What Causes Low Self Esteem?

It can be interesting to think about what causes low self esteem. It can even help to overcome it, when you understand that having low self esteem is not your fault.

Low self esteem usually develops early and it can last a lifetime if it is not treated. Many people do not realize that they have low self esteem because the way they feel about themselves seems normal to them. In some cases it is deeply engrained in families, communities or cultures.

There are many influences that can cause a child to view itself and its position in the world in a negative way.  Some of these are clear: a child who has been the victim of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or frequent harsh punishment is likely to grow up with low self esteem.

Other things are more subtle and harder to prevent. Being different can be enough to make a child develop low self esteem, especially if they are teased or bullied or are the victim of prejudice. Feeling that they are not meeting standards set by their parents or peers (other children of their age) can lead to a feeling of being ‘not good enough’, which also causes low self esteem.

Here’s an interesting point that has come up from some research studies. They have found that praise or criticism have a bigger effect on a child when the child is already in the frame of mind that relates: so a child will feel praised more deeply if she is already feeling good about herself, and she will feel criticized more deeply if she is already feeling bad about herself. This means that one’s opinion of oneself – either positive or negative – is easily reinforced. We could almost say that low self esteem causes low self esteem.

But self esteem is not only affected by the feedback that we receive about ourselves. It is also closely related to how we have learnt to feel about others. A person who has low self esteem will also be likely to have negative feelings about other people, including lack of trust.

This means that children can grow up with low self esteem if they see others around them being criticized heavily.

So it seems that living in an overly judgmental situation causes low self esteem, even if the judgments are not about oneself. A child who is taught that certain people are bad will grow up believing that it is possible to be a bad person. Naturally they will infer from this that it is possible that they themselves are bad.

On the other hand a child who grows up believing that it is not people who are bad, but only their behavior, is more likely to have a strong sense of self acceptance and esteem, as well as being less critical of other people. So if you have kids or spend time around them, it is very important to think before you speak, to avoid saying anything that causes low self esteem.

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