What is Self-Esteem? Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention

What do you see when you look in the mirror? How we perceive ourselves dictates our level of self-esteem. Low self-esteem damages careers and personal relationships. Counseling can help.

what is self-esteem

Self-Esteem concept in brief

Self-esteem sums up how we perceive ourselves. Beyond the image reflected in the mirror, self-esteem describes how individuals think about themselves and the value they place on themselves. It is the total of the concepts and beliefs people hold of themselves.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of balanced, positive self-esteem in a person. Put, our potential in life depends on having a sufficient level of self-esteem. Psychologists have determined that positive self-esteem is critical to a person’s mental, social, and emotional health throughout their life.  Every individual lays the foundations of their self-esteem during childhood. From that point onward, self-esteem determines what someone can do, what they can become, and who they are. Scientists credit those beliefs with providing an “internal guiding mechanism, steering and nurturing individuals through life.” Alongside a person’s ability to meet and deal with life’s challenges, their self-esteem is the most considerable influence on their life. 

Someone with low self-esteem may find themselves limited academically, in their career, and in personal relationships. While low self-esteem is not a mental or behavioral health condition in itself, it plays a role in developing these conditions. 

Low self-esteem can predispose a person to various mental disorders. Some of the conditions caused by low self-esteem include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders. 

Saying that not every low moment in a person’s life is an indicator of low self-esteem. Critiquing yourself sometimes is normal, and feeling negative about something you failed to achieve. Negative self-judgment is also normal sometimes. However, when those negative judgments, feelings, and perceptions are becoming the norm rather than an exception, they may interfere with your quality of life. At that stage, it is time to consider professional intervention. 

Symptoms of Self-Esteem

Others may view excessive self-esteem as arrogance, but it is not necessarily related to mental or behavioral health issues.

On the other hand, low self-esteem can lead to the development of these conditions over time. Therefore, it is important to recognize signs and symptoms of low self-esteem before they can have serious consequences. 

To identify low self-esteem, it is also essential to understand the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Confidence is closely related to our ability in a specific area of our life. Psychologists have found that people can be self-confident in one or more particular areas of their lives while still suffering from low self-esteem. For example, someone may be a highly qualified IT expert but still feel like they are not good enough in areas such as personal relationships. Further, increasing their confidence in the IT field may not necessarily increase their overall self-esteem. 

Symptoms of Self-Esteem

How can you recognize low self-esteem in yourself and others? Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of this condition. Symptoms are things you experience personally but may not be able to see in others. Signs are the opposite: they consist of things you can see in others. 

Signs of low self-esteem:

  • Saying negative things about oneself, including joking negatively
  • Not accepting compliments, even if facts back them up
  • Being excessively upset by criticism
  • Highlighting negatives about oneself and deliberately overlooking positive aspects
  • Avoiding challenges, like applying for a promotion, because of fear of failure

Symptoms of low self-esteem:

  • Blaming yourself when things go wrong, even if you had little or no influence on their outcome
  • Thinking others are better 
  • Presuming you do not deserve good things coming to you 
  • Chastising yourself for having fun
  • Ignoring your achievements 
  • Feeling depressed or anxious, ashamed, and worthless

Seeing these signs in others once or twice or experiencing low self-esteem symptoms from time to time is expected. However, when negative thought patterns start taking over from positive thoughts, individuals may be suffering from or be in danger of developing low self-esteem. 

Some symptoms and signs above have also been connected to other mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Types of Self-Esteem

Popular culture tends to distinguish between high and low self-esteem. Social science, including psychology, relies on finer distinctions. 

Since 1965, self-esteem has primarily been measured based on the Rosenberg scale. Developed by Princeton University-based sociologist Morris Rosenberg, the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES) ranges from zero to 30. According to this scale, a score of less than 15 indicates low self-esteem. 

Rosenberg initially developed his model for teenagers and adolescents. The original survey was given to more than 5,000 high school juniors and seniors selected from random schools throughout New York State. 

Types of Self-Esteem

Results are based on a person’s answers to ten statements. Five of the statements are positively worded, while the remainder is negative in tone. Respondents choose whether they strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree with the statement. There is no “neutral” option. To this day, scientists believe that the scale is reliable and valid when measuring the global self-worth a person assigns themselves. 

People with high self-esteem tend to act decisively and take charge of their lives. Those with low self-esteem may be plagued by indecision and an inability to try new, unknown things. They may also struggle to assert themselves in their work and home environment. Over time, this inability to value oneself can become overwhelming and put a person at risk for mental health problems. 

Causes of Self-Esteem

The foundations for high or low self-esteem are laid during a person’s childhood. It is when most people form their fundamental beliefs about themselves.  

