Is it Low Self Esteem? | Counseling | Therapy

Is it Low Self Esteem?

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director


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Is it low self-esteem? Therapy in Philadelphia: How to recognize and come to terms with low self- esteem when a poor self-concept is the root of your problems.

Everybody has bad days. You might have a run in with a coworker you don’t like, get poor feedback on a project or a bad grade on a test, have an argument at home, or get stuck in traffic. Sometimes, it seems to happen for no reason at all – there are days when you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Moods fluctuate between negative and positive from day to day depending on our experiences, and that’s normal.

However, self-esteem is much more than just how you feel from day to day. Self-esteem is the relatively stable image and understanding that you have of yourself and self-worth. If you consistently spend more of your time in and emotionally negative area than out of it, it could be more than just a “slump” or a “phase.” It could be an indicator of low self-esteem.

* A real problem: Often, adults are much too quick to dismiss the idea of low self-esteem. They think that encouraging self-esteem is a practice that should be used only with children, and that adults should be “tougher” and above needing this reassurance. However, by not acknowledging that low self-esteem is a very real issue for people of all ages, these individuals may be emotionally crippling themselves. Too often, society thinks of poor self-esteem only as the symptom of other mental and emotional problems – poor self-esteem is something that happens to those who suffer from anxiety, personality problems and eating disorders. The truth is that poor self-esteem may be the root cause of an individual’s social or emotional problems, not the other way around. Please note, that people with emotional problems, chronic illness or chronic pain, and people suffering from addiction frequently develop poor self-esteem.

* Low self-esteem archetypes: Low self-esteem shows itself in many different ways, and of course it is different for each person. Low self-esteem usually develops early in life (or from some mental health problem that they develop later on), and by adulthood many people suffering from the problem have found ways to hide it. However, there are three general archetypes, or behavior categories, that many people who suffer from poor self-esteem fit into:

The Bad Boy (or Girl) (is it low self-esteem): This person seems almost too confident. They claim openly that they don’t need anyone’s approval; that they will do what they want, how they want, and when they want. They tend to rebel against authority, and usually remain aloof. While this individual may seem to have too much self-esteem rather than too little, this is actually not the case. The Bad Boy puts on an act to try to prove that he does not need the kindness or acceptance of others. However, this is actually a method for keeping people at a distance – he feels that no one would accept him or want a close relationship with the “real” him. In his mind, he has already decided that others will reject him, so he lashes out preemptively by pushing them away, usually by acting hostile or callous. This is a person who feels that his or her real self is never good enough, and is prone to self-destructive behaviors like drinking.

The Defeatist (is it low self-esteem): This is a person who feels that she is worthless, and is prone to severe bouts of self-pity and depression. She cannot seem to accept responsibility for her actions and the state of her life and so she cannot affect positive change; instead she tends to act helpless and victimized. She has little confidence in her own abilities and is certain she will fail before she even begins a project. Because of this, she is uncertain and always seeking approval from others; in an intimate relationship she becomes needy and desperate for constant attention and reassurance. She has a strong fear of rejection and poorly developed social skills because of her dependency on other people, and she avoids situations that are new or that she feels may present a confrontation. She usually spends her free time alone. This person is consistently unproductive, and has a steady mindset of “What’s the point?”

The Perfectionist (is it low self-esteem): Although this individual is often seen as driven and successful, he feels that his value as a human being is dependent how others evaluate his work – he has no stable self-image and is prone to sudden, extreme mood shifts. He is outwardly positive as long as he experiences continued success, but he is devastated by even small failures, real or perceived. If he did not receive a glowing review from the boss over his last presentation, The Perfectionist sees it as a failure of his entire self. This leads him to obsessively review his work over and over again, down to the most minute detail. The Perfectionist is a very high-strung individual and often experiences a variety of problems related to tension, high stress, and burnout. In addition, he is usually very competitive, leading to a tendency to mistrust peers and coworkers, and to blame others for the places where he falls short.

Causes and symptoms (is it low self-esteem): Though it develops in many ways, low self-esteem almost always begins in childhood. Many victims of child abuse grow up to have poor self-esteem. A little girl who is beaten not only devalues herself, but also learns to lash out at others as a response to problems. And by no means is a background of something as severe as physical or sexual abuse necessary to plant the seed of poor self-image. A child who is ignored when he really needs someone to listen to him or help him understand his problems may develop low self-esteem – he is being treated as inferior, not worth the time to anyone important (his parents), and he will eventually come to see himself this way. A child who is expected to perform exceptionally well in school or extra-curricular activities and is held up to overly demanding standards is another example. She comes to believe that her parents hinge her self-worth on how well she performs, not on who she is as a person. These children may very well become The Bad Girl, The Defeatist, and The Perfectionist.

Despite the differences in how people manifest low self-esteem, most of them share some common traits:

* Overly critical of themselves and others. They often feel they are victims and find ways to blame others for their unhappiness.
* Tend to emphasize the negative facets of their lives and themselves instead of focusing on what they do like.
* Many experience a great deal of loneliness and feel isolated even in groups.
* Most have difficulty accepting praise or compliments.
* In close relationships, people with low self-esteem tend to be needy, demanding constant signs of approval and reassurance.
* Avoid situations that involve emotional risks, where they feel they are exposed and vulnerable.
* Create irrational and illogical ideas about what others are thinking or feeling, i.e. “Bob was frowning in the elevator – it’s because he thinks I’m ugly.”
* Take small loses and disappointments as massive failures of their whole self.

If someone exhibits most or many or these traits, it may be a sign that low self-esteem is a central problem in his or her life. If you feel that these points or any of the archetypes above describe your behavior, don’t ignore it! Low self-esteem is not something that you have to live with, but you must take the first step and recognize that it is a problem. Then you work towards improving your self-esteem or do the self-esteem workout and /or you can even create your positive affirmations to try to "fix" your poor self esteem.

The Road to Recover Everyone is dissatisfied with themselves on occasion, but for some people it is more than “just having a bad day.” Recognizing a chronic problem with low self-esteem may be the first step in getting your life back. Remember that poor self-esteem is a very common problem and nothing to feel ashamed about, and that when you pinpoint low self-esteem as something that is causing you to be unhappy, you are actually empowering yourself to begin taking control by taking action. Honest self-evaluation is the key to figuring out if dissatisfaction with yourself is a source of dissatisfaction in your life. Low self-esteem is something that anyone can improve and there are people who are willing to help, but it starts with you – you have the power to question yourself, you have the power to recognize problems, and you have the power to initiate change. The road to a positive self-image starts with understanding, but only you can take that first step.

Recommended self-help tips

* positive thinking
* helping a child gain positive attention

Struggling? You don't have to be alone. Help is available. To schedule an individual or couples or teen or family therapy sessions are available. To set up an appointment call 215 922 5683 x 100 and speak to a therapist at the Center for Growth /Therapy in Philadelphia, Mechanicsville, Ocean City, Santa Fe or self schedule an inperson or virtual therapy appointment.

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