Eventually, it can seem as if your parents’ opinion of you is in conflict with the world’s opinion of you. It can compel you to cling to what is familiar in your life because it’s hard to trust what’s real and what isn’t. You may question the validity of your parents’ positive view of you, and default to the idea that you are not good enough or are victim-like and should be the subject of ridicule.
6. Bullying (with Uninvolved Parents).
If your primary caregivers were otherwise occupied while you were being bullied and downplayed your experience, or they let you down when you needed their advocacy, you might have struggled with feeling undeserving of notice, unworthy of attention, and angry at being shortchanged. When the world feels unsafe, shame and pain are brutal.
These feelings could also be evoked if parents were in transitional or chaotic states – so that what happened to you wasn’t on anyone’s radar. If there’s chaos at home, it can be hard to ask for attention or to feel like there is room for you to take up space with your struggles. Instead, you may retreat and become more isolated and stuck in shame.
7. Academic Challenges Without Caregiver Support.
There’s nothing like feeling stupid to create low self-esteem. If you felt like you didn’t understand what was happening in school – as if you were getting further and further behind without anyone noticing or stepping in to help you figure out what accommodations you needed – you might have internalized the belief that you are somehow defective.
You may feel preoccupied with and excessively doubt your own smartness, and feel terribly self-conscious about sharing your opinions. The shame of feeling as if you aren’t good enough can be difficult to shake, even after you learn your own ways to accommodate your academic difficulties.
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse may be the most striking and overt causes of low self-esteem. Being forced into a physical and emotional position against your will can make it very hard to like the world, trust yourself, or trust others, which profoundly impacts self-esteem. It may even feel like your fault when it couldn’t be less your fault.
Obviously, in these scenarios, there is so much going on at one time that you might need to check out, dissociate, go away. It can make you feel like nothingness. In an effort to gain control of your circumstances, in your head, you may have convinced yourself that you were complicit or even to blame.
You may have found ways to cope with the abuse, to manage the chaos in ways that you understand are unhealthy, so you may ultimately view yourself as repulsive and searingly shameful, among a zillion other feelings.
9. Belief Systems.
When your religious (or other) belief system puts you in a position of feeling as if you are perpetually sinning, it can be similar to the experience of living with a disapproving authority figure. Whether the judgment is emanating from authority figures or from an established belief system in your life, it can evoke shame, guilt, conflict, and self-loathing.
Many structured belief systems offer two paths: one that’s all good and one that’s all bad. When you inevitably fall into the abyss between the two, you end up feeling confused, wrong, disoriented, shameful, fake, and disappointed with yourself over and over again.