Your self-esteem plays a role in how you feel, particularly when it comes to mood disorders like depression.
Boosting your self-esteem can help you cope with depression as you find your treatment plan of choice. How you view yourself can affect your mental health and day-to-day life.
“Low self-esteem, characterized by feelings of worthlessness and incapability, is often seen in people seeking therapy for depression,” says Thomas A. Veeder, MD, a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
Sometimes feelings of low self-esteem stem from your early childhood, including traumatic events, genetics, or your caregivers’ styles of parenting.
There’s evidence that low self-esteem may be a learned behavior, and learning ways to boost your self-esteem may help symptoms of depression.
You may find that when your symptoms of depression worsen, so do your thoughts about yourself.
A 2019 study of Vietnamese students looked at the prevalence of low self-esteem and its relation to depression and other mental health problems. The findings support previous research that says people with low self-esteem may be at greater risk for depression.
The results showed that low self-esteem may contribute to anxiety, depression, and thoughts of self-harm among adolescents.
Students who reported low self-esteem had nearly six times the odds of being at risk of depression and four times the odds of having depressive symptoms when compared to other students.
Low self-esteem is so common that it’s often overlooked as a factor related to depression, despite all the research that shows they are commonly connected. They often “coexist and reinforce each other,” says Veeder.
People with low self-esteem tend to catastrophize everyday events or interactions, which may affect how they see themselves.
Also, guilt can be a driving factor for depression, says Veeder. “The emotional conditions inherent in depression such as guilt, hopelessness, and apathy can lead to despair.”
“If someone with low self-esteem starts to feel guilty about something, it reinforces their depression,” says Veeder. “Then their depression — when they can’t get out of bed — can reinforce their guilt and their low self-esteem.”
Low self-esteem tends to present itself in times of crisis, which may trigger symptoms of depression. Low self-esteem does not cause depression, but it’s quite common during periods of depression.
“There are both conscious and unconscious ways people can experience low self-esteem,” says Veeder. Life events such as a breakup of a relationship, losing a game, or not getting a promotion can all reinforce a low self-esteem.
“Those are the more conscious ways that people experience it and those can kind of ebb and flow in people’s lives,” says Veeder.
On an unconscious level, feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, or low self-esteem may fade into the back of someone’s mind. You may not notice your self-esteem until you’re dealing with a traumatic event or a difficult time in your life.
“Sometimes we can move away from it. We can get past it and we can feel better about ourselves for a brief period of time,” explains Veeder. “But when something happens — a big crisis or transition — sometimes those feelings get all activated again.”
Having low self-esteem can affect our ability to perform and achieve in different aspects of our lives, says Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, and author of “Mental Health Journal for Men”.
“If we feel worthless and unable to change our circumstances for the better, we’re feeding into the hopeless/helpless belief that can lead to or amplify depression,” wrote Howes in an email interview.
“Challenges in life are inevitable. If we don’t feel equipped to face those challenges, or don’t feel like we deserve to overcome them, life feels hopeless and helpless, which is a hallmark of depression.”
It’s worth exploring how your opinion of yourself shapes how you respond in a crisis.
Consider these questions that center on your relationship to self-esteem:
- When something goes wrong do I always assign blame to myself?
- Do I assign blame to everyone else and never myself?
These questions target how you respond during times of crisis. Assigning blame and worsening your opinion of yourself both may occur when you have a tendency to catastrophize during uncertain times.
“In addition, overly critical and negative self-talk, physical avoidance of mirrors or attempts to disappear in public, being passive about sharing your opinion or neglecting self-care can all be markers of someone with low self-esteem,” says Howes.
Finally, low self-esteem may interact with your relationships with stress and substance use, including substance use disorder (SUD).
Many people find benefits through the use of cell phone app-based meditation or mindfulness exercises to combat low self-esteem.
Consider these self-care activities to help you with low self-esteem or symptoms of depression:
- taking a hot soak
- maintaining positive relationships
- visiting places of worship
- reading from spiritual or religious texts
- community involvement
- seeking peace and finding joy
Moreover, a recent
CBT works by identifying, tackling, and changing unhelpful thinking so that your mindset, behaviors, and overall well-being improve with practice.
For people working to improve self-esteem, it’s helpful to stop putting things in “buckets of good and bad or right and wrong,” advises Veeder.
Instead, he advises, “just be curious about why this happened or why did I feel this way because you’ll learn a lot more about yourself with this approach.”
“As human beings, we all have some inherent value and worth, even if we’ve made mistakes in the past,” says Howes. “Therapy helps you identify blockages to self-esteem, embrace the worth you have, and work to develop an even more meaningful life.”
Talking to a therapist can help you sort through any feelings of inadequacy and uncover the source of low self-esteem. This can set you on a path toward self-understanding, self-compassion, and self-love.