Social Question

josie's avatar

What makes a person "feel bad" about themselves?

Asked by josie (28760points) August 31st, 2010

Since the beginning of the self esteem movement, people have been admonished to “feel good” about themselves.
I don’t really understand the description-I think that it should be “feel effective” but that is another question.
So exactly why would a person “feel bad” about themselves? Outside of disability or disease, most people control their actions and the consequences are in general pretty predictable. So why would a person perpetually “feel bad” about themselves when, within reason, they pretty much have control over how they live out their lives?
BTW, I am sure that most folks “feel good” about themselves (I do).
And I usually can find something redeeming about anybody and everybody.
So, what I really want to know is why somebody would actually “feel bad” about themselves?

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28 Answers

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

I sometimes feel bad when talking about someone behind their back. Also sometimes I feel bad for being too honest.

CMaz's avatar


Lack of accountability to what they are/ will be doing or have done.

nebule's avatar

I feel bad about myself a lot of the time and it’s not due to lack of accountability… I take a lot of responsibility for who I am…but there have been a lot of horrible things that I’ve been through and sometimes it’s not easy to just pick yourself up and get on with it…I spend my life trying to figure out whether it would be better to just have a frontal lobotomy if that’s what people want you to be like….it leaves no room for emotion… having said that I’m pretty sure that the way I’m feeling right now has a lot to do with some medication I’ve been put on..but hey…I probably just need to take some more responsibility and make some choices eh….

MeinTeil's avatar

Guilt is a huge trend right now.

It’s being used to make people do and think things they wouldn’t otherwise.

There’s an entire industry built on it: Hybrid cars, unflattering flourescent lightbulbs, ‘green resaurants?, carbon credits, ETC….

I used to say ‘Guilt is a useless emotion’. Now it looks like its’ only useless in my immediate experience.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because they’ve been conditioned to think that they should look better, move faster, not age, stay smooth and strong and lean and muscular and beautiful and efferversent and never smell or burp or fart or have too little hair or too much or any fat or be depressed or have too much ambition or too little….shall I go on? Our society, like any society, is obsessed with singling out who they think are the ‘perfect humans’ and most everyone else lives to get there.

Why do I feel ugly sometimes even though so many tell me I’m beautiful? Because two adults (my mother and my dance choreographer that was like a second mother, to me) told me during teenage years (important, I believe, for how one shapes their body image) that I am too fat (when there was no fat on me) and I’m too this and that and it stuck.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir GA.

Sometimes it is easier to remember the negative comments you’ve heard than it is to remember the positive. At some point in my life I learned to be really hard on myself, and I will never be “good enough” in my own eyes. Any negative comment hurled in my direction over the years has just reinforced my own belief that I don’t measure up in any way.

nebule's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I couldn’t agree more with you…I feel exactly the same way xx

augustlan's avatar

I felt bad about myself for years. It had to do with comparing my ideal self to my actual self, and finding myself lacking in many areas. Because I wasn’t the ideal mother/wife/friend/human being… I was never happy with what I was: Different, but still good. Only when I truly accepted myself, warts and all, was I able to really move past that. That’s not to say I always feel good about myself, but I am pretty content with who I am these days.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I am sure that most folks “feel good” about themselves.

I’d disagree with this. Most people do not feel good about themselves, or else we wouldn’t have the world we have. People’s thoughts and beliefs about themselves cause them to feel bad, especially if triggered by some outside “validation” of these beliefs by someone in authority or by someone whose opinion is in any way important to the person.

Further, most parents do not know how to teach their little ones from the get-go about their inherent worth as human beings, mainly because most parents are struggling to believe that about themselves, and are thus unable to pass this to their kids. By the time one gets to school and the self-esteem lessons begin, the kids are already usually convinced that they, too, are worthless, though they may not articulate this. One can see it in their behaviours. People who feel good about themselves behave much differently than those who don’t. It’s that simple.

Do you realize how quickly thoughts occur? Beliefs are merely the same thoughts repeated ad nauseum until they are accepted as facts, and not seen as what they really are. Imagine, if you are 10, how many times you may have thought you were worthless without even realizing it. Now imagine at 15, then 25, then 35. All of a sudden, you’re Don Draper having blackout weekends. And I’m only half-joking.

Be kind, because everyone you meet is going through a tough battle, whether you see it or not; all trying to learn how to feel worth in themselves as human beings, with all our mistake-making and frailties, without feeling guilt or shame in their humanity.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Usually because they compare themselves unfavorably with others, forgetting that the only comparison that makes sense is comparing your actual performance to your potential performance.

wundayatta's avatar

If, all your life, the only message you hear from parents or teachers or anyone is that you suck, why would you feel good about yourself?

Ya’ll who feel good about yourselves are incredibly lucky and I bet you don’t even appreciate it. You just sit there and think, ‘it’s no big deal for me, so why should it be a problem for anyone else? It can’t be, ergo they are just whining for attention they don’t deserve.’

But I digress.

The major reason why people feel bad about themselves, mostly, is that they are told they are no good. Or told they are bad. Or they never should have been born. Or that they are hated. That’s kind of a big esteem building when your mother tells you they hate you and wish you had never been born.

Mental illness doesn’t help, either. It just exacerbates the problem.

Telling someone to “snap out of it” is seriously unhelpful. Blaming them for feeling bad about themselves (It’s your choice—you could choose to feel good) is even worse and typical of people who like to blame the victim.

Happy people who feel good about themselves really should be locked away in some territory of their own where they can run around feeling good about themselves all they want without hurting others. People with low self-esteem could then have more of a chance of pulling themselves up, since the happy people aren’t continually battering them back down.

