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Do you often find telling yourself off with this: “It happened because I’m never any good?” Or this: “I always mess things up?” Do you often put yourself down because you feel you are less than others?
Did it occur to you that it could be low self-esteem causing this?
Understanding Low Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is, simply stated, a sense of your self-worth. It is the attitude that you have towards yourself.
According to Stanley Coopersmith, 1967, self-esteem has at least four dimensions:
- power, and
While, at times, every one of us may catch ourselves being self-critical and engaging in negative thinking about our abilities, it is not something that even an expert would qualify as abnormal behavior. However, when you do it quite often, it then becomes a low self-esteem issue.
It is then that you play out as your own worst enemy.
People in states of low self-esteem generally hold themselves in a negative judgment altogether. The trouble is the more they judge themselves this way, the more they declare this identity to their social circles. They say things as “I’m a loser” so many times that soon it starts to become obvious to others around them.
In time, this barrage of negative judgments of theirs become their deep-seated beliefs.
Damages of Low Self-Esteem
Researchers have shown that a high self-esteem is associated with superior physical health, better psychological wellbeing, and more optimism and happiness. While a low self-esteem has been found to be related to anxiety, depression, and alcohol dependence.
As the person with low self-esteem, what this does to you is quite damaging:
- You stop seeing your own positive qualities
- You become too self-conscious and tend to withdraw from all social connections
- Your performance at work suffers, and so does your relationships with your colleagues
- You find it difficult to speak or stand up for yourself
- Often, you find yourself trying too hard to please others
- You distance themselves from enjoyable activities of all kinds
- Your smoking and drinking habits change for the worse
- Your partners and family start to find you growing aloof
Not surprisingly, you also stop accepting all compliments about yourself
- The most dangerous part is perhaps the aggressive reactions you show in the face of even minor criticisms. (Psychologists call this HAS (Hostile Attribution Style). They have established that low self-esteem is related to increased HAS.)
Causes of Low Self-Esteem
Often, the things that we learn in our childhood years — or later in the adolescent age — influence our thoughts, behavior and actions. Even as an adult, if we stay under long periods of stress, we might form negative beliefs about ourselves as a result. Living in cruel relationships, as with narcissists or psychopaths, may also make us rack up some serious low opinion about our self-worth.
- Stressful life events and experiences
- Negative thinking patterns and biased expectations
- Moody temperament
- Loneliness and social isolation
- Difficult childhood conditions, as abuse or trauma
- Underlying mental health problems, as depression
- Domination by oppressive people (“make sure you’re not surrounded by a**’oles”)
How To Overcome Low Self-Esteem With Mindfulness
Let’s look into the relationship between mindfulness and self-esteem. Psychologists have found that practicing mindfulness can help you overcome your low self-esteem.
Mindfulness is a way of being aware of the present moment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity and non-judgment. Being mindful is to observe your moment-to-moment experiences — your thoughts, feelings and sensations. You let your thoughts and emotions arrive and pass through your mind, but do not react or get carried away by them.
It trains our mind to observe our feelings and thoughts just as they appear, without getting involved or passing judgments. In a way, it helps us live our lives more to the full, even if there are no self-esteem issues in our lives.
Researchers have found that mindfulness increases compassion, acceptance, positive emotions, and general wellbeing.
In 2013, Christopher Pepping with his colleagues at Griffith University, Australia, did a study. It was a twin-study, meaning two studies done within one. Pepping found that mindfulness training given to undergraduate psychology students increased their self-esteem.
The research team expected to find out if mindfulness would raise a student’s self-esteem levels. They believed the process underlying mindfulness would involve:
- holding attention to the present,
- putting labels on internal experiences,
- bringing non-judgment to emotions and behavior, and
- letting thoughts and emotions interact (but not react) with awareness.
In their first study, they found that those who had better mindfulness skills also had higher self-esteem. But it was a simple correlation — meaning that two separate conditions appear together, but do not explain which causes which. So they did another study.
And their second study turned out to be the real deal.
In the second study, they gave a 15-minute mindfulness training to half of the thirty students. To the other half, they gave a 15-minute story about a carnivorous plant. Afterwards, the participants were given questionnaires.
Those in the mindfulness group were found to have higher self-esteem (and better mindfulness, of course). In the other group, there were no such changes. This lead them to conclude that mindfulness increases self-esteem levels. But they weren’t sure if the effect was anything beyond temporary.
The Griffith University research team wrote, “Mindfulness may be a useful way to address the underlying processes associated with low self-esteem, without temporarily bolstering positive views of oneself by focusing on achievement or other transient factors. In brief, mindfulness may assist individuals to experience a more secure form of high self-esteem.”
In Dec 2015, a review study of 17 studies that they published the results in the journal Mindfulness, Chloe Randall and team found that most of these studies reached the same conclusion: Mindfulness training significantly raised self-esteem.
Back in 2007, Norman Farb and his team carried out a series of fMRI studies. They found that people who practiced mindfulness showed less in activity in the brain region linked to self-evaluation and analysis (the medial prefrontal cortex). Also, there was an increase in activity in brain regions linked to moment-by-moment experiences (the lateral prefrontal cortex, especially the insula).
The conclusion is straightforward: If you feel you are going through a phase of low self-esteem, gently welcome into your life the practice of mindfulness. Even 15 minutes a day is enough. If you sense one of your friends or loved ones is in the same state, advice them the same.
Here is our simple, easy to follow manual to learn mindfulness in just seven steps.
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