Why do I have low self esteem? – nature versus nurture
The stories we tell ourselves and where they come from
As humans we don’t just need to know a list of facts to survive in the world, we also need to know what they mean, to be able to extrapolate. Fire is hot is a fact, if I put my hand in it I will get hurt is the extrapolation I need to make to stay safe. So it’s not a great leap to see that stories could be so important to pass on information and to learn without having to make all the mistakes ourselves. Sarah put her hand in the fire and got burnt so I won’t be doing that. Our ancestors learned from stories about what happened to other people who tried to pet lions so they didn’t have to try it themselves and get eaten.
We have a tendency to take everything that happens to us and create a story from it to give it meaning. E.g. Sally shouted at Barbara becomes – Sally was angry at Barbara and shouted at her. We don’t actually know if Sally is angry at Barbara or if she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we were going to put an even more negative spin on it we might tell ourselves Sally is a horrible person because she shouts at people or Barbara is a bad person for making Sally angry.
We tell ourselves stories about ourselves too. We are good because we get good grades or nobody likes us because we didn’t get picked for the team. The stories feel like facts but they are just interpretations. Our experience of life is largely based on whether we make up positive or negative stories about ourselves and life. When we make up mostly negative stories about ourselves it destroys our confidence and leads to low self esteem.
So why do we ‘choose’ to tell negative stories about ourselves? Personality does play a part. You might have a general tendency towards being more negative but you can change that. Personality is a spectrum and you can learn to smooth out the rough bits and be more balanced in your thinking. However you might be naturally a happy go lucky extrovert and still have low self esteem because it’s possible to learn that too.
If you’ve been mistreated badly or repeatedly as a child or even as an adult it can make you more likely to suffer from low self esteem. When children are treated badly it can damage their self esteem because it sends them the message that they aren’t worth being treated well. That they’re treated lesser than other people because that’s all they deserve. Losing a parent’s attention for any reason such as, illness, death or marriage break up can also send a message to a child that they’re not worthy of love. The drip drip of constant criticism can erode self esteem. There are also well intentioned parents that have low self esteem themselves and their children learn from their example that they shouldn’t aspire too highly or should always put themselves last. Once you’ve formed this story about yourself you can find yourself seeking out experiences and people who agree with your story. Of course no family is perfect and everyone says or does the wrong thing sometimes but when that’s balanced with love and support it’s much less likely to have a negative effect.
You might even have had an idyllic childhood and still suffer with low self esteem. Even a confident extrovert can have their self esteem eroded by being abused or constantly criticized in a relationship or bullied at work. Especially if they don’t have other people around them who do show them care and respect.
So regardless of how you formed the story which says you’re not worth it because X it’s only a story. Although knowing that may not seem like it helps right now, it does mean there are ways to change the story and increase your self esteem.