Overcoming My Poor Self-Esteem Has Taken Me Decades!

I had no self esteem as a child and young adult.  I didn’t realize that then.  Back then, I thought I was full of self esteem.  I thought I could deal with anything.  I thought I was very happy with myself.  I actually thought I knew what self-esteem meant.  Nope!  But as I have grown, so has my self-esteem and my love and acceptance of myself.

Self esteem can be defined as a realistic respect for or favourable impression of oneself; self respect.  If it was true that I had self esteem, then I wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about what anyone thought of me.  Unfortunately, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I needed acceptance and approval.  I craved it.  I didn’t get that basic need met at home, so I badly needed to feel that from my peers and friends and teachers and employers.

More than anything else, what mattered to me was what other people thought of me.  I needed to be everyone’s friend.  I couldn’t have anyone not like me.

I would apologize to everyone for anything I may have done that they didn’t like.  It was pathetic.  Oh, I was a great actress, though.  Everyone thought I was very strong and had it all together.

So why was I like that?   Why do some people have such low self esteem?

Carl Rogers was a humanistic psychologist.  He viewed the child as having only two basic needs: positive regard from other people, and self-worth.

Rogers believed feelings of self-worth developed in early childhood and were formed from the interaction of the child with the mother and father.  As a child grows older, interactions with significant others will affect feelings of self-worth.

Rogers believed that we need to be regarded positively by others; we need to feel valued, respected, treated with affection and loved. Positive regard is to do with how other people evaluate and judge us in social interaction. Rogers made a distinction between unconditional positive regard and conditional positive regard.


Unconditional Positive Regard   

Where parents and significant others accept and love the person for what he or she is.  Positive regard is not withdrawn if the person does something wrong or makes a mistake.

The consequences of unconditional positive regard are that the person feels free to try things out and make mistakes, even though this may lead to getting it worse at times.  People who are able to self-actualize as adults are more likely to have received unconditional positive regard from others, especially their parents in childhood.


Conditional Positive Regard

Where positive regard, praise and approval, depend upon the child, for example, behaving in ways that the parents think are correct.  The child is not loved for the person he or she is, but on condition that he or she behaves only in ways approved by the parent(s).

At the extreme, a person who constantly seeks approval from other people is likely only to have experienced conditional positive regard as a child.

Bingo!!  That would be me!!!  As kids in my home, we were judged by how quickly we could mow the lawn or how many weeds we could pull from the garden or how many beauty pageants we could win or if we won the hockey game or how many ribbons we won at the local Fair, etc., etc., etc..

In an article on the overcoming.co.uk website, children need to be raised with praise, warmth, affection and interest.  This was the exact opposite of the way I was raised, and the exact reason why I had such low self-esteem.


The Bottom Line

As we grow up we take the voices of people who were significant to us with us. We may criticize ourselves in their sharp tones, and make the same comparisons with other people that they did.

Our experiences create a foundation for general conclusions about ourselves; judgements about ourselves as people. We can call these conclusions ‘The Bottom Line’. The Bottom Line is the negative view of the self that lies at the heart of low self-esteem.

Because the Bottom Line is usually formed in childhood, it is usually biased and inaccurate, because it is based on a child’s-eye view. It is likely to be formed on the basis of misunderstandings about experiences, because you had no adult knowledge with which to understand properly what was going on.

Although these beliefs may be unhelpful or outdated now, they come from a time when they made perfect sense, given what you were experiencing then.

My personal example?  If I didn’t do enough chores as a child or do them fast enough, I was called “lazy”.  To this day, I have to always be busy and I have a hard time really relaxing and taking time for myself so as not to feel “lazy”.

Even though I know in my brain that I am the furthest thing from lazy, those words are forever etched into my subconscious.

Rebuilding self-esteem is not an easy task.  From Mark Tyrrell who is a therapist, trainer and author :

Telling someone they are great or wonderful when they are constantly negative about themselves will not work. Imagine if you really detest yourself and someone tells you and everyone else that you’re lovely.  You won’t buy it.

In fact people with low self esteem can be upset by positive feedback. Healthy self esteem needs to emerge subtly, not as a sudden result of hearing you are ‘really special’ or ‘fantastic’.

Being “too nice” to someone with very low self esteem can drive them away. People need to develop better self esteem gradually, through “proof” in the real world.

Just being repeatedly told (by someone who doesn’t know you that well) that “you’re wonderful” has never been found to work in lifting low self esteem.


How I Fixed my Poor Self-Esteem (read:  My Work in Progress)

I’ve taken many great points from Barrie Davenport’s website, liveboldandbloom.com.  She’s helped me explain how I’ve made changes, since it sounds like her poor self-esteem and the causes of it are very similar to mine.

You can live with discomfort.  So many of my personal fears related to upsetting other people. It is uncomfortable to make people angry or feel their judgement or criticism. But you can live with it. If you stand up for yourself frequently enough, they’ll get the message. You’ll also feel incredibly empowered by speaking your mind and claiming your personal authority.  Be assertive.  It feels amazing and very liberating!  I’ve surprized myself.

Learn to say NO.  As I experienced myself, being a people pleaser doesn’t promote self-esteem or foster authentic, intimate relationships. You might get a temporary boost from the positive reinforcement, but over time you lose your sense of self and your respect for yourself. Please yourself first so you have the confidence to make sound decisions about dealing with the wants and needs of others.

You can let go of people.  When we’re insecure in ourselves, we often believe we are the cause for the bad behavior of others. They are angry, controlling, unreliable, or unhappy because we haven’t tried hard enough, or we did something wrong. Sometimes people simply have draining, negative personalities, and you don’t need to keep them in your life. It’s okay to let go of people who drag you down.

This has been a very difficult and conflicted point for me. The very negative people who bring me down the most are my family; the people we are supposed to forgive and tolerate (according to other articles I have read).  I’ve chosen to communicate with them only when necessary.  It doesn’t make my mother very happy, but it’s what I have to do to rid myself of a lot of negativity and bullshit in my life.

People don’t think about you as much as you fear.  Think about the number of times you’ve worried what other people must think of you or how they perceive you. The fear of other people’s perceptions holds us back from taking action and or being ourselves. However, most people are far too concerned about themselves to spend too much time focused on what you say or do. You don’t need to fret about this so much.

Seeking help is courageous.  Some people view counseling as yet another sign of weakness or embarrassment. Actually, it’s a sign of strength and courage to acknowledge you want to change and to do something about it. A trained counselor can help you heal past wounds that triggered low self-esteem and work with you on new behaviors so you can love and respect yourself.


As I said, my journey of self-love and self-respect has been a very long and arduous one.  But at 51 years old, I can finally say that I really do love myself.

I forgive myself for any past transgressions, I accept my mistakes and my shortcomings, and I try to be as happy and positive towards myself and others as I can.  I feel good.  Really good.  Love and Happiness feels awesome!!  I hope you can find that within yourself as well.


Kathleen Bolton

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