Lugging around a low self-esteem is perilous to more than just your public confidence. The effects of low self-esteem ripple through every nook and cranny of your life, eating away at it with inconspicuous malevolence.
Believe it or not, self-esteem doesn’t assemble itself during puberty. It doesn’t even wait for a child to be able to read the words “self-esteem.”
Contrary to popular opinion that it develops after a child starts school, self-esteem actually takes root much earlier. By the time little Einstein marches into his first day of kindergarten, he has an indelible, albeit unarticulated, sense of himself.
A ground-breaking study from the University of Washington found that, by 5-years-old, children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to an adult’s.
Perhaps the most compelling finding was that this early-developed self-esteem remains stable across the individual’s lifespan. It is critical in how children form social identities, and, in this way, is foundational for life.
The effects of low self-esteem in adulthood can be traced back to childhood adversity. The child may have suffered an absence of necessities (love, affirmation, guidance, protection, limits) or had hurtful experiences…or both.
Parents don’t have to be perfect to ensure their child emerges out of toddlerhood with a healthy sense of self. “Good-enough” parenting just requires that a child is loved and valued for who s/he is and not for behavior.
“Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity.”
Dr. Marcia Sirota, MD
As a child grows, his/her established sense of self — good or bad — sticks along for the ride. By the time the child is old enough to start making decisions, building complex relationships and holding jobs, it reveals lasting effects.
The effects of low self-esteem aren’t always glaring. But they can hijack your life, relationships and jobs without you even realizing or understanding why.
Below are 6 hidden effects of low self-esteem that harm you more today than in your childhood.
- Trouble making decisions and sticking to them.
Lack of confidence and sense of worth can make you wishy-washy on even the simplest things. Something as simple as deciding on a place to eat can become a palm-sweating, opinion-seeking dilemma. And that’s before you change your mind.
Translate that to situations that require quick, resolved decision-making, and you can see how you will hand over your life’s compass to others.
- “I really do want world peace.”
Thank you, Miss Congeniality, but fear of ruffling feathers by expressing your own opinion will only put you at war with yourself.
One of the classic effects of low self-esteem is a tendency to exaggerate or catastrophize out of a fear of confrontation.
Remember Chicken Little? “The sky is falling; the sky is falling!” You don’t have to be a bully to stand up for yourself, your opinions and your values. And no, the sky won’t fall….
The same low self-esteem that can leave a child emotionally wounded and isolated on the playground can spell disaster for an adult. How will you be able to say ‘no’ and mean it? Or hold your own during a difficult meeting with your boss?
- Staying in unfulfilling relationships.
If you have low self-esteem, you are prone to believing that you are unworthy of love. You may believe that no one with the qualities you desire in a mate would have an interest in you. You accept mediocrity — or possibly worse — out of resignation to your perceived undesirability.
- Staying in mediocre jobs.
Your conversation with yourself may sound something like the following….” People with great jobs are (fill in the compliments) and have (fill in the advantages). I’m not good enough, smart enough, experienced enough to do (fill in the job description). I’m not worthy of a position that high up or an income with that many zeros.”
- Inability to handle difficult feelings and situations.
A person with a healthy sense of self doesn’t need to avoid difficult feelings and situations. S/he can handle reasonable frustration and disappointment with problem-solving skills and acceptance.
An adult without that strong sense of self is especially vulnerable to finding ways to escape what feels unbearable. This narrative underlies most cases of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Too tired to tango with life.
One of the major effects of low self-esteem is fatigue. In the context of feeling unworthy, unconfident and incapable, sleep can become a way of avoiding life. After all, if you don’t engage, you don’t risk people being unhappy with you. You don’t risk messing things up. You don’t risk failing.
Chronic fatigue can also be a sign of depression. If left unmitigated, depression can have far-reaching emotional and physical consequences.
The effects of low self-esteem are pervasive, even if they are sneaky and tough to pin down.
The fact that self-esteem takes root at such a young age is a reminder to love children into a healthy sense of themselves.
It’s also a reminder to love yourself into healing practices so your own self-esteem doesn’t cause you to miss your life.
It is the passion behind our work to help people journey into their best selves and their best lives. If the effects of low self-esteem are holding you back, please reach out to us here.