Symptoms of Low Self Esteem
Symptoms of low self esteem are like symptoms of any other malady; they are indicative of an underlying problem that, unless treated, is likely to get worse before getting better. And as I stated earlier, healthy self image is your permission to succeed and without it, personal fulfillment and happiness are unlikely to become reality in your life. Following are my top five symptoms of low self esteem along with some illustrations from “Conversations with Katherine”. If you recognize yourself in any of them it might be worthwhile to investigate my section on Improving Low Self Esteem .
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem #1: Blaming Others
Casting blame is a defense mechanism that prevents us from accepting personal responsibility and the consequences of our actions. If you don’t like the results you’re getting in some aspect of your life you may find it too painful to tell yourself ,”You were wrong”; that inability to admit and accept your shortcomings is another symptom of low self esteem. Rudy Krause gives several examples of this dynamic; in chapter 13 Katherine instructs him to say goodbye to Doris. Though she died several years earlier Katherine realized that Doris still has a large degree of control over Rudy via the blame he still placed on her for his own personal betrayal. In a scathing diatribe to her Rudy writes:
“Doris, you sadistic, perverted b****! You hurt me worse than I’ve cared to think or admit, but not bad enough that I can’t overcome the damage you did; I’ll do this just to show your hell-burning ass that you can’t **** with me anymore. You gave me love when I was a child and for those few years of joy I thank you. But then you took it away, and for that I hate you. The legacy of that withdrawal is my feelings of unworthiness; if my #1 source of my #1 need determines that I no longer deserve her love I must be rotten enough that I don’t deserve anything good!”
“…you’ll be glad to know that the guilt you gifted me during those and a thousand other incidents has been one of the most influential companions in my life. You’ll be glad because you hated me and wanted nothing good to come to me. Well, you didn’t totally get your wish as many wonderful things have in fact materialized in my life. But that guilt, combined with the feelings of unworthiness you packaged with it, slowly eroded my self esteem to the point that I abandoned all my dreams, sabotaged many of my actions and became the frustrated, under-achieving car salesman that I am today; too bad you’re dead, you’d have enjoyed witnessing my mediocrity.”
Fortunately, his goodbye was the precursor to a significant point in his growth. A week later, Rudy related a much-cleaned-up version of the letter to his wife Janie after yet another blame-casting emotional meltdown. Two days after that Rudy promised he would never make her listen to him debase Doris this way again, and promised to stop blaming her and begin taking responsibility for all aspects of his life. It is worth of note that this is one of several major breakthroughs in Rudy’s personal growth journey that came about simply from increased awareness.
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem #2: Inability to Love or Be Loved
It is my contention that our ability to love others is directly proportionate to our ability to love ourselves. The person with tarnished self esteem is, by definition, not very fond of himself and this lack of self love manifests itself in his relationships with others; why?
There is a feeling of “if I don’t like me why should you?”
When someone expresses love toward the victim it sets up a dissonance in his mind. He thinks, “This person is loving me ‘8’ but I am not worthy of that much love; I only deserve to be loved ‘5’.”
The reality he perceives, love of 8, is contrary to his belief that he only deserves love of 5. In order to resolve that dissonance one of those factors must change. He must either make himself less lovable to his admirer or question the validity of his own opinion of himself. So he is now faced with abusing someone who gives him the love he so craves, accepting that whatever beliefs he has about himself are invalid or just accepting the dissonance and wondering what on earth this loving person sees in him.
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem #3: Reclusion
“It was 8 a.m. and Rudy was in the restaurant he owned doing prep work for the day ahead. He enjoyed the early shift as it gave him time to think without being disturbed.”
“He went back to his salad preparation, alone now except for thoughts of his past.”
“He worked the cash register through lunch then informed his manager that he’d be gone for the rest of the day. He drove home and donned a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, grabbed his fly rod and headed for the creek alone.”
Throughout “Conversations” we see Rudy interacting with very few people, and only twice someone who was not part of his family. He was an unsocial and introspective person. He preferred to spend his time alone with his thoughts, often self-analyzing and trying to answer the question that defined his self image: “What’s wrong with me?”
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem #4: Inflated Pseudo-Ego
One common symptom of low self esteem is denying it is real and acting as if you are actually quite satisfied with yourself. Bragging and bullying are manifestations of this tactic but more common would be the obsession with the accumulation of evidence of your overall well-being. (This is not to suggest that everyone with a nice house and fancy car is a closet depressive, by the way.) In an interesting dynamic we often see people achieve great success only to lose it to self-destructive behavior. As in #4 above, the dissonance between the reality of success and the perception of unworthiness must be resolved. And often that resolution comes in the form of self sabotage.
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem #5: Addictive Behaviors
Behind every action we take, every result we strive for, everything we want in life there lies one motivation: we want to feel good. Low self esteem feels bad and the person who suffers from it wants it to go away. Food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sex are just a few of the myriad of possible cures for what ails you. And in an interesting corollary, the destructive nature of many of these types of remedies tends not to deter the abuser. Often they believe at some level that they deserve whatever consequences may ensue from their addiction.
These 5 symptoms of low self esteem are only a few of the ways that this far-too-common affliction shows its face. Body image problems, resentment, perfectionism, guilt, distrust and, at the extreme, suicidal tendencies are a few more outward signs of low self esteem. Now the question looms, “What can I do to fix it”
There are probably as many answers to that question as there are signs that something is broken. I’ve seen and read about (tried?) a lot of them but I’m going to present something new and different in the article titled Improving Low Self Esteem. See ya’ there!
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