Why Do I Have Low Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the way you feel about yourself. Your self-esteem effects every aspect of your life, including what you believe you are capable of or worthy of doing. When you feel poorly about yourself or believe you are inferior to others, and are at risk of not fulfilling your potential. Low self-esteem can prevent you from setting and pursuing goals, putting effort into a career, and accepting positive relationships.

Low self-esteem is common during the teenage years and if it continues into adulthood, it may interfere with leading a fulfilling and healthy life. Low self-esteem is not an accurate reflection of realty, but how we perceive ourselves. Being that self-esteem is a state of mind, the good news is that it can be changed. Improving your self-esteem starts by challenging the negative feelings and judgments that you have towards yourself. It also helps to understand the root of your low self-esteem. By understanding the root causes can help you live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. Let’s look at some common causes of low self-esteem.

Uninvolved Parents

When we are young, our feelings about ourselves generally stem from the way that our parents feel about us and treat us. While everyone deserves a loving, involved family, it is common for young people to grow up in environments where they do not get the adequate support they need. Many people grow up with parents who struggle with their own mental health issues, substance abuse, or other challenges that prevent them from providing the care, guidance, and attention needed. This can cause self-esteem issues, which can continue into adulthood.

Negative Peers

Similar to the way being treated negatively by our parents can influence our self-esteem, we are also influenced by the way we are treated by our peers. If you are part of a social group that brings you down, does not respect you, pressures you to do things you are not comfortable with, or does not value your thoughts and feelings, you can be left to feel that something is wrong with you. It also sends the message that you have to do what others want from you in order to be liked, which makes you question your worth. This can be very damaging to how we see ourselves.


Any type of trauma or abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual, can cause feelings of shame and guilt. If someone feels that they did something to deserve the abuse, they may begin to feel that they are not worthy of love and respect. Those who have suffered from abuse may have high levels of anxiety and depression, which can interfere with their self-esteem.

Body Image

Body image plays a significant role in people’s self-esteem, especially in young women. We are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images of what we “should” look like, making us feel inadequate or unattractive. While women are disproportionately affected by body image messages, it also effects males. Men who struggle with low self-esteem generally associate their weight and body composition with wanting more muscle mass. If you are someone who has lives with body image issues, it can leave you feeling self-conscious, which negatively effects your self-esteem.

Unrealistic Goals

Pressure to succeed can come from ourselves, authority figures, and peers. Some people expect too much of themselves when it comes to academics, mastering activities, social status, and career related goals. When people want to be “the best” all of the time, they are likely to disappoint themselves. This can lead to the feeling of wanting to please everyone, which cannot actually happen. The inevitable failure that comes with having unrealistic goals can lead to low self-esteem.

Previous Regretful Choices

We can definitely get used to patterns of decision-making, even when we know we are not always making the best choices. Maybe you were not a good friend, didn’t apply yourself in school, or participated in risky behavior. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are “that kind of person” who behaves in a certain way. This can lead to feelings of disliking yourself because of these past choices, but it doesn’t mean you can’t change your course now. Reflecting on these choices and the way you view yourself can positively effect your self-esteem.

Negative Thought Patterns

When you get used to thinking and talking about yourself in a certain way, it becomes a habit. Your thoughts and feelings can be similar to muscle memory, which is when your brain automatically signals to your muscles to do whatever the activity requires. If you have felt worthless or inferior, you may be thinking negative thoughts or say negative things about yourself. This habit is likely to continue, unless you decide to break the cycle by challenging yourself. Just as this can be a learned habit, it can also be unlearned.

These causes of low self-esteem are not the only ones, but they are the most common. It is helpful to examine the situations in your life at home, school, work, and social environments, as well as your own attitudes and thoughts about yourself to figure out the potential sources of low self-esteem. To work with a therapist who can help you boost your self-esteem, click here.