I used to beat myself up for everything, even when I’d do a good job. Because, you know, I could always do better.
I also used to say “I’m sorry” when a) I wasn’t sorry and b) at the weirdest times, like when someone would bump into me or when I’d want to express a difference of opinion. (Blogger and author Therese Borchard can relate. She gave exposure therapy a try for eliminating her apologizing addiction.)
And any time I’d make a mistake, big or small, I’d feel like I just committed a mortal sin. All mistakes were magnified and the guilt and shame made me want to crawl under a rock. Making mistakes became a gnawing cycle that also chipped away at my already unstable self-esteem.
Saying no to someone was painful, and there were many times that I just wanted to be alone.
“Pioneering self-esteem researcher Morris Rosenberg asserted that nothing is more stressful than lacking the secure anchor of self-esteem,” according to Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D., author of The Self-Esteem Workbook and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
In my case, this was certainly true. My low self-esteem led to several toxic relationships, extra stress and a sinking mood. And along the way, I just didn’t enjoy myself as much as I could have.
Rosenberg’s research, Schiraldi said, revealed the following signs of low self-esteem:
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Social withdrawal
- Excessive preoccupation with personal problems
- Physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and headaches
“People even put on a false front to impress [others],” he said.
People with a shaky self-esteem also struggle with self-critical, negative thoughts, said Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice. “These thoughts often criticize and hold them back from going after what they want in life.”
Firestone explained that “When a person feels worthless, they can start to show poor performance or stop trying to achieve in areas in which they feel defeated: academically, professionally, or personally.”
Failure can be especially tough on people with low self-esteem. According to Schiraldi, they experience more shame than others.
Fortunately, self-esteem isn’t set in stone. It takes time and practice, but you can absolutely lift low self-esteem and develop respect, appreciation and unconditional love for yourself. And no, this doesn’t mean being selfish or self-absorbed. In his second book, 10 Simple Solutions for Building Self-Esteem, Schiraldi writes:
Wholesome self-esteem is the conviction that one is as worthwhile as anyone else, but not more so. On one hand, we feel a quiet gladness to be who we are and a sense of dignity that comes from realizing that we share what all humans possess — intrinsic worth. On the other hand, those with self-esteem remain humble, realizing that everyone has much to learn and that we are all really in the same boat.