Abuse and bullying can contribute to low self-esteem, but often the causes of these issues are not that obvious. Children struggling to meet their parents’ expectations may find it hard to think of themselves as deserving of good things. The same may happen to children who are outsiders in school. Blaming themselves for not fitting in can easily lead to negative core beliefs. 

Low self-esteem can also develop later in life. In some people, low self-esteem is triggered by traumatic events. Others may have been suffering for a long time, sometimes without realizing that they are experiencing the consequences of low self-esteem. 

It is possible to develop low self-esteem after losing a job, especially if you thought you were performing well. Searching for new employment without success can contribute even further to low self-esteem. 

Young adults may experience similar problems in college. Failing a core class can hit a student’s self-esteem hard. They may question whether they are good enough for their course or their chosen profession. 

Causes of Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can lead to more severe consequences when those challenges at work or university coincide with relationship problems. Relationship problems, including break-ups or a separation followed by divorce, can leave people questioning their worth. Low self-esteem is not the only consequence of relationship difficulties impacting mental health. 

If long relationships fail, some people experience grief. Others might develop behavioral health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Other causes of low self-esteem include concerns about a person’s appearance or body image. Over the past few years, several brands have started advertising in a body-positive manner as a response to public criticism of unrealistic beauty standards. Despite those efforts, it is easy to feel dejected by images in magazines or social media. 

Low self-esteem can also arise from practical problems such as financial difficulties or a lack of access to high-quality housing. Some people develop low self-esteem based on one of those triggers or influences. Others are hit by several potential causes of low self-esteem simultaneously, and, together, those causes lead to mental and behavioral health problems. 

Prevention of Self-Esteem

Preventing low self-esteem starts during childhood. Mental health experts believe that an unhappy childhood with overly critical parents is one of the leading causes of low self-esteem. These problems can set the course for someone’s entire life, potentially predisposing them to a lifetime of negative consequences. These consequences can be as far-reaching as severe mental illness. 

Children who develop low self-esteem tend to struggle academically. Their school performance and ability to build positive, lasting relationships are affected by their lack of self-esteem. As a consequence of academic struggles, they may not be able to develop their careers to the degree that their peers can. In turn, this can cause a sense of underachievement which may worsen already low self-esteem. 

Prevention of Self-Esteem

Preventing low self-esteem during childhood requires parents to build their children’s confidence across different areas. Children need to know that they have a right to feel happy and worthy. They also need to learn ways of dealing with stress and challenging life events to prevent temporary problems from becoming severe mental health conditions. 

During adulthood, preventing low self-esteem is related to solid, effective coping mechanisms. Those mechanisms can help people deal with challenging life events while retaining an average level of self-esteem. 

Preventing low self-esteem can be difficult, with experts believing that nearly 80% of the population suffers from it. 

Treatment of Low Self-Esteem

Treating low self-esteem is the key to preventing severe mental and behavioral health issues that can affect a person’s quality of life in the long term. Low self-esteem may not be the only cause of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, but it can certainly be a factor in their development.

Self-esteem counseling is one of the most effective ways to build and improve low self-esteem. This talk therapy starts by exploring the underlying causes of a person’s lack of self-esteem. In some cases, there may be one single event that caused their self-esteem to drop. For others, low self-esteem develops gradually. It is based on long-term influences that major life events may exacerbate.

Once the causes of a person’s low self-esteem are clear, mental health professionals will work with their clients to address those. Clients will learn to challenge their negative thought patterns during their treatment and change them to more positive alternatives. 

For many low self-esteem sufferers, counseling will also include physical concerns. Taking care of their body and mind helps many people improve their self-image and feelings about their physical appearance. Living a healthy lifestyle is critical to building better self-esteem. 

A healthy diet and regular exercise are important factors in preventing or dealing with other mental and behavioral health concerns. Negative behavioral habits like excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate depression and anxiety. 

Treatment of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem counseling may encourage sufferers to reach out to others and build a support network. Not everyone has a family or friends to rely on and fall back on. When family relationships are challenging, seeking professional advice or a support group can be suitable alternatives. 

Counseling is available in person – at a therapist’s practice or in the client’s home – or online. Online self-esteem counseling has grown in popularity since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of the convenience of accessing online help from home or another suitable location, this form of counseling continues to be in demand.

Building self-esteem is a process. The number of counseling sessions needed depends on the severity of a person’s low self-esteem and their response to the treatment. Counselors will regularly assess clients’ progress and change their approach if necessary. 

Having a healthy level of self-esteem can transform a person’s life. Self-esteem improves academic performance, interpersonal relationships, and an individual’s career potential. In contrast, low self-esteem can limit individuals’ belief in themselves and their potential achievements. Counseling can be instrumental in removing those obstacles and helping low self-esteem sufferers create a new path for themselves. 

About TrueCare™

TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.

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