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5 Common Causes of Low Self-Esteem and How to Overcome it

A holistic understanding of the impact, solutions, and the causes of low self-esteem is the first step toward improving it.

Before we discuss the causes of low self-esteem and their solutions, let us first understand how self-esteem affects our lives.

Here is a real life story –
Michael Jordan was not included in a junior-varsity team at Laney High in Wilmington, N.C.

The coach placed Jordan’s friend Leroy Smith (who was taller than Michael) on the varsity squad.

How would you feel in his shoes?

Upset, demotivated, worthless and dejected, right?
Such feelings occur when your self-esteem is not rocking solid. Whereas, people with high self-esteem are provoked by situations such as this to try harder and prove to the world that they are indeed great – “Prove them Wrong Attitude.”

This was the case with Michael Jordan. He ultimately became one of the best basketball players of all times. This simple example just goes to show that the same situation has the power to bring one person down and conversely motivate another – it just depends on the individual.

On a meta-level, self-esteem determines your expectations from life. If you believe that you deserve to have and achieve everything you dream for, you are on the right path.

Do you believe that you deserve the women/man of your dreams?

Do you believe that you deserve to be wealthy? Are you worthy of earning X10 of what you earning now?

Or, do the above two statements seem strange and unrealistic?

If yes, we will need to work on your self-esteem.

After all, if you don't believe that you deserve great things from life, the chance of you getting them is also low.

Here is the good news - Self-esteem is “learnable.” You can work on it.


So, what are the causes of low self-esteem?

1. Negative peers and surroundings of your childhood.

Self-esteem is intrinsically linked to your self-image, that is, believes about yourself, worth and abilities. This self-image is largely formed between the ages of 3-12. This impressionable period is when we form our core dispositions, beliefs, and attitudes. Therefore, if your childhood was faced with discrimination, it may cause you to have low self-esteem.

Beliefs among the British population:

  • 46.4% believe that their body (or a part of their body) is ugly.
  • 33.8% believe that there are people who intend to harm and discredit themselves.

Evidently, such beliefs are not uncommon.

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
– Malcolm S. Forbes

As you grow up having lower self-esteem, you start attributing your low self-esteem to outcomes that may even be unrelated – confirmation bias. We tend to embrace information that supports our beliefs and similarly reject information that contradicts are the viewpoint. Therefore, low self-esteem “sticks,” that is, it is difficult to overcome.

Having said that, nothing is impossible. For example, people who join the military are trained to be more organized and disciplined. Similarly, even you can train your mind to can increase your self-esteem.

Finally, you should not allow anyone to affect you negatively.


2. Unrealistic goals and expectations.

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements that promise certain outcomes. For example, an ad that promises “6 KG weight loss in 2 months” or another that promises you will earn “$1500 in 1 month” etc.

“Hard work and sound science has been replaced by fads, false promises, and magic pills.”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Research has shown that is advisable to lose only 0.5 pounds (a week) and a maximum of 1.5 – 2 pounds every week. However, a realistic expectation such as this would not “sell.” Therefore, advertisers and marketers promise unrealistic things to sell their product.

The problem is – when people aren’t able to achieve these unrealistic things, their self-esteem further takes a hit.

When you have a goal. Do a quick Google search and understand what is the average success rate of people achieving this goal. This will allow you to set more realistic and attainable goals, those that will keep you motivated because you know that it is in your reach.


3. Negative media influence.

Oftentimes, the TV pop culture can also have a negative impact on you. Seeing famous celebrities and reality stars rising to fame may not only make you feel small but may also cause you to have unrealistic expectations from life. We fail to realize that only 1% of these millionaires became famous below the age of 30, whereas most acquired their wealth in their 50s.

We must understand that what we see on the screen isn’t necessarily real – the photo has probably taken hours of preparation, rehearsal, editing, makeup, and re-dos before it has reached you.

For example, here is a ‘before’ and ‘after’ image of Megan Fox. More often than not, you’d only see the ‘after’ image.


Therefore, know that what you see on the media isn’t real. You should not be comparing yourself to anyone you see on it.


4. Negative body image

Some people wonder how they can “face their problems” when the problem is their face!

Sometimes, people don't feel beautiful – a common cause of their low self-esteem. This may even cause them to have social withdrawal symptoms.

Here is a story from my experience –

I was once witnessing a pole dance competition. One of the participants (unlike most others), was a newbie. Also, she was the only one who was overweight. Yet, she had a smile on her face and was clearly enjoying her dance piece. It was evident that she was completely confident even though she was probably the least skilled. Not surprisingly, she received the biggest applause at the end of the show.

What’s the moral?

We often feel inferior due to our insecurities.

But the truth is, others love you just as much as you love yourself. Beauty is subjective and is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, know you do not need to conform to any normative beauty standards. If you carry yourself well, others will treat you well too. Therefore, invest time and money to take good care of yourself.

"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.”
― SaLevensonm


5. Constant comparison

It is natural to compare ourselves. When the comparison is not in our favor, our self-esteem takes a hit.

However, the truth is, we all lead different journeys and lives. The only person you should compare yourself to is your yesterday self.

“I'm in competition with no one.
I have no desire to play the game of being better than anyone.
I'm simply trying to be better than the person I was yesterday.”

Another common doubt is captured in the image below –

Indeed, the self-help industry often implies that there are ways to improve yourself; this (perhaps) unintentionally insinuates that you aren’t already good enough.

However, this is not true. In fact, you are a result of millions of years of positive adaptations and improvements – evolution! The fact that you are alive today just goes to show that you are an awesome creation of nature. Your mere existence has been polished for millions of years.

If this is true, you may be wondering, “Why do you need to grow?”

Well. A major truth about life is that we have to constantly grow and learn. You are already great and a part of this greatness is the fact that you are constantly learning and improving.

To wrap up, there are several factors that cause our low self-esteem and a lot has to do with our impressionable childhood experiences.

As an adult, you have full control over your emotions and actions. Do not give the power to someone to bring you down.

Self-esteem is a matter of choice – you can very well train yourself to have high self-esteem. Make sure you train and strengthen your mind to have more self-esteem.

Finally, know that ‘YOU ARE WORTHY' and 'YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING IN LIFE.’ Having high self-esteem will just get you there faster.

To know, how to improve your confidence, check out this article – ‘7 powerful ways to improve your confidence’.

Igor Smirnov

Igor Smirnov

Psychologist, blogger, chess Grandmaster, Internet entrepreneur. Follow Igor on Facebook

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