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Self Esteem - Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Self Esteem centres on an opinion of oneself. Low self esteem negatively affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves or looks. Life is restricted when a person views themself as incompetent or unworthy of happiness. When a person treats their negative self view as fact rather than opinion, they find it hard to value themself. Low self esteem involves a readiness to criticise oneself rather than accept oneself as a fallible human being. An underlying sense of self acceptance is not present in low self esteem.


Low self esteem can feel like being in a stuck position that gives rise to a sense of failure and shame. Habitual self criticism leads to dissatisfaction. Sensitivity to criticism from others leads to feeling easily attacked and resentment. Fear of making a mistake leads to indecision. An inability to say no and fear of displeasing others leads to excessive pleasing of others. Perfectionism leads to frustration when perfectionism is not achieved. Magnifying mistakes and being without self forgiveness leads to guilt.


Low self esteem is often caused by negative statements internalised from critical parents or interpreted from difficult experiences, and maintained when they form a rigid low opinion of oneself. The causes of low self esteem can be related to adolescence, anxiety, childhood issues, depression, domestic violence, eating disorders, mental health problems, physical illness, personal relationships, self harm, sexual abuse, social anxiety, trauma, weight issues, or work issues and relationships.

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Updated 18 June 2013