOT other people
12. Worrying whether you have treated others badly
13. Reluctance to take on challenges
14. Reluctance to put yourself first or anywhere.
15. Reluctance to trust your own opinion
16. Expecting little out of life for yourself
So what is likely to cause very low self esteem? Tale a look at how to build self esteem. But one major factor is history.
4) Child Abuse Increases Likelihood of Low Self Esteem
People who were abused as children (physical beating or sexual abuse) are more likely to suffer low self esteem as adults (6) They have learned that they are of little value in themselves or just an object to be used. They have been ‘brain washed’ by constant criticism or abuse that they are a certain way. When a person begins to question this former conditioning or brainwashing then a healthier and more accurate sense of self can begin to emerge. This happens in a similar way to how people may break away from the brainwashing of a cult. There are other forms of abuse and certainly a history of being heavily criticized or unfavorably compared to others can lead to low self esteem (“why can’t you be more like your brother!”).
Former abuse may lead to post traumatic stress disorder which maintains the sense of “damage” and low self worth. Once traumatic memories are dealt with effectively the mind becomes clearer to form a better self esteem. So what else does the low self esteem sufferer need?
So past conditioning (often but not always from childhood) can produce low self esteem in adults. But why didn’t the drive to raise self esteem in school kids (starting in California with a legislature to raise self esteem) prevent childhood depression and low self esteem from rising?
5) You Can’t Argue Someone Better!
The 1980’s drive to raise low self esteem in schools backfired (4) Why? Well it was based on the idea that low self esteem can be successfully treated by a bombardment of “positive messages”. But research has shown that positive affirmations actually worsen the mood of people who already have low self esteem (5). It seems that positive thinking as a “blunt instrument” used repetitively to try to brainwash people to feel better about themselves is too superficial an approach. And the person with low self esteem senses this.
Telling someone they are great or wonderful when they are constantly negative about themselves will not work. Imagine if you really detest yourself and someone tells you that you’re lovely even as they are telling everyone else the same thing.
In fact people with low self esteem can be upset by disconfirming feedback. Healthy self esteem needs to emerge subtly, not as a sudden result of hearing you are ‘really special’ or ‘fantastic’.
Paradoxically, being “too nice” to someone with very low self esteem can drive them away. People need to develop better self esteem gradually, through “proof” in the real world. Just being repeatedly told (by someone who doesn’t know you that well) that “you’re wonderful” has never been found to work in lifting low self esteem.
Whenever we’re highly emotional our perception is distorted. When people calm down around the idea of themselves then a healthier self-esteem can emerge like a green island coming into view when mist clears.
What else do those with low self esteem need?
6) A Little More Uncertainty Can Help
Contrary to popular opinion, people with low self-esteem tend to be very sure of themselves. That’s the problem. This manifests in their conviction that they are worthless or inadequate. As you will know if you have ever tried to argue with someone who puts themselves down continually, it is very hard to do! When someone with low self esteem starts to become less sure of their own opinion of themselves and therefore begins to assess counter evidence regarding their worthlessness, their self image begins to become more healthy. At first the “ugly” duckling was certain it was a failed duck but that misdirected certainty had to loosen before it’s true life direction could become clear.
Good self esteem is actually a by product of living in a healthy way. So rather than trying to raise it directly it’s easier to focus elsewhere (such on what a person does) and let self esteem rise as happy side effect of a change in living. What do we all need in life that will help us incidentally feel better about ourselves?
7) Build on Solid Foundations
For anyone to be psychologically and physically healthy then core needs have to be fulfilled. Being clear about what you need and making efforts to meet those needs constructively means you’ll naturally have better self esteem as a by-product of living well.
1. The need to give and receive attention
2. The need to look after your body.
3. The need for meaning, purpose and goals.
4. The need for a connection to something greater than ourselves
5. The need for creativity and stimulation
6. The need for intimacy and connection to others.
7. The need for a sense of control
8. The need for a sense of status and recognition from others.
9. The need for a sense of safety and security
Of course, it is likely that at any one time, one or more of these may be slightly lacking in your life, without dire consequences. However, in the long-term, they must all be catered for one way or another.
Something else the “low self esteemer” needs is the capacity to focus off their own emotionality and merge with experience so they gain more enjoyment from life.
8) Healthy Pleasures Are Vital
When you have a healthy level of self esteem (not self hating but not narcissistically self involved either) then you find it easier to actually forget about yourself. You’ll only think about your toe if it’s in pain or if you are obsessively proud of it-otherwise it can take care of itself. It’s the same with your sense of self.
