There is always a root to a problem, and there is a root to low self-esteem, but without identifying why or how it got there, we don’t have the tools to eradicate it for good. The struggle with developing unshakable confidence and self-esteem is like a battle with annoying ivy covering a beautiful home. Perhaps you have been used to the vines, even embracing them on occasion, but at the end of the day they are more problematic than positive, and they destroy the foundation.
I used this analogy just today with a beautiful young woman who felt anything but attractive. “I am trying, and I practice the tools, it just seems like I am not getting far; I am always struggling with the way I look,” she said.
“So, its like you are cutting a small leaf or branch off, but still feel like your covered in vines. Some of the tricks and tools we have used work but they don’t seem to be fixing the root cause—the reason these toxic thoughts developed in the first place.”
Even if we have done deep work in the past, when we thought we had eradicated those low self-esteem beliefs for good, the root can keep growing and the right circumstances can make it feel like the weeds are taking over your mind.
How to Get to the Root of Low Self-Esteem
Think of the ways your self-image, confidence, and self-esteem developed. These could have been thoughts you have had since childhood, early experiences, or circumstances you encountered through life. The beliefs stemmed from somewhere.
- Invalidating environments: an overly critical parent, lover, or friend. On the flip side, it could have been a person in your life behaved in a way that made you feel incapable of making your own decisions or trusting yourself. An overprotective parent or someone who made you feel fragile and that alone you couldn’t handle the demands of the world.
- Loss or trauma: feeling out of control, death of a loved one, divorce, feeling abandoned, abuse
- Rejection: this could have been from a loved one or a group of kids at school, not getting into a program or holding on to feelings of perceived inadequacy.
- Unspoken pressure: from peers, friends, even society, giving you standards you tried to live up to but always felt like you were coming up short.
- Mistaken beliefs: these come from our own experiences, attempting to make sense of the life circumstances and feelings we encounter. However, they hold us back and keep the roots from healing.
Common Mistaken Beliefs that Lead to Low Self-Esteem
Do any of these feel true for you? If so, get curious and look for the roots or experiences that made these come about.
- I am powerless; I am a victim of circumstances greater than me.
- Life is not easy; it’s always a struggle
- If I try, I will fail.
- I don’t matter.
- I should always look good and put together for others to like me.
- I need to be a certain size or weight to be worthy.
- I need to have X, Y or Z to feel successful.
- I can’t cope with the demands of the outside world.
- I am not good enough and I never have been.
- I will never be worthy of love or respect.
As hard as this may be to admit, there is power in recognizing where your mistaken beliefs come from. When you can identify, to the best of your ability, the ways the root may have formed, and the toxic thoughts of low self-esteem that keep it growing in your mind, you have a much better grasp on how false they really are.
For my client, we examined that many of her mistaken beliefs came from her peers, the media, what she was told was “pretty” by television and the images she saw. She has supportive parents, but had highly critical grandparents who made confusing comments to her about weight, appearance, and the need to be attractive. She also had friends who placed a lot of emphasis on outer appearance.
When you are aware of how these thoughts became stuck in your mind, you are better able to attack them when they come up. The more and more you practice, it’s like treating the ivy with chemicals. Each time you spray, it may not go away, but it is slowly killing the root. Overtime, the real you, the empowered you, becomes more visible. When you catch a new bud or leaf starting to grow, you can stop it in its tracks. Knowing and understanding the root cause of your pain or mistaken beliefs is the best way to rid yourself of toxic thoughts and low self-esteem for good.
Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.