I’ve been in a lot of places in my life, and while happiness feels good—I think that it’s not good to have too much of it. Suffering is not noble, but I do think it is useful for character building and empathy. People who have never suffered just can’t empathize, and that’s a problem.

ucme's avatar

Well there are most certainly a myriad of reasons. I’m going to put peer pressure right at the top of the list. In the vast majority of cases anyway.

Blackberry's avatar

When I used to have bad self-esteem and feel bad about myself, it was because I felt I didn’t look, dress, act, or behave in a more confident manner, I also didn’t have a much money so that added to it as well. You need certain things to feel good about yourself. I don’t agree with people when they say that all you need is confidence because you can’t be a homeless drug addict and expect to be very confident applying for a job or picking up a woman.

Scooby's avatar

A lot of people I know feel bad about themselves because they can’t find a job! After writing hundreds of letters over the course of many months, this has taken it’s toll on their self esteem… their self confidence & motivation have suffered to huge degrees to the point where some of them just don’t venture out anymore! :-/
They feel like none people, none producers, redundant & worthless…it’s very painful to see……. :-/

zophu's avatar

Because people generally don’t have faith in people.

When most people feel they have anything in themselves to protect, deep insecurities (not just close-to-the-surface emotional insecurities) cause them to be quick to cut others out of their lives, or even of their perception of what people are. This is impossible for people who live within civilization to do very well, so they turn to scorn and condemnation. It’s paradoxical that this behavior is usually associated with the scorned and condemned more than the original scorners and condemners, but that’s the socially acceptable outlook.

You kick a man in the legs, break his knees, then become righteously offended when he hurls curses at you or tries to cut you or burn your home? That’s when you break his head. Or, you watch from afar as the man is beaten, then blame the man for not standing up for himself and for fighting like a coward, unwilling to admit to yourself that he was truly crippled. Because the person who crippled him was an authority figure, or otherwise an intrinsic figure of your world, that you must protect at all costs. To be of the beaten is tragic, but to be of the beater is unacceptable. It is this righteous lack of acceptance that allows the “naturally” self-confident to sustain. And it is this lack of acceptance that allows the beating to continue.

Of course, we’re being good civilized people and helping the more “willing” of the crippled up. But so help us God if they don’t mend their pathetic shattered bones fast it’s back to the streets, or to prison, or we break their heads. We’re only doing the best we can, you know.

The thing is, the real sad thing is, we’re all of the beaten and we’re all of the beaters. Too many generations of being under-class. It’s left us all with inherited inferiority complexes of sorts. Too busy dealing with the problems we project onto each other to be able deal with our actual problems.

BoBo1946's avatar

The only time i really get upset with myself, is when i lose my Irish temper. I VERY seldom get mad, but when i do….not good. So, i go three miles to avoid confrontation due to my temper. Age has tempered my temper a lot. A good thing about age. about the only good thing about age!

Neizvestnaya's avatar

As an American then I have the typical pressures about achieving what I thought or others thought I would by now in terms of job, relationships, social standing, lifestyle.

stardust's avatar

GA’s above
It’s impossible to measure up to the expectations of society. We’re conditioned to want that/expect that for ourselves. Until we as a society wake up, we’re always going to fall short.
Then there’s emotional trauma, which no human being escapes. That speaks for itself.

josie's avatar

@stardust What is GA? General Agreement?

josie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Always a slow study…

CaptainHarley's avatar

When I was younger, in my teens and early twenties, @wundayatta , I was very defensive and shy, analyzing every word before I spoke it. It wasn’t until I got away from home that I began to realize that I had nothing to be ashamed of, and when I went into the US Army, the last vestiges of that washed away. As I successfully overcame an ever-increasingly more difficult series of tasks and objectives, I began to realize that self-confidence comes with accomplishment.

YARNLADY's avatar

When I was little, everyone around me seemed to be able to feel ‘God’ and I couldn’t. They talked about ‘deep in their heart’ and ‘faith’ and ‘comfort’, but I felt nothing. I did all the things I was told to get this feeling, but nothing worked. I thought I must be really, really bad.

To make things worse, all the kids at school teased me, called me teachers pet, because school lessons came so easy to me, and I got straight A’s. I knew something was really wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.

CaptainHarley's avatar


So… what WAS it???

Blondesjon's avatar


Jabe73's avatar

This is not a simple question to answer as some here have implied. It can be a combination of things. I will list a few: Not living up to the standards/traditions of your family, not living up to other people’s expectations, not fitting in, rough time finding the people you would fit in with, being shy, when everyone else around you seems to have done better in life than you, making a major mistake, embarrassment, setting very high standards for yourself, rough time finding a boy/girlfriend or husband/wife, loss of family or people who were close to you, etc.

Yes, even though you always have some control over what you can accomplish in life not everyone has the same personality, some people will struggle with certain areas over others. Some people are given a much lousier hand of cards in life than others as well. I do not think it is fair (because you are happy/confident or what else) to be judging other people “why” they don’t think the same way you do. Like I said in another post, people who have never gone through what someone else has seem to never fully comprehend the other person’s situation unless they would go through it themselves.

YARNLADY's avatar

@CaptainHarley I have no faith and I allowed other people to decide how I felt about myself.

I learned how to deal with the first and I learned how to choose for myself how I feel.

nebule's avatar

@YARNLADY Yep, I was there too… not having faith…I’m still there in fact…I haven’t got the love of Jesus in my heart which is probably why I’m depressed… absolutely nothing to do with the void of emotional sympathy that I was brought up in, all the years of abuse I suffered at the hands of a member of the family whilst everyone looked the other way and still do.. absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am judged constantly for everything I do, or do not do and am always the one that steps out of line….nothing to do with the fact that people don’t really listen and try to put themselves in your shoes…no…Jesus is a much finer option isn’t it…not

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