Low self-esteem is the inability to have confidence in your own skills, achievements or personal qualities. It is different from modesty or humility in that people who are modest recognize their talents but are careful not to brag about them. People with low self-esteem tend to not even recognize their positive attributes.
Children, teens, men and women can all experience low self-esteem. This is strongly correlated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, social isolation, poor academic or professional performance and a variety of physical health issues including heart trouble and lowered immunity.
Here are the top nine causes of low self-esteem in South Asians:
1. Excessive Criticism: Anyone who repeatedly hears what is wrong with them from a close loved one, such as a parent, spouse or child, will begin to internalize those messages. Many South Asians feel as if they have a buffer against them and the harsh words don’t affect them. While they may behave as if they are immune, emotionally they are still being affected and over time their self-esteem begins to erode whether they wish to admit that or not.
2. Parental influence: Parents play one of the most important roles in building a child’s self-esteem. Parents who have low self-esteem themselves or have an overall negative view of life will transmit that to their children, teaching them the common thought patterns that result in low self-esteem.
3. Abuse and Neglect. Experiencing verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse is very closely tied to low self-esteem. The abuser makes the victim feel as if they are unimportant, unvalued and as if the victim brought upon themselves this horrible act of abuse. This is true for adults as well as children. Children who are neglected by their caretakers are also very likely to develop low self-esteem. Often, abusers have very low self-esteem as well and feel so painfully towards themselves that the only way they know how to deal with it is to make someone else feel worse.
4. Shame. South Asian parents tend to encourage their children to feel shame, as opposed to the healthier alternative of feeling guilty, when the child has done something wrong. By feeling as if they are flawed (shame) instead of feeling as if they have done something wrong (guilt) children grow up believing that no matter what they do and how close to perfect they try to behave, they will never be good enough.
5. Bullying. Related to abuse, bullying a child or an adult encourages an internalization that the child or adult is not worthy of being respected or treated fairly. Many times bullies have low self-esteem as well but they externalize those difficult feelings and hurt someone else instead.
6. Perfectionistic tendencies. Trying to achieve perfection often leads to failure because perfection is almost never attainable. Repeatedly experiencing failures can send the message that a person is flawed at the core and unable to be successful. This sometimes increases the desire to be even more perfectionistic, creating a vicious cycle that is very difficult to break and is detrimental to emotional health.
7. Physical appearance. Sometimes people feel very insecure about how they look. This can be from comparing themselves to an unrealistic ideal that is shown in magazines or on TV. Other times it is because they have experienced bullying or teasing about their body. Without proper intervention, low self-esteem due to physical appearance can turn into body image issues which can have very long lasting consequences on a person’s emotional and physical health.
8. Academic Failure or Unemployment. South Asians place a significant value on academic and professional achievements. Many South Asians grow up believing that if they do not attain a certain standard of academic performance or if they do not have a specific type of job they have failed. Flunking a class or losing a job is the ultimate failure in their eyes. Since they have tied their self-worth to their career, any negative changes implies that who they are as a person is not good enough. This also creates a cycle of lowered self-esteem which affects future effort and success, further lowering their self confidence.
9. Emotional or physical health problems. Numerous mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. are intricately tied to low self-esteem. Similarly, serious physical illnesses such as cancer, heart disease or injuries that significantly affect a person’s lifestyle can also cause low self-esteem. Essentially, mental and physical health problems can be interpreted as a flaw in the person resulting in very judgmental thoughts about one’s self such as, “I should be able to run by now” or “This shouldn’t be so hard for me”. These negativistic thoughts perpetuate low self-esteem and makes it harder for the person to work around their limitations and resume a healthy and satisfying life.
Low self-esteem affects everyone from a young child to an elderly adult. It has very significant consequences for long term physical and emotional health, relationships and career success. Learn more about how to improve self-esteem and live a healthier life.
What else do you think causes low self-esteem?