Photo by Nic Huerta.
by Andrea M. Darcy
Deep down, believe you just aren’t as good as other people? Tried positive thinking and pushing yourself to try new things, but still have low self worth?
The mistake we make when it comes to inner worth
The biggest mistake we make about self worth is we think it is just a thought. That if we just change our thoughts that we are not worthy, we’ll be better.
Negative thoughts are actually a symptom of low self worth, not a cause.
When we are sure we can ‘think’ ourselves into having esteem, we are mistaking self worth for low self confidence.
Low self-confidence vs low self-worth
Low confidence comes from present day challenges, like a job we don’t have the full skillset for, or something we have actually messed up in the past and are worried we will mess up again, like a presentation.
Our low confidence is rational. And we can then find rational ways to navigate it – get help on the speech from a colleague, or find a mentor.
Low self-worth is not rational. We can have the best job going, good health, tons of money, and still feel worthless. We are convinced we can’t change, that we will keep making the same mistakes again and again. And low self-worth is not based on present day challenges, either.
So what is low self-worth then, really?
Low self-worth stems from unresolved past experiences and emotions.
Instead of a thought, it’s a belief. Those past experiences led to negative beliefs about the world.
And if there was one emotion that drives low self-worth, it is shame. We feel ashamed of who we are and what we experienced.
The real triggers for low self worth
The experiences that lead to having no self-esteem are:
One of the most common reasons for low self worth is experiencing physical or sexual abuse as a child. In an attempt to understand what is happening, a child blames him or herself.
Other childhood trauma.
This can look like a parent or sibling dying, a parent leaving suddenly, losing your home, being bullied, or anything that deeply affected your sense of self and sense of safety.
Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are a psychological term for very difficult things children live through that might not always qualify as ‘trauma’. This can include things like neglect, growing up in poverty, an alcoholic or sick parent, one parent being violent to the other, a family member going to jail, and your parents divorcing.
Blaming all our misery on our parents is not the best tactic. Often parents did the best they can, but didn’t have the right information.
But it is true that poor parenting— frequent punishments and criticism, harsh standards, not being shown enough affection — is connected to low self-esteem.
The Joesph Rowntree Foundation, in a report on low self-esteem, states that, “the strongest influences upon self-esteem are the individual’s parents. Parenting style, physical and particularly sexual abuse play a significant role.”
Attachment theory believe that in order to grow up to be an adult who can have healthy, trusting relationships, you need a caregiver in your early years who you can trust to always be there for you and accept you. Without this, we grow up not only with problems connecting to others, but with low self-esteem.
Negative core beliefs.
Again, a lack of inner worth is driven by a set of beliefs that we are no good, all created by experiences like the above. Negative core beliefs sound like:
- everyone else is better than me
- I am unlovable
- if anyone knew the real me nobody would want to know me
- something inside of me is broken beyond repair.
But I have only had low self-worth since recently
You had a breakup, and now you have no self worth. “I was very confident until that narcissist ruined my life,” you tell yourself.
This way of thinking is actually typical in people with low self worth. Creating a false history, constantly re-writing events, playing the victim and blaming others is a way to avoid facing our long history of inner pain.
Facing up to the fact that we’ve been struggling to feel good most of our lives and deep down don’t like ourselves takes a lot of courage. This cycle of denial and blame can be easier.
But it leads to more pain in the long run. Until we deal head-on with our past, we will always be running from our very selves, and creating the same difficult pattern again and again.
A 2018 study showed that in fact people with low self-esteem actually sabotage relationships with their poor skills at asking for support. Backhanded methods like whining, acting sad, and sulking lead to negative responses from partners.
What does low self-worth lead to?
Common red flags of low self worth are:
What can actually help me like and value myself?
For starters let’s look at what WON’T help. Positive thinking, pushing yourself harder, pretending you feel better about yourself than you do, ignoring how you feel and hoping it will just go away.
Low self-worth has deep roots, and deep roots require committed digging. There are methods you can start working with yourself as soon as today. These include
But to truly move forward it’s highly advised to seek support. A professional counsellor or psychotherapist creates a safe space for you to work through what is behind your low self worth. He or she will also help you with integrating new ways of relating and being, that gently but surely raise your esteem.
Ready to get serious about getting some self worth? We connect you with London’s top talk therapists in central Locations. Not in London or the UK? Use our booking platform to find a UK-wide registered therapist or talk from anywhere with online therapy.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing writer as well as mentor who often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy