Posted in Self Esteem

Misunderstanding Low Self-Esteem (Revisited)

About a year and a half ago, I wrote this article about common misconceptions of low self-esteem, specifically that many people think low self-esteem can be overcome merely by achieving things and reminding yourself of what you have achieved. This is part of it, but it is not enough. This is mostly because a person with low self-esteem is utterly convinced that they are not good enough. No matter what you achieve, no matter how hard you work you are always going to feel inadequate. You will also persistently discount those little successes

You got 80% on that test? Great, but you know if you’d tried harder you’d have got 85% You got a first class degree… hah! so did a lot of other people, you should have won one of the special Department’s or Dean’s awards for academic excellence.

And it goes on like that pushing yourself beyond physical and mental limits to just get that little bit better every time yet never quite being able to live up to those standards that you set for yourself. You put your self worth in what you achieve yet what you achieve, no matter how amazing, is never going to be good enough.

Low Self-Esteem is a Mental Illness

Yet so many people still fail to comprehend what it means. I have heard it put very succinctly as “being your own bully” and have yet to come across a better description than that. The last couple of years when I was working on Melanie Fennell’s book, one of the earliest tasks was to step outside of oneself and imagine yourself being as cruel to a friend as you were being to yourself. Would you tell a friend that their academic achievements weren’t good enough? Would you tell a friend who had the flu to get up off their arse and go to work? No.. so you shouldn’t do it to yourself.

“People think I am confident because I can address a room full of people. The reality is that I spend most of my time thinking that I’m not good enough. If I… give a speech, I spend the next few days thinking about all the mistakes I made.” Source: Mind

This is what low self-esteem is.

Yet it seems that some in society both here in North America think the problem is so prevalent that self-esteem training is included as part of social education in schools. As somebody who has had a lifelong problem with low self-esteem and has come out the other side (but by no means convinced that it is confined to the realms of history) it concerns me that it could be sending the wrong message to children going through a normal part of growing up.

We all at times have problems with body perception or our own worth – especially as teenagers – but post people grow out of it or learn to control it. Though I think that programmes like the Dove Self-Esteem Project are generally a good thing, they are not being marketed in the right way or at the right people in the right context. Besides, Dove sells soap – they are not a mental health service and do not employ psychologists or psychotherapists.

I feel that we should learn to identify children who are already showing signs of self-esteem problems, not blanket encouraging all children to think more highly of themselves when they don’t actually have a negative self-perception. Self-esteem training/treatment will probably not work on those who do not have low self-esteem because they cannot identify with the problems being presented.

High self esteem can be a problem so I am concerned that these courses and treatments are going to have the opposite effect of what they intend.



I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

8 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Low Self-Esteem (Revisited)

  1. I didn’t know they were starting that in schools. Or are thinking about it? I think learning about confidence is generally a good thing. And there are some people who may be confident in some things (like sports) but not in others (like dating or math or something). Sometimes it’s just their confidence in themselves in that particular task that gets them to under perform.

    1. The Dove Programme I linked to has been running for a few years already. I saw something a while ago about self-esteem classes in the USA. I’ll do some digging around again when I get the chance.

      No problem with confidence training – I’m really wondering about the methods use, the level of professionalism and whether these programmes can work on kids who don’t have low self-esteem.

      I just think the efforts (and money) would be better focussed on those who are showing all the signs of having or developing actual mental health problems, especially in an area like mental health that is underfunded anyway.

      1. I think they should work on both; confidence for all and more help for those with deeper mental health problems. Better than throwing everyone on pills, which is what we do now. And one of the scary parts of that is that most (if not all) of the big shootings here in America were from those with mental health issues on prescription drugs. Why can’t we just nip everyone’s ‘issues’ in the bud?
        For example, I remember you mentioning something along the lines of your father being critical of you and its affect on you. But what if you had ‘confidence/self-esteem’ course in high school or college that helped you deal with it and manage the ‘judge’ in your mind? Then maybe you could have avoided depression. Just a theory!
        This is why I think everyone should get it, because some kids may be fine, but later may internalize something a parent, lover, friend, or authority says that may direct them into a deeper downward spiral. Low self esteem is acquired and learned. We are not born thinking we are less than and undeserving of happiness!

        1. Better than throwing everyone on pills, which is what we do now.

          For me, having been on anti-depressants, I feel they are part of the solution but not a solution in themselves. They are mood stabilisers and when your mood is up and down – from euphoria to despair – sometimes both in the same day, there is no other solution for that: you can’t think straight, you can’t concentrate. You are short-tempered, prone to emotional outbursts.

          I’m not sure if you were reading this blog when I posted the experience I call “The Crash” (click).It was horrendous to go from high to low in 24 hours, but some go through that several times a day and need the pills to stabilise their mood.

          But what if you had ‘confidence/self-esteem’ course in high school or college that helped you deal with it and manage the ‘judge’ in your mind? Then maybe you could have avoided depression. Just a theory!

          Perfectly valid! So long as it is being used to identify those who need real help then it can only be a good thing – I’m just yet to be convinced that that’s how they are being used. I’ve never been one for the “one size fits all” mentality – and I’ve always been in favour of talking to / at children less and listening to them more. Getting people to open up is the way forward. It took therapy for me to realise just how much baggage I was still carrying from the past.

          I guess in all my waffling I’m try to say that these courses might me inadequate for those who need help and useless on those who don’t need help – but you raise the possibility of them being a preventive measure… I can’t argue with that so in that respect, there is immediate value.

          Low self esteem is acquired and learned. We are not born thinking we are less than and undeserving of happiness!

          It is indeed 🙂

          1. I read your post, and I can’t speak from experience, but my opinion is that pills are a short term solution. It’s good to help you out but there should be long term strategies as well.
            And I agree, there shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ self-esteem program. Definitely.

            1. I agree – long-term or permanent user should be far rarer than it actually is. From people I have spoken to who are most supportive of anti-depressants, they are usually those who have used them short term as I did and as a mood stabiliser.

  2. Dear,,

    Hi.. please introduce myself,,My name is Hwang Cho Ryeon,,I am Asian,24 years old. I am unemployed. I have been fired from the job I was in twice. I can hardly find any other job bcs of my bad working experience on my cv.
    Since then, I realized that I am a slow learner. I was fired bcs I did mistakes for so many times and didn’t understand the instructions properly.

    Well, I have big problem with learning new thing. I used to be a very hardworker but still there always be some flaws on my work. My supervisor always mad at me like, “I’ve said it so many times!”. They did right thing. I didnt blame my previous supervisors who fired me. All I am blaming is my ability of learning and understanding.

    Because of this,I know my weakness well. This leads me to have a terrible feeling when it comes to talk to someone, I’m always getting nervous and panic when I have to explain something. That’s one of the reason why I got fired. I have bad communication skill. Why, because I am afraid if I’m doing wrong.

    Ever since the last day of my working, I haven’t applied for any job yet. I have traumatic feeling about getting fired. My mom always scold me and asking why I’m not looking for another Job. In fact, I never told this to anyone before include, (especially) my parents. I told them that my contract was terminated because I had to handle another job outside my Job desc. I didn’t tell them the honest reason.

    I can’t even share this to my bestfriends bcs they are the people I am envy with. They are the people I wish I could be. They are now having good position in their company with good salary. I feel so much intimidated when we go out for cinema or just hanging out,, they’re all proudly spending their self-earn money and sharing their working experience. Meanwhile, I am still using my parent’s money,, and the leftover money from my last salary.Things are getting harder for me when they ask what my daily activities are. In fact Im just doing nothing at home.

    I keep telling lies to everyone. I am really afraid to tell the truth and to be judged. Having myself as a slow learner has already become the most hurtful thing I have to face.

    Now I am fighting so much againts my own anxiety and low self esteem. I am so afraid what if I never get a proper job.
    I am really expecting for you to do me a favor about what to do? What am I supposed to do ?
    I am so much thankful for your help..

    Best Regards
    Hwang Cho Ryeon

    1. Hwang (and assuming this is genuine) you have posted this same message on about 12 other blogs in the last month. A number of them have offered some very good advice. Instead of visiting more blogs and copy-pasting the same message to all of them, why don’t you take the wide range of advice you have already been offered?

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