Low self-esteem – causes and solutions
As a plastic surgeon, low self-esteem is always on my radar. In a previous post I discussed how patients with low self-esteem are often unhappy with their surgical results. But if surgery doesn’t help low self-esteem, what is the solution?
What is self-esteem?
Self esteem is the value you place on yourself, or your overall opinion of yourself — how you feel about your abilities and limitations. This is different than self-confidence, which is how you feel about your abilities. You can have high self-confidence and low self-esteem.
What creates our self-esteem?
Self-esteem develops from our successes, failures, and how we were treated by our family, teachers, coaches, religious authorities, and peers.
Childhood experiences that contribute to healthy self-esteem include:
- Being listened to
- Being spoken to respectfully
- Getting appropriate attention and affection
- Having accomplishments be recognized and mistakes or failures be acknowledged and accepted
Childhood experiences that may lead to low self-esteem include:
- Harsh criticism
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Being ignored, ridiculed, or teased
- Unreasonable expectations of perfection: People with low self-esteem often receive messages from parents, teachers, or peers that failed experiences (losing a game, getting a poor grade, etc.) were failures of their whole self
How do we improve our self-esteem?
Changing your thoughts is the key to changing how you feel about yourself. Our emotions are actually created from our thoughts, and fortunately we have some degree of control over our thoughts.
The first step is to become aware of your thoughts. Writing down a stream-of-consciousness for five minutes is a simple way to figure out what is going on in your brain.
Once you see your thoughts written down, you can challenge the negative thoughts. Are you really lazy? Can you possibly think of a time in your life where you worked really hard? Or are you really stupid? Can you find examples to counter that?
Next, look for your strengths. For me, comparing my singing voice to… well anyone really… isn’t a fantastic idea. Singing is not a particular strength of mine. Nor is throwing a football. But I do an awesome tummy tuck, and I bake some delicious cookies.
Be kind to yourself. We often say things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend. Also, avoid comparing yourself to others. On social media you’re seeing a carefully curated picture of someone’s life- it’s not reality. So comparing yourself to their best is like comparing what you look like in the mirror to a model’s heavily photoshopped fashion shoot. It’s not a fair comparison, and it doesn’t help you at all.
- Good self care- taking care of yourself is really a sign of self-love, right? So performing actions consistent with good self esteem sends you the message that you are worth the care.
- Volunteering: not only does it take you out of your own head, and give you a frame of reference for your own problems, but generally volunteering is something you can be proud of.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have low self-esteem!
Our thoughts about ourselves are ingrained over a life-time. So don’t be afraid to call in expert help. Seeing a therapist can help you uncover negative thought patterns and change them, so that you can improve your self-esteem.