Here are the most common thoughts a poor self-image can lead to, and how to stop them from overcoming your life.
By Christine Webber and Medically reviewed by Dr Juliet McGrattan
Can’t shake the feeling that you’re not good enough? It’s perfectly normal to lack confidence in situations that are outside your comfort zone, or to question your abilities when you are faced with a new task.
Low self-esteem affects all of us from time to time, but if your self-esteem is so low that you’re struggling to function, it can have a negative impact on your mental health and your day-to-day life.
We speak to Harley Street psychotherapist Christine Webber about the most common problems caused by low self-esteem and how to overcome them:
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is the opinion people have of themselves. If you have healthy self-esteem, you will no doubt feel positive about your abilities and have a sunnier approach to life, in general.
Whereas if you have low self-esteem, studies have linked poor self-image with a variety of problems that can affect everything from the way you view your career to the way you conduct your relationships.
How do you measure self-esteem?
So how do you measure your self-worth and what constitutes low self-esteem? If you are feeling negative about yourself or your life in general, we recommend speaking to your GP or considering talking therapy.
In the interim, you can also try the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale. Developed by the sociologist Morris Rosenber, this scale is widely used in social-science research, using a scale of 0–30 where a score less than 15 may indicate low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem can affect everything from the way you view your career to the way you conduct relationships.
If your feelings of low self-worth are rooted in childhood, addressing your problems might feel like an impossible task, but there are things you can do to raise your self-esteem and improve your mental health.
8 problems caused by low self-esteem
1. You hate yourself
While there are times when we all dislike who we are, loathing your thoughts and actions is a classic sign of low self-esteem. Self-hate is characterised by feelings of anger and frustration about who you are and an inability to forgive yourself for even the smallest of mistakes.
How to turn self-hatred around
- Change your internal dialogue: An internal critic fuels self-hate, so step one is to silence the voice in your head by consciously making yourself repeat a positiveresponse for every negative thought you have. Why be your own worst critic? If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself.
- Forgive yourself for your mistakes: No one is ever all good or all bad. Doing something you regret doesn’t make you an awful person, just as doing something good doesn’t make you a saint.
- Challenge your negative self-beliefs:It’s likely that your sense of who you are is outdated and has been passed to you from others such as your parents, ex-partners and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to rewrite your own script – it’s your life.
2. You’re obsessed with being ‘perfect’
Perfectionism is one of the more destructive aspects of low self-esteem. A perfectionist is someone who lives with a constant sense of failure because their achievements, no matter how impressive, don’t ever feel quite good enough.
How to combat perfectionism
- Set realistic expectations for yourself: Consciously think how reasonable and manageable your goals are before striving for them, remembering that life in general is imperfect.
- Recognise there is a huge difference:between failing at something you do and being a failure as a person. Don’t confuse the two.
- Stop sweating the small stuff:Perfectionists tend to nitpick at insignificant problems. They forget to view the bigger picture and take pride in that.
3. You hate your body
A negative body image is often linked to low self-esteem and vice versa. This means it can affect everything from how you behave in relationships to how you project yourself at work. It can even prevent you from looking after your health, as you feel unworthy.
How to love your body
- Avoid comparing yourself to others:Comparison is the thief of joy, and leads only to insecurity. Accept that everyone is different and remember where your strengths lie.
- Look after your health:A healthy diet and daily exercise regimewill not only make you feel physically more able, but also leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones.
- Take care of your appearance:People with a poor body image often stop making an effort, believing there is ‘no point’. Do three positive things today for your looks.
4. You think you bring nothing to the table
We all doubt our ability in certain areas of our lives, but a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness comes from believing that somehow we are not as valuable as others. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to understand that feeling worthy isn’t something given to us by others, but something we have to build ourselves.
How to feel confident about your abilities
- Accept we all come with our own unique talents: We have to take pride in these to believe we are worthy people.
- Stop thinking others are better than you: While it’s fine to think highly of others, it’s irrational to translate this as meaning they are ‘better’ than you. Admire others’ traits, but not at the expense of your own.
- Be aware that we teach others how to treat us:Practise projecting yourself as someone whose opinions are just as valid as others, and your sense of self-worthwill begin to rise.
5. You’re oversensitive
Being too sensitive is one of the more painful aspects of low self-esteem. Whether you’re angered by criticism or literally feel demolished by any comment that’s directed at you, it’s important to desensitise yourself.
How to take constructive criticism
- Really listen to what’s being said:This way you can evaluate whether a comment is true or not, before deciding how you feel about it.
- Stand up for yourself:If the criticism is unfair, say you disagree.
- Be proactive:If there is some truth in it, learn from what’s being said, rather than beating yourself up about it. Constructive criticism can be exactly that, provided you take the comments on board and make changes for the better.
- Move on:Replaying over and over what’s upset you only anchors the memory to you – which won’t help.
6. You’re fearful and anxious
Fear and a belief that you are powerless to change anything in your world are irrefutably linked to low self-esteem.
How to combat anxiety and fear
- Discriminate between genuine fears and unfounded ones:Challenge your anxieties with the facts. For instance, you may feel it’s pointless to go for a promotion because you don’t think you can get it. How true is this statement when you look at the evidence?
- Build confidence by facing your fears:Draw up what’s known as a fearpyramid, placing your biggest fear at the top and your smallest fears at the bottom. The idea is to work your way up the pyramid, taking on each fear and boosting your belief in your abilities as you go.
7. You often feel angry
Anger is a normal emotion, but one that gets distorted when you have low self-esteem. When you don’t think highly of yourself, you start to believe your own thoughts and feelings aren’t important to others. Repressed hurt and anger can build up, so something seemingly small can trigger outbursts of fury.
How to express your anger in a healthy way
- Learn how to remain calm:One way is to not let your feelings simmer away until you explode. Instead, express how you’re feeling at the time.
- Remove yourself: If the above doesn’t work, step away from the situation and breathe in long slow breaths to reduce your heart rateand bring your body back to a relaxed state.
- Don’t over do it:People with low self-esteem often over commit then feel bitter as they struggle to cope. Try to take on only what you want and would like to do.
8. You’re a people pleaser
One of the biggest problems with low self-esteem is feeling you have to please others so that they like, love and respect you. As a result many people-pleasers end up feeling aggrieved and used.
How to set personal boundaries
- Learn how to say no:Your worth doesn’t depend on others’ approval – people like and love you for who you are, not what you do for them.
- Be selfish sometimes:Or at least think about your needs for a change. People with a healthy self-esteem know when it’s important to put themselves first.
- Set limits on others: Feeling resentful and used stems from accepting things from friends and family that you personally feel is unacceptable. Start placing limits on what you will and won’t do and your resentment will ease.