15 Things Psychologists Wish You Knew Can Gradually Destroy Self-Esteem
It can be tough to step outside yourself, and truly recognize what affects your self-esteem. That's because nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to feel badly about themselves. Negative ways of thinking, and habits that lower your sense of self worth, have a way of sneaking into your life, and potentially cause issues in a gradual, subtle kind of way.
If that's what's happening in your life, you might notice that you feel low, seemingly for no reason. Maybe you're starting to doubt yourself at work, or maybe you're feeling like you don't deserve a healthy relationship, or true friends. These are all signs something's not quite right with how you view the world — or your own self worth.
There is something you can do about it, though. If your self-esteem is suffering, you can start changing the way you think, and the way you treat yourself. And one of the best ways to do so is by practicing self-compassion. "Self-compassion is being gentle with yourself, not beating yourself up over your past decisions, and accepting that you are human and make mistakes," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle.
You can also begin making a point of correcting your negative thought patterns, as well as your unhealthy habits, that might be holding you back.
1. Surrounding Yourself With Negative People
Take a look at your friend group. Are they supportive, positive people? Or are they toxic to be around? "Nothing ruins self-esteem like surrounding yourself with people who abuse or neglect you," says Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW. "Maybe they put you down, act as if you have no needs, or they talk all about themselves and ask nothing about your life." Whatever the case may be, their not-so-great behavior can and will affect your self-esteem. So, let go of those toxic friendships and spend time with friends who will support you.
2. Going Overboard With Your Apologies
While you'll obviously want to apologize when you say or do something wrong, there's no need to go overboard. "Sometimes this happens when you do something wrong and can’t stop saying, 'I’m sorry,'" says Koenig. "Other times this happens when a mistake is made and you automatically assume it was your fault and apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong." Both habits can make you feel indebted to someone in a way that isn't healthy, which is why it's totally fine to say "sorry" and then move on.
3. Letting Negative Self-Talk Control Your Brain
Self-talk is the voice inside your head that narrates your life. If it's positive, you'll likely feel pretty darn good about yourself. But if it's negative — and constantly pointing out your every flaw — it can truly impact your self-esteem.
"Harsh words are just as damaging whether they come from someone else or whether they come from you," licensed psychologist Cindy T. Graham, PhD tells Bustle. "And they are also no more true. A good way to keep from destroying your self-esteem is by keeping negative self-talk in check. Catch yourself before you go spiraling down