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Why Do We Suffer From Low Self-Esteem?

Mike had become a wealthy entrepreneur, but he had a hard time enjoying his business success because it seemed that every minute he wasn’t solving a business problem he was worried about what others thought of him and what he could do to get their approval.

Janet probably had as many good ideas as Mike, but because she was plagued with procrastination, she was nowhere near as successful.

Roger always talked about his dream of doing something on his own, but he just didn’t have the confidence to leave his safe (and boring) job.

And finally there was Marlene, who complained of bouts of anxiety that seemed to come over her without warning and paralyze her.

Stories like these from our clients go on forever. We’ve literally heard thousands of them. It seems as if no one really escapes.

Escapes what? … Having a low sense of self-esteem, a negative sense of oneself, a little voice in one’s head that is constantly critical of oneself.

Common Myths About Self-esteem

Before I explain why so many people have low self-esteem, let me first dispel a few common myths about self-esteem.

First, people who are described as “full of themselves,” or who have “too much self-esteem,” are people with low self-esteem who are trying to convince themselves and others of a worth they don’t experience. Low self-esteem is the result of negative self-esteem beliefs, such as I’m not good enough, I’m not important, I’m not worthy or deserving, and I’m not capable. People with high self-esteem don’t need to convince anyone of their worth; they know they are good enough and important and don’t need anyone’s approval to experience being okay.

Second, low self-esteem is not limited to the “losers” in life. A survey that makes this point crystal clear reported than many CEOs of billion dollar companies had the fear that “someday I’ll be found out and they’ll take it all away from me.” This fear is so common it has been termed “The Imposter Syndrome.” It is possible to be successful by conventional standards (plenty of money, a good job or your own company, selling your artistic endeavors, achieving whatever you set out to achieve) and still have low self-esteem. In such cases the low self-esteem shows up as a critical “little voice” in your head that criticizes much of what you achieve, as a feeling that you don’t deserve your success, as a fear of rejection, or a need to get others’ approval. All of these things that undercut the enjoyment you get from your success are the result of low self-esteem.

Third, not all people with low self-esteem are unable to function well. How well you are able to function depends not only on self-esteem beliefs, but also on what other beliefs you hold. In a study the Lefkoe Institute did with incarcerated teens and adults a few years ago, we discovered that those subjects had the same negative self-esteem beliefs as the CEOs we saw in our private practice. The difference was that the CEOs believed that what made them good enough or important is being successful (by society’s standards), while the people in jail believed that what made them good enough or important was getting away with things others couldn’t do, or being part of a gang, or not accepting anyone else’s rules.

Why Is Low Self-Esteem So Common?

The question that is probably occurring to most of you right now is: Why do so many people have negative self-esteem beliefs? Why has almost every one of the 13,000 clients we’ve talked to had the belief, I’m not good enough?

Almost all of our self-esteem beliefs, positive or negative, are formed in the first six years of life as the result of interactions we have with our primary caretakers, almost always our parents.

Any yet most parents love their children and want the best for their children. So what goes wrong?

To begin with, most parents are not aware that children are forming beliefs about themselves based on their interactions with their parents, which usually don’t appear to be at all harmful.

But even when parents are aware of this, they can have a hard time stopping their inappropriate behavior because they are rarely aware of the conflict between what they as parents want and what children are able to understand and do at various ages.

Parents, being adults, generally like quiet; children are not quiet and cannot even understand why anyone would value quiet.

Parents for the most part want their house to be neat; young children don’t even understand the concept of “neat.”

Parents want to sit down for dinner when it is ready and before it gets cold; children are almost always doing something that is far more important to them and don’t want to stop doing it when their parents call them.

In other words, parents usually want their children to do things that they are developmentally incapable of doing. They want their young children to act like little adults, which they cannot possibly do.

The question is not, Do children frequently “disobey” their parents? Children are developmentally incapable to living up to their parents’ expectations much of the time. The only question is how parents react when their children are not doing what the parents want them to do.

And because few parents go to parenting school and most bring their own beliefs from their childhoods with them, their reactions range from annoyance and frustration to anger and abuse, with every possibility in between.

What Is The Question Young Children Ask All Day Long?

Hint. It’s only one word.

Yes, it’s “Why?”.

Children know that they don’t have the answers (kids are always saying, “When I grow up, then I’ll be able to….). Children think their parents (because they are adults) know everything and have all the answers.

It’s as if the child thinks to herself, “If my parents don’t like what I do a lot of the time and are unhappy with me, they must have a good reason. I guess I’m not good enough to have their approval.” Or, “If I can’t get their attention, I guess I’m not important.” Or, “If I always have to do what they want me to do and rarely get to do what I want, I guess I’m powerless.”

