Low self-esteem generally occurs when a person lacks an appropriate level of self-respect. People with low self-esteem usually feel insecure, despite any reassurance they may receive from others. They may find themselves emphasizing their flaws and failures, while downgrading their successes and positive attributes. They may harbor many negative self-beliefs and speak very negatively about themselves to others. Low self-esteem can increase the risk of mental illness, affect relationships, and damage overall quality of life.
Most experts believe that low self-esteem develops very early in life, often in childhood or adolescence. One's early relationships with parents, siblings, peers, and authority figures are believed to have a massive effect on self-esteem. Those who experience loving, supportive relationships early in life are more likely to enjoy healthy self-esteem. Those who experience rejection or abuse, whether emotional or physical, in early relationships are generally considered less capable of developing a healthy sense of self-worth.
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The perceptions of others are considered vital to developing self-esteem. As children and adolescents, most people look to family, friends, and peers to give them a sense of self-worth. People who develop low self-esteem are often those who feel that they failed in some important way early in life. Many people who develop problems with inadequate self-esteem feel that they have failed to earn the approval of an important person in their lives, such as a parent or partner, and therefore may perceive themselves as inadequate or worthless.
Unhealthily low self-esteem can have a number of negative ramifications. It is often linked to depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance-abuse problems. People who lack an appropriate sense of self-worth may have trouble succeeding at school or work, since they often remain convinced that any efforts they make will lead to failure. A low self-opinion makes it difficult to listen to or give credit to any positive feedback. People with low self-esteem tend to discount any positive feedback out of hand, since they are usually quite certain of their negative self-beliefs.
People with healthy self-esteem, on the other hand, are capable of recognizing and acknowledging both their flaws and their strengths, without giving undue emphasis to either one. Those with an appropriate sense of self-worth generally handle stress better and are considered less likely to succumb to mental illness. Experts also believe that it is possible to have too much self-esteem. It is believed that excessive self-esteem may contribute to violent or abusive behavior, since it can lead to feelings of superiority over others.