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raven860's avatar

How & why do people end up with low self-esteem/respect?

Asked by raven860 (2174points) January 31st, 2012

How does it happen?
Why does it happen?
How can they recover from it?
What steps can be taken to prevent further tumbling?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

22 Answers

Judi's avatar

I was the 5th of six children in a poor family. My dad was in the process of dying of emphasyma from the day I was born. When ever I had a need ( being sick and needing to go to the doctor for example) I felt more like a burden than a blessing.
It didn’t help that I seemed to be the verbal punching bag for the stressed older siblings. “Sit up straight, pick up your feet iron your clothes (I was 5) don’t, be a slob, why can’t you be more like your sister? She’s so beautiful.”
I have worked through it and overcome it. I have forgiven my parents and my siblings and I understand the stress they were under. It has been a long road, but I can honestly say I no longer have a self esteem problem.

YARNLADY's avatar

Some of the blame is strictly in the natural personality a person is born with. Some people have a natural inclination to respond to the world around them with emotional strength and confidence. Others seem to have a more critical, less confident approach.

This natural inclination can be enhanced or destroyed by the experiences in the world around them, either by their caregivers or their peers. The more positive the experiences, the easier it is to develop self-esteem. Some of us have to try harder than others.

auhsojsa's avatar

They get lied to. They aren’t chosen in groups. They tend to be shy. They tend to be picked on. They tend to stand out in the crowd. Problems like that can’t be solved. They just have to move forward with their life and realize productivity is what keeps people moving forward in life.

raven860's avatar


Any ideas on how to fight back such blows to one’s self esteem? Is it simply a matter of being positive and dimming down “outside noise”...staying busy and getting work done helps?

CaptainHarley's avatar

There are several reasons, but I have noted one in particular of the last few years that seems to largely be the fault of the public school systems. Many of our, shall I say “less perceptive teachers” are laboring under the delusion that the best route to “Self-esteem” is to tell children how great they are without indicating that strong self-esteem comes from a series of ever more challenging accomplishments. This started several years ago, apparently, since I had to tell several applicants for employment that it was all well and good to “feel really great about myself,” but that in order to work for most employers it was necessary to have actually… you know… like… DONE SOMETHING!

Bellatrix's avatar

Low self-esteem starts in childhood I believe (I am not a psychologist so this is just my musings). We need to experience and learn as children that ‘who we are’ is ‘okay’. If we receive negative messages in those formative years (or we don’t get messages at all), I think the potential for low self-esteem is established.

If those strong foundations aren’t well established, we also don’t have that buffer zone when someone says “you are an idiot”, “you aren’t pretty enough”, “you aren’t ..whatever”. I also think over emphasising the positives can be just as bad too. If a child is built up to think they are perfect, wonderful, never make a mistake and are not allowed to fail at anything, they never learn how to cope with the times when they do stuff up. We all do. Life isn’t perfect. Things go wrong. So, we have to learn a. who we are is okay and b. it is okay to not always be right or perfect.

How to recover from it? Start to understand who you are and why you are the way you are? I don’t mean ‘blame your parents’ or anyone else either. In some cases, they may very well have been responsible for not doing a great job and it’s okay to acknowledge their part in who you developed into but there does come a point when as adults we have to say ‘this is my life, and I am responsible for how it goes from here on in’.

How to heal? Start to work on not listening to that negative voice in our head and focus on hearing the positives is a good beginning to self-healing. Be kinder to ourselves about the less than perfect aspects of our lives and be proactive about making them better. Don’t blame everyone else for our own crap. Take responsibility for how our life is from today. Join the gym and ask for help to reach our physical goals, take classes that help us to improve our education and chances of doing whatever it is we want, help other people so we start to recognise the good aspects of our lives instead of always focusing on the negatives. Get rid of toxic people and situations that drag us down. Take ownership of our own life in other words.

linguaphile's avatar

@Bellatrix Exactly what I had in mind to say, and you said it better :)

To add to that… I have come to a point where I feel that confidence comes from being allowed to have a voice. When a kid is allowed to have a voice, when they’re given validation of their good and bad experiences, when they’re allowed to express their frustrations and explain their thoughts without being told they’re wrong or not allowed to, they develop confidence. When they are not given this opportunity—they don’t value their own perspective or don’t feel like their feelings have merit and develop a low self confidence.

For some kids, being different is a confidence booster—it depends on how “difference” is interpreted to them by the adults and peers around them. For others, being different can be destructive. I think it all comes down to whether they are validated and allowed to be who they are if they’re different, while if they perceive a constant message of disapproval, low self esteem results.

marinelife's avatar

It is generally a result of improper handling in childhood.