In other words, children form their beliefs about themselves trying to make sense of their parents’ behavior, statements, tone of voice, and facial expressions … every waking minute.

It is important to emphasize here that rarely will just a few parental actions or statements lead children to form beliefs, positive or negative. It is only when something is done or said many times that a child forms a belief. It’s as if children say to themselves, “Why does this keep happening? Oh, now I know what it means.”

Parental Clichés Lead To Low Self-Esteem

Some of the phrases parents commonly use have become clichés in our society:

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

“Don’t you ever listen?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Are you just clumsy/stupid?”

What would it mean to a child aged two to six or seven to hear those phrases uttered repeatedly in anger or frustration?

Thirteen thousand clients have told us:

I’m not good enough. Mistakes are bad. I’m not capable or competent. I’m inadequate.

Do you understand now why so many of us have low self-esteem, which shows up in so many obvious and subtle ways, including worrying about what people think of us, being afraid to take risks, having a little voice in our head that keeps telling us that what we do isn’t good enough, etc.?

And do you also now understand that getting rid of the beliefs that cause a low self-esteem will increase your self-esteem?

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a series of processes that free people from their self-imposed limitations. If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to http://www.recreateyourlife.com/free where you can eliminate one such belief free.

Copyright © 2011 Morty Lefkoe

 

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  • http://gmail.com semuzima faisal

    Yes you take your time to listen and understand your cliants, and you serve then with love and care, but the truth is that some parents are just being so relactant, arogant and in some cases they only forcus on their own benefits
    without taking time to pay atention to other peoples idears which are developmetal. How do you see that when the tiny adults are not listen too their advise!Thank you so much.

    • edk

      What you just tried to say made absolutely no sense…

  • http://www.Mazzastick.com Justin | Mazzastick

    Morty,

    Great post and so true. I remember how the things that parents, caregivers, and authority figures had said to me when I was young stuck to me like glue.

    It’s important to have “reasonable” expectations of children and all people for that matter.

  • http://www.peppervirtualassistant.com/ Marco Paulo

    Very nice post Morty! Without a doubt, parents play a huge role in cultivating their kid’s self-esteem. In nursing school, we were taught about Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory. He claims that during the toddler stage, a child learns new skills. This gives him/her confidence and self-respect. Thus, parents should show support, recognition, and appreciation to build a strong foundation for their kids’ self-esteem.

  • http://www.insp1re.com Insp1re

    Great post!

    Thanks,

  • http://www.happinesshereblog.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I disagree that parents are to blame for our own low self-esteem. In extreme cases, like child abuse, this may be true, but not by and large. I think that the kind of thinking outlined above – I’m not good enough, smart enough, deserving enough – is simply the human condition. We have to plug into the Source of boundless love, boundless intelligence, and boundless abundance in order to escape from the confines of our own negative self-beliefs.

  • http://recreateyourlife.com Morty Lefkoe

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Based on our experience in working with over 14,000 clients, we have found that the source of our negative beliefs about ourselves is interactions with our parents during the first few years of our lives.

    Moreover, when those beliefs are eliminated, one’s sense of self worth changes drastically. So it is not inherent in the human condition if it can easily be changed.

    Love, Morty

    • http://www.happinesshereblog.blogspot.com Jennifer

      I disagree…but I still love the blog. =)

    • Anonymous

      Morty,

      Loved the Post !

      I also watched the videos on your website and it’s just awesome :)

      Thanks a ton,
      Kavitha

  • Deepa

    Thanks for sharing
    .

  • Pingback: What Influences Self-Esteem? | Self Help Now

  • Anna

    Interesting article, but I don’t think this theory applies to me. I don’t recall my parents ever speaking to me in that kind of way, but I still have low self-esteem…I am extremely sensitive to peoples’ negative remarks, and I often feel inadequate, incompetent, and stupid…

  • Anna

    Interesting article, but I don’t think this theory applies to me. I don’t recall my parents ever speaking to me in that kind of way, but I still have low self-esteem…I am extremely sensitive to peoples’ negative remarks, and I often feel inadequate, incompetent, and stupid…

  • Kyboswell26
  • Shivakoosharma

    Time wasting article….

  • ceetu

    you, write correct ,but, in a one way direction , that , parents r being responsible.. i think other things also matter, like, results , looks, etc,,,,  i am 24 yr old , still i have such problem , and i want to get out  frm this,

  • http://overcominglowselfesteem.com/ Wolfgang

    Most
    people face difficulties in overcoming low self esteem. Though many desired to
    endure the process that would help them improve their sense of self worth, only
    few of them succeeded in doing so. This process works gradually and requires a
    lot of practice, patience and determination. And enduring this might be tricky
    and perplexing. Because the more you struggle to fight against low self-esteem,
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