What Are the Common Causes of Low Self-Esteem?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2018
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Healthy self-esteem comes from a positive self-image, which is nurtured not just through an acceptance of a person's appearance but also of his or her actions as compared to others. On the contrary, low self-esteem is a feeling that life will mostly consist of failure and sorrow. One common cause of low self-esteem is having negative feelings about being overweight, underweight or otherwise unattractive. These negative feelings can also result from physical and emotional abuse or neglect, as well as loss of a job or a loved one. Other traumatic experiences or failures and even medical conditions could also add to self-doubt.

Experts believe that some self-doubt is a natural part of human evolution, but those with certain appearances outside the established standards are often more vulnerable. The media and other commercial outlets are often blamed for feeding into people's fears of being different, because they are said to create unnatural standards of beauty and fitness, to which the average human cannot adhere to naturally. Conversely, those who conform seamlessly to the unrealistic standards have reason to form a higher level of self-esteem. This phenomenon is one of the commonly debated causes of low self-esteem — the impossibly wide gap between the acceptable and unacceptable.


Some of the first questions that a therapist or counselor will ask new patients concern whether they suffer from a history of mental or physical abuse. The abuse could even come from a stranger, a relative or a "friend." People who also are more likely to suffer from abuse and low self-esteem are often the ones who abuse others. This abuse can lead to subtle or devastating causes of low self-esteem, depending on its nature and frequency.

Losing a spouse, child, parent, sibling or close friend, either through death or rejection, is another one of the common causes of low self-esteem. Loss in status, whether at school, work or among social circles also can lead to self-doubt. Any type of failure or a traumatic accident or life-changing event are also causes of low self-esteem.

Certain medical conditions could lead to a deepened sense of poor self-regard. Those diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder or clinical depression, for instance, may experience periods of low self-esteem without knowing why. Conversely, low self-esteem is seen to be a cause for some psychological problems.

Low self-esteem can lead to body image problems and an overall lack of engagement at home, school or work. Lethargy may set in, and conditions like depression, anxiety or eating disorders could take root. Negative self-worth is a leading cause of wide-ranging problems, from anger management to perfectionism.



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Post 4

I was abused as a kid both physically and emotionally and its hard for me here in Africa to find a therapist. What do I do?

Post 3

Does anyone here know if there is a connection between religious belief/spirituality and self esteem? Can religious belief be a cause of high self esteem?

Post 2

@candyquilt-- I'm sorry to hear that but I urge you to see another doctor. You might benefit from a psychologist, therapist or counselor instead. Many community medical centers also have group therapy options that you could benefit from. Aside from these, books on improving self esteem and self-hypnosis methods may be helpful as well.

It's definitely true that childhood abuse, whether physical or emotional, is a major low self esteem cause. But this doesn't have to be permanent. Although it takes some time and requires effort, you can definitely develop high self esteem and change your outlook on life. Don't give up! I also urge you to surround yourself with positive people who accept and love you for who you are. Stay away from people who criticize and judge you.

Post 1

I've seen several psychiatrists for my low self esteem symptoms. The main problem I experience due to low self esteem is anxiety. When I describe my anxiety to doctors, they are quick to write me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. I have never had a doctor ask me about abuse or anything else. They make a few quick suggestions to fight depression and anxiety such as "exercise" and "socialize." Then they send me on my way.

I know that the cause of my low self esteem is emotional abuse during childhood. But I don't know how to deal with it and I don't think that numbing my emotions with medications is helping.

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