It can be improved significantly with work on yourself either with a therapist or a self-help book.

raven860's avatar

@Bellatrix @linguaphile @marinelife

Is it possible to have low selfesteem even if as a child you had a good healthy environment.?
Could it be just because of some rotten days as an adult because of toxic people trying to bring you down or cast doubts?

downtide's avatar

Being picked on, being bullied, being disabled, being told from an early age that you’re “useless” or “ugly” or “stupid”, not good enough, not smart enough. I think it happens because people truly believe that telling these things to a child will make the child want to change.

How to get over it? I haven’t, although I’m better than I used to be.

Judi's avatar

@raven860 , I had a spiritual epiphany. PM me if you are interested in what I learned. I don’t think this is the appropriate place to share my faith.

Bellatrix's avatar

Of course it’s possible. My comments weren’t prescriptive. And I wasn’t talking about terrible childhoods or parenting in terms of individuals not developing strong self-esteem either. Kids might grow up in a pretty much happy environment, but not have strong self-esteem. Perhaps a child is in the middle of a large family and just didn’t get the individual attention they needed? We are all individuals. Children have different needs. There is no definitive answer for this. Just ideas.

marinelife's avatar

@raven860 I think if a child had a good upbringing and came out of it with good self-esteem, a toxin adulthood would not be enough to destroy it.

YARNLADY's avatar

First, I had the support of my family all along, it was only my peer group that caused my anguish.

I read dozens of self-help, popular psychology books in the 1960’s. In spite of the critics who spoke out against them, I was able to find a lot of great tips to help me understand and improve myself.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I’d be willing to bet that one of the ones you read was “Born to Win.” : )

linguaphile's avatar

Even in a good, stable family, I do think it’s possible to develop a low self esteem—again, I believe it’s related to whether the child’s expression of self is hindered or allowed. In a good, stable family there might be moments where the child’s expression is passed over for another priority—we never know how crucial a moment is, especially if a child is highly sensitive. It might not even be from the family, but from school and peers. My daughter’s self esteem was almost killed by her 1st grade teacher—if I hadn’t been aware of child development issues, I might not have been able to remedy that.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with all of the above answers and tools to improve self esteem, I’d also add, be your OWN person and don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you must be as everyone else. Take pride in your own unique way of being. What’s the saying..something along the lines of having the courage to be yourself in a world that wants you to be like everyone else.

As soon as you start comparing, going down the path of measuring yourself against the mainstream, you’re headed for trouble.
I always told my daughter that the quickest way to misery was to be envious of others. :-)

Dog's avatar

I have personally found that low self esteem and poor self respect comes as part of the motivation to change and grow. If a person is not following on who they know they are inside or need to move forward out of a situation that they know deep inside is not what they want.

We as humans do not move on to new challenges unless we are uncomfortable enough in our own skin to make the change worth the effort.

Blackberry's avatar

I also want to emphasize changing yourself: exercise, hiking (hobbies), maybe some different clothes etc. Turn that sour sally into a happy henry…er, orsomething like that…

augustlan's avatar

Therapy helped me a ton. Where I used to see myself as ‘less-than’ or even ‘bad’, I now see myself as ‘different’ and ‘fine as I am’.

CWOTUS's avatar

You idiot, how can you not know this?
You’re just like your mother (meaning ‘not in any good ways’).
Your whole family is stupid, you bunch of <ethnic slur of choice here>.
Children should be seen and not heard, so shut up and get mommy another beer
I don’t have time for you now. I won’t have time for you later, either.
I never wanted kids in the first place. You were just an accident.
Why can’t you be like other kids?

It starts early and from a lot of sources. If this is how you’re raised, then it’s amazing if you have any sense of self-worth at all.

Roby's avatar

In my case, it was being constantly rejected..I was born with a learning disability and at that time , no one really knew what that was they just thought that you were stupid. My teachers deemed me a moron and I got paddling’s for failing grades, almost everyday. They made me stay in while the others went out to play.
I also was unfortunately enough to be born less attractive than normal. Girls would ignore me. I went my whole grade school by my self, because no one wanted to be seen with me. Not much better in High school, I went all four years without a single date or any girls talking to me or for that matter. Most of the guys didn’t want to hang with a idiot like me.To hell with them.
I still suffer from low self esteem, but now it doesn’t seem to matter. I don’t care anymore. I did managed to educate myself enough to get some articles and short stories published. That turned out to be my forte. To hell with them.

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