What is Low Self Esteem?
Low Self Esteem is happening when in general, more times than not, we think about ourselves, judge or evaluate ourselves – negatively. We generally conclude that we, as a person, have a low value. So, surely we were not born this way, how does this ‘begin’?
Beginnings of Low Self Esteem
Psychologists work primarily with a learning model which means, we assume Low Self Esteem develops as a consequence of learning, that is – somewhere along the line we learned to think about ourselves in this way.
We may have had Negative Early Life Experiences combined with some Unhelpful or Misguided Behaviour that together combined created some Negative Core Beliefs about ourselves. After our Core Beliefs guided our perception of situations and problem solving we developed some Unhelpful Rules & Assumptions about ourselves, the world and life – and accepted – this is how things are.
Negative Early Life Experiences
Many times, the beliefs we accepted about ourselves are a product of events and happenings that occurred early in our lives or as psychologists say – learning. This means what happened to us in our childhood with respect to our experiences in family, with peers, in our culture, in the school we attended – have unavoidably shaped us and influenced the formation of the thoughts and beliefs we have accepted about ourselves.
If we have decided or developed negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves – is is very likely that negative experiences have contributed to the creation of these thoughts and beliefs.
These experiences could include things like …
- Neglect, abuse, punishment
- Failing in eyes of parents or to meet parent’s expectations
- Not finding acceptance at home or at school
- Difficulties conforming with standards of peer group
- Exposure to distress and stress experienced by others
- Family’s situation in society
- Lack of positive feedback or positive experiences
Negative experiences in Adulthood can also contribute to the development of Low Self Esteem. Experiences such as abuse within a close relationship or a workplace and prolonged exposure to stress or trauma can ’cause’ poor self esteem.
What are Negative Core Beliefs?
Negative Core Beliefs are the cause of Low Self Esteem in the present when our current situation is different from those in our past that were the original cause of the development of Low Self Esteem.
Negative Core Beliefs are essentially conclusions or decisions we made were we were children or young people – that explained to our satisfaction why we were experiencing certain negative events or happenings in our lives.
An example of how a Negative Core Belief develops is … imagine if you were a child who was constantly punished and criticized – sadly many adults I work with have this experience recorded in their memories. These kinds of experiences can lead to the development of a belief such as “I am worthless”, or “I am bad”,
These thoughts aggregate on the top of many experiences being punished and criticized and crystallize into what psychologists call a Core Belief or a firmly held conviction and strongly ingrained evaluation of our worth and value as a person. Core Beliefs often take the form of a statement or assertion that begins with the phrase “I am …”. For example, “I am stupid” or “I am not good enough”.
Rules and Assumptions
We can ‘learn’ to feel bad about ourselves and feel strong negative emotions when we believe these kinds of Negative Core Beliefs about ourselves. The Core Belief takes over delivering the criticism and punishment where the voice of our parent left off.
We develop thinking functions Psychologists call Rules and Assumptions in order to protect ourselves and continue functioning without incurring additional criticism or punishment. The Rules and Assumptions guide our perception, thinking and acting and also guard and defend us from the truth of our Negative Core Beliefs.
For example, the person who believes they are “worthless” may develop a Rules such as “I must please other people” or “I must not express my needs” and Assumptions like “Only if I do things perfectly will people like me.”
Behaviour or actions you perform on a day to day basis, Psychologists suggest – are actually guided by these Rules and Assumptions.
This means – depending on your Rules and Assumptions – you may be trying very hard to do everything perfectly, to please people all the time, to never ask for anything you need … and on and on …
Dormant Low Self Esteem
Sometimes Rules and Assumptions maintaining Low Self Esteem can be operating completely under the radar. You can be to some degree meeting your Rules and Assumptions and so on the surface you may feel fairly good about yourself. However – there are disadvantages to following such stringent and unrealistic Rules and Assumptions.
First of all – Rules and Assumptions creates a lot of pressure and you have learned to manage your Self Esteem so that you do not feel badly about yourself.
Secondly, and more worryingly – by following your Rules and Assumptions you do not directly challenge the veracity of your Negative Core Beliefs, they remain intact as a result.
Negative Core Beliefs are a bit like a psychological mine, lying dormant, waiting to be awakened by the first error in thought, or word or deed – that your human self inevitably will ‘do’.
In order for Healthy Self Esteem to develop, it is necessary for problematic Negative Core Beliefs and Unhelpful Rules to be exhumed, examined and help up to the light of day – if they are useful and accurate – they are keepers, if not they need to be rendered and remodeled. Low Self Esteem that is being maintained by hard to find Negative Core Beliefs can drive health and self care behavior. or more accurately a lack of these things. If you do not believe you are worthy – you are less likely to act in a way that cares for your body, mind and relationships – all the things that we need to feel valued, loved and safe.