Causes of Impaired Self-Esteem
Growing up in a dysfunctional family can lead to codependency as an adult. It also weakens your self-esteem. Often you don’t have a voice. Your opinions and desires aren’t taken seriously. Parents usually have low self-esteem and are unhappy with each other. They themselves neither have nor model good relationship skills, including cooperation, healthy boundaries, assertiveness, and conflict resolution. They may be abusive, controlling, interfering, manipulative, indifferent, inconsistent, or just preoccupied.
Directly or indirectly, they may shame their children’s feelings and personal traits, feelings, and needs. It’s not safe to be, to trust, and to express themselves.
Children feel insecure, anxious, and/or angry. As a result, they feel emotionally abandoned and conclude that they are at fault–not good enough to be acceptable to both parents. (They might still believe that they’re loved.) Eventually, they don’t like themselves and feel inferior or inadequate.
They grow up codependent with low self-esteem and learn to hide their feelings, walk on eggshells, withdraw, and try to please or become aggressive. This reflects how toxic shame becomes internalized.
Shame runs deeper than self-esteem. It’s a profoundly painful emotion rather than a mental evaluation. Underlying toxic shame can lead to impaired or low self-esteem and other negative thoughts and feelings. It’s not just that we lack confidence, but we might believe that we’re bad, worthless, inferior, or unlovable. It creates feelings of false guilt and fear and hopelessness, at times, and feeling irredeemable.
Shame is a major cause of depression and can lead to self-destructive behavior, eating disorders, addiction, and aggression.
Shame causes shame anxiety about anticipating shame in the future, usually in the form of rejection or judgment by other people. Shame anxiety makes it difficult to try new things, have intimate relationships, be spontaneous, or take risks.
Sometimes, we don’t realize that it’s not others’ judgments or rejection we fear, but our failure to meet our own unrealistic standards. We judge ourselves harshly for mistakes than others would. This pattern is very self-destructive with perfectionists.
Our self-judgment can paralyze us so that we’re indecisive, because our internal critic will judge us no matter what we decide!
Our relationship with ourselves provides a template for our relationships with others. It impacts our relationships happiness. Self-esteem determines our communication style, boundaries, and our ability to be intimate.
Research indicates that a partner with healthy self-esteem can positively influence his or her partner’s self-esteem, but also shows that low self-esteem portends a negative outcome for the relationship. This can become a self-reinforcing cycle of abandonment lowering self-esteem.
Self-esteem is necessary if we’re to feel autonomous, adequate, and comfortable on our own. Without autonomy, we become reactive and defensive.
When we aren’t, we’re too dependent upon others, hide our true feelings, react to things personally and negatively, and have to control or manipulate our loved ones to feel secure and get our needs met. This spells disaster in relationships. Neither partner feels free to be him or herself.
Self-esteem and assertiveness go hand-in-hand. Each reinforces the others. Learning to be assertive lifts our self-esteem and vice-versa.
Assertiveness helps us to speak up, express ourselves, ask for your needs, and set boundaries, all of which are necessary for a healthy, successful relationship, and also why self-esteem improves relationship quality and satisfaction.
Thus, all three ingredients are necessary for true intimacy, which entails self-esteem and the ability to risk being authentic and vulnerable. This makes it safe for both partners to be open and honest.
When our ability to speak up about our wants and needs and share vulnerable feelings is compromised, honesty and intimacy suffer.
As a result of insecurity, shame, and impaired self-esteem, as children, we may have developed an attachment style that, to varying degrees, is anxious or avoidant and makes intimacy challenging. We pursue or distance ourselves from our partner and are usually attracted to someone who also has an insecure attachment style.