Self-Esteem Struggles and Strategies That Can Help
Many people look in the mirror and see someone they don’t like very much. They see faults, flaws and failures. They feel shame, embarrassment and maybe even anger toward themselves.
Part of the reason some people have poor self-esteem is a discrepancy between expectations and reality (though this reality is usually distorted). According to Ryan Howes, Ph.D, psychologist, writer and professor in Pasadena, California, “Deep down we’ve all constructed an idea of who we ‘should’ be: how we should look, act, think, feel and be regarded by others.”
Not meeting these “shoulds” can have a negative impact on self-esteem. “When we fail to match those standards, one response may be frustration, anger or even hatred for the parts of ourselves that don’t measure up,” he says.
The Origin of Self-Esteem Struggles
Low self-esteem can result from a variety of factors, according to Celeste Gertsen, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Port Jefferson, Long Island, who specializes in helping people overcome self-esteem struggles. “Low self-esteem can stem from problems in the family, societal problems (such as poverty or discrimination) or an internalization of loss,” she says.
It can develop at a young age. “It starts early, as soon as we’re old enough to know our own name,” Howes says, possibly sparked by the desire to get our needs met. As he explains, all of us have a need for “attention, love, safety, affirmation and belongingness.”
We learn that we have some control over getting these needs met. When these needs aren’t met, however, we look for reasons why. Howes gives the example of getting rejected by a friend. Some people automatically assume that the rejection is personal, either because they weren’t charming enough or are just flawed in general. (In reality, there are many reasons for rejection. A person might be “… choosing the wrong type of friends or basing the friendship on something negative like substances or gossip,” Howes says, or it may be simply a matter of poorly developed social skills.)
“String together enough of these beatings and I’ll begin to blame my poor social skills for my loneliness — the beginning of self-hatred,” Howes says.
Why Some People Struggle But Not Others
Regardless of their experiences, some people seem to struggle more than others with their self-esteem. Why? According to Howes, a shaming environment may be one explanation.