Do you believe in yourself? Do you give yourself the credit you deserve? Self-esteem is an integral part of personal happiness, fulfilling relationships and achievement.
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 1980s 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, the 4 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.
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 behaviour. If self esteem can be too low it can also be too high. It was a crazy and unwarranted assumption that all human behaviour could be explained away by low self esteem.
So what are the symptoms of real low self esteem?
Characteristics of Genuinely Low Self Esteem
- Social withdrawal
- Anxiety and emotional turmoil
- Lack of social skills and self confidence. Depression and/or bouts of sadness
- Less social conformity
- Eating disorders
- Inability to accept compliments
- An Inability to see yourself ‘squarely’ – to be fair to yourself
- Accentuating the negative
- Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
- Self neglect
- Treating yourself badly but NOT other people
- Worrying whether you have treated others badly
- Reluctance to take on challenges
- Reluctance to put yourself first or anywhere.
- Reluctance to trust your own opinion
- Expecting little out of life for yourself.
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.
People with high self-esteem mostly cope better with life’s problems than those with low self-confidence.
They tend not to stay in bad relationships – because they know they would be better living alone than with someone who doesn’t make them feel good about themselves.
They rarely develop addictions to drink or drugs – or get deeply depressed either. Of course, they have their difficulties, just like we all do. But they are better equipped to survive them than people who lack self-confidence. Interestingly, a lot of men and women who appear confident – particularly in their careers – actually have quite low self-esteem. This is tough on them, because no one suspects they are insecure underneath or that they need help.
Self-esteem is all about how you estimate yourself. But if you don’t rate yourself very highly, chances are others won’t either.