How Low Self-Esteem Affects Mental Health

Our self-esteem is formed by the opinions and beliefs we hold about ourselves. The feelings we hold about ourselves (whether positive or negative) are linked to our overall wellbeing and influence many facets of our daily lives. For example, self-esteem can affect whether we value ourselves, can make decisions, and recognize individual strengths and achievements.

At various points throughout life, it is natural to experience low confidence and self-doubt. However, when low self-esteem becomes a consistent part of life, it takes a toll on our mental, emotional and physical health. Conversely, a healthy level of self-esteem enables us to build resilience and better cope with the ups and downs of life.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can occur at any time, but it often takes root in childhood. Parents, friends, siblings, teachers and other outside sources send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. The human brain is wired in such a way that the negative messages are more likely to stick with us well into our adult lives. You may have found it difficult to meet the expectations of loved ones, or even your own. Leading the feeling that you aren’t good enough to travel with you through life.

In some cases, different personality types are more likely to experience low self-esteem. Some people set themselves impossible standards and others naturally lean toward negative thinking. When left unchallenged these traits can impact self-esteem. Even those with a naturally positive disposition can experience self-esteem issues due to stressful life events. Bereavement, illness, or redundancy can negatively affect self-esteem. Other common causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Pre-existing mental health problems

  • Experiencing prejudice, discrimination or stigma

  • Being bullied or abused

  • Prolonged stress

  • Problems at work

  • Problems during studies

  • Physical health issues

  • Financial problems e.g. money or housing

  • Relationship problems such as separation or divorce

How Does Low Self-Esteem Manifest?

Low self-esteem enforces the belief that we are not good enough or don’t deserve happiness, leading to a negative self-image and negative self-talk. Those experiencing low self-esteem find decision making difficult and self-rewards for achievements rarely take place. Low self-esteem or confidence can also cause people to stop trying new things, avoid challenges or hide from social situations. This behavior feels “safe” at first, however, over the long term it reinforces existing doubts and fears. Unhelpful habits such as smoking or drinking too much can occur as a means to cope with feelings of low self-esteem.

Having low self-esteem itself isn’t a mental health problem, but mental health and self-esteem are very much intertwined. Experiencing a continuous sense of low self-esteem in combination with other factors can lead to depression or anxiety. Some experiences that we feel are created only by low self-esteem can indicate other underlying conditions. Feeling worthless, hopeless, hating yourself or blaming yourself unfairly alongside low self-esteem are red flags; especially if they last over a sustained period or impact daily life. In these cases, it is advisable to seek help from a medical practitioner or mental health professional.

How to Build Healthy Self-Esteem

Self-esteem underpins our life experiences, relationships, career choices and more; making it one of the most important areas to build upon. Learning to love and appreciate ourselves will help us to strive in the above and other areas of our lives. Yes, it can be challenging to change deep-rooted opinions about ourselves, and if you have an existing mental health problem, it may feel especially hard to cope or take steps to improve in this area. But it is possible. Therapy can empower us to start our journey toward improved self-worth.

There are also accessible steps that we can all take to gradually build self-esteem:

1- We are only human and it is ok to ask for help and support when needed.

2- Consider participating in a community project. Helping others and building personal connections is a great way to improve self-esteem.

3- Treat yourself kindly and see mistakes as opportunities to grow and learn rather than personal failures.

4- Practice compassion by forgiving others and yourself.

5- Establish healthy boundaries. Consider areas such as eating, personal time, work, and social habits.

6- Set yourself a challenge, start with something small and reward yourself for the achievement. Remember avoidance might feel safe, but it only reinforces our fears or insecurities over time.

7- A little self-care can go a long way to reduce stress. Plan an activity that nourishes your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Therapy can also empower us to take steps toward a stronger sense of self-worth. Much progress can be made when we are given a warm, supportive, and safe environment to express our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. If you would like to know more about our services, please don’t hesitate to reach out. (512) 400-4247.

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