Healing the Root Cause of Low Self-Esteem

April 10, 2014 Emily Roberts MA, LPC

The cause of low self-esteem differs for everyone, but they have similar themes. Learn how to find the cause of your low self-esteem so you can feel better.

There is always a root to a problem, and there is a root cause of low self-esteem, but without identifying why or how it got there, we don't have the tools to overcome low self-esteem for good. Knowing what negative thoughts are ingrained in your mind and otherwise identifying where low self-esteem came from will help you to better help yourself. So let's discuss the root cause of your low self-esteem so you can do something about it.

Why You Must Find the Root Cause of Low Self-Esteem

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.

What Can Cause 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.

Events or Situations That Lead to Low Self-Esteem

Past experiences have created the self-image and self-esteem we hold today. Learn how to heal the root cause of your low self-esteem.

  1. 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.
  2. Loss or trauma: feeling out of control, death of a loved one, divorce, feeling abandoned, abuse
  3. 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.
  4. 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 That Lead to Low Self-Esteem

Mistaken beliefs come from our own experiences as we attempt to make sense of the life circumstances and feelings we encounter. However, they hold us back and keep the roots from healing.

There are 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.

Know Where Your Low Self-Esteem Came from to Get Rid of It

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.

Over time, 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.

APA Reference
Roberts, E. (2014, April 10). Healing the Root Cause of Low Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Emily is a psychotherapist, she is intensively trained in DBT, she 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 FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

May, 1 2017 at 11:26 am

I feel pressure on my lipes while i am talking could you give some advise what cause this feeling and how to over come it thank you.

September, 7 2016 at 7:40 am

Hi Emily, where do you practice as I am struggling and I have been for most of my life, this sounds great, I would love some help.

January, 27 2016 at 5:17 am

These are good tips.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 28 2016 at 11:41 pm

Thank you Brandon I hope you are doing well and appreciate your comment.
Take Good Care,

December, 9 2014 at 11:56 am

I know the root of the self-esteem issue (a parent/loved one who was overly-critical etc.).. The problem is that it was done so much that the criticism seems valid and real. In this case I feel like noticing the root doesn't help if I can't realize that it is no longer true.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 16 2018 at 10:13 am

Fully agree Steve. Because you hear from one person that it isnt true doesnt suddenly erase the 30 years that the opposite has been ingrained in you. How do you "convincingly" tell your mind the right way if you so easily believed the wrong way for so long?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 22 2018 at 9:11 am

Kirst, this is a very good point. I think the first step, of course, is trying to clearly understand how the past has ingrained this habitual way of thinking. This can make it easier to talk back to the low self-esteem, as it were, and to acknowledge that it is there at no fault of your own. There are also many techniques to convincingly tell your mind differently – mindfulness and compassion-based approaches, as well as CBT, can prove incredibly useful.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 22 2018 at 6:29 pm

Hi There,
It's likely if you are reading this you have a willingness to want to heal some of roots of low self-esteem. That's fantastic and the first step towards healing. It's not an easy task and takes time to retrain your brain the help of a therapist or a program can make it easier and will guide you to learn and change the patterns that keep you from feeling your best. Nothing will erase whats happened to you, but with the right tools you can reduce negative self-talk that holds you back. Cognitive behavioral therapy and DBT have both been very effective in this too.

July, 5 2014 at 8:23 pm

thanks for this post.

Pam Serra
May, 2 2014 at 1:19 pm

OMG! Seeing this could not have come at a better time.....I am currently struggling (again) in therapy with anxiety and stress over feeling powerless and less than....

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 2 2014 at 6:37 pm

Hi Pam,
I hope this helps I really like The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, it helps address why and how we can heal our roots. Good luck and keep up the good work!

Elina Ponting
April, 16 2014 at 1:55 am

Good and a very informative post for me. I like reading this. Thanks a lot for sharing...

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