We all need to engage in activities which we enjoy and in which we can ‘lose ourselves’ regularly.
Someone’s mental and even, to some extent, physical health can be directly related to how ‘self-referential’ they are in their conversation – as people become healthier they use the ‘I’ word less (7), in the same way that when your knee stops hurting you don’t need to rub it any more. People should be encouraged to focus their attention away from themselves and this becomes easier once they have met their own basic emotional needs in healthy ways.
We all amplify some parts of our experience and minimize others. But if we habitually do this by expanding the bad stuff and linking that to self esteem whilst belittling the good stuff distancing positives from self esteem then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a psychologist) to see that low self esteem will result.
9) Make the Most of Success
To gain a more realistic view of yourself, you need to take appropriate credit for your successes. In the Self Confidence Trainer, we call this skill ‘Converting’.
This involves learning how to convert real successes into statements about your self. The other part of the picture is to view perceived failures as temporary and not statements manifestations of your ‘core identity’. When you stop discounting things that go well and magnifying stuff that doesn’t go so well you are less likely to be depressed or suffer low self esteem. Period.
Low self esteem treatment should consist of a balance between teaching new thinking, emotional and behavioural skills. See: How to Boost Self Esteem
Ultimately a healthy balance should be encouraged as should the development of real practical skills such as how to be assertive and build a social life.
10) It’s not just about Positive Thinking!
Positive thinking can be useful in that it challenges you to form a different view on things. However, most of the time it just takes the form of arguing with yourself, and as we’ve seen from 4) above, this doesn’t work.
Low self esteem may drive us to constantly and negatively compare ourselves to other people. As self esteem rises to a healthy level you’ll find that you do this much less. Check out this ‘do you have an inferiority complex?’ for more ideas on how to stop negatively comparing yourself to others.
To change your self image and improve low self esteem, you need to believe in an alternative opinion of yourself through experience, not just repeat platitudes about how great you are really! After all in the words of a wise man: “If you are not for yourself then who else will be?”
Here are 10 ways to have a more positive body image and enhanced sense of self-esteem.
by Dr. Randy Kamen Gredinger
1. Observe the internal messages you are telling yourself. For most of us it starts early in the morning in the bathroom. Right there is our first opportunity to stop the negative self-talk. For example, think of replacing “I hate my fat thighs” to “I need to start walking more regularly.” That way you are replacing a negative thought with a positive action, that will foster change and better self-perception. Practice affirmations that build your positive self-image.
2. Focus on the aspects of your body that you consider to be strengths; your hair, your smile, your skin, your legs. Take the emphasis away from what your consider to be your physical weaknesses.
3. Remind yourself that your imperfections are largely a creation of the media and that your health is most important. When you take your health seriously it usually means you’re taking better care of yourself and will look and feel better. A healthy diet will go a long way to improve your self-esteem.
4. Learn to value your uniqueness. Every body comes in a different and size and shape. Every body comes in a different and size and shape. Very few women fall into the super model category and ironically many of them suffer from their own issues around personal imperfections. Visualization and self-hypnosis also work for replacing negative body image and enhancing self-esteem.
5. Wear clothing that makes you feel good regardless of your weight, size or shape. Sometimes just buying a new pair of pants that fit well can change your whole experience of your body and self-esteem as well.
6. Talk to yourself with the same compassion and loving kindness you would show to a dear friend or someone you love. Somehow many of us have learned that it’s okay to treat ourselves poorly and then we turn the switch and treat others well.
7. Stop comparing yourself with other women. We each have our own gifts and life is not always fair. Find a way to work with what you’ve got, make it as good as you can, in the most loving way possible.
8. Pay attention to when your feelings about your body are displaced. Perhaps you haven’t been connecting with friends enough or haven’t had intimate experience of late. Sometimes loneliness or isolation gets translated in our minds into something else. So we might think obsessively about our body’s imperfections rather than the real issue that might be, “I’m lonely.”
9. Walk whenever possible in the fresh air. The oxygenation has a relaxation effect on the mind and body and helps the brain to fire up in a more positive way. When you are relaxed you won’t be as judgmental or self-punitive.
10. Stand up straight. Carrying yourself in good posture helps you to look and feel better. It is better for your back, neck and internal organs. Sometimes the feeling of self-esteem comes with the physical manifestation of looking the part. In other words, sometimes you need to “Fake it until you make it.”