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Low self-esteem – Due to unfair self-judgment?
Some people are more comfortable providing help to others than they are receiving it for themselves. Perhaps your first instinct is to decline some help? It may be you suffer from low self-esteem because you judge yourself as undeserving of any nice things.
Not everyone likes to be in the limelight. But do you feel uncomfortable when other people notice you and show appreciation? If so it may be because you feel you don’t matter.
Pessimism is one thing but have you given up on hoping for personal happiness? This can happen when we expect disappointments in life due to what we see as foibles, failings or flaws in our character.
Negative self-judgments tend to persist if they come from a deep emotional cause. Giving them weight means they will weigh you down with low self-esteem. They can reduce your sense of well-being, lessens your self-confidence in social situations, or sap your energy when facing challenges.
Low self-esteem of women who love too much
Robin Norwood in her book ‘Women who love too much’ writes about a kind of sexual relationship where someone is loved who is inappropriate, uncaring or unavailable.
“We who love obsessively are full of fear – fear of being alone, fear of being unlovable and unworthy, fear of being ignored or abandoned or destroyed.”
In loving a man who doesn’t love back, she says there is a desperate unfulfilled hope that he will take care of such fears.
And so people suffering from very low self-esteem gravitate to unsatisfactory relationships in which they are denigrated or abused. It has been suggested that such behaviour is the result of their desire to maintain a stable identity by bringing others to see them as they see themselves, even when they view themselves negatively.
The writer does not intend to imply that women are the only ones who love too much as she claims some men also practise this obsession with relationships with as much fervour as any woman could. However she reckons most men who have a deep-seated sense of low self-esteem usually try to protect themselves and avoid their pain through pursuits which are more impersonal than personal becoming obsessed instead with work, sports or hobbies.
Reasons for low self-esteem
Psychotherapists maintain that a persistently negative self-attitude can be related to a childhood experience of not being loved. For example if you were emotionally neglected, had punitive parents or were exposed to verbal abuse when you were young, then the message was drummed in that you were inherently bad and deserving of punishment. Not an easy belief to get rid of.
As such a child becomes an adult he or she retains this poor sense of self-worth, often experiencing an inner voice unfairly criticising any thoughts and actions. This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents you from trying new things and puts you down. It compares you unfavourably with other people and attributes any success you may have merely to chance. Your failures are only to be expected. If you interpret what you do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’. No wonder you might suffer from low self-esteem.
Mindfully observing judgmental thoughts
Cognitive psychotherapists say that it is possible to get free of the negative voice of low self-esteem. But first you have to start to reflect on what it says in a calm way. Only then can you hear it as something separate from you. Something that can be seen for what it is, a mere habit of thinking which can be challenged and set aside. When you start to notice the biased way it selects and distorts information, ignoring or discounting contrary evidence for its damaging conclusions, only then can you consider alternative ways of thinking.
“These are the strengths I have and so I am not just full of weakness: these are good points and so I am not such a bad person: these are the people who like me and so I am not unworthy of appreciation or an ugly freak after all.”
To help get rid of low self-esteem you might also affirm the idea that as a child of the universe you are loved for who you are.
Original sin and low self-esteem
An idea still around since Christendom is seeing human nature as basically guilty of sin and thus deserving punishment. It is possible this belief may reinforce in some people their sense of low self-esteem and worthlessness.
Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th century spiritual philosopher, offered a different view of original sin which I like to call hereditary self-centeredness: this he claimed passes from generation to generation. Furthermore, the self-centered tendencies cannot be completely abolished, but can be set to one side when you reform your own life, and you are thus held accountable only for your actual own personal choices.
Swedenborg also said that in addition you also inherit specific good tendencies from your parents and their forefathers. In addition he wrote that you have heavenly states you received during the innocence of your childhood which remain deep seated within your psyche.
The conclusion from this is that there is no need to feel bad about yourself on account of the bad tendencies you have inherited from forefathers.
In fact Swedenborg’s religious view was that you can celebrate any virtues of character you have acquired during your own life, as a spiritual gift received from the Divine Source of all that is loving and good. In other words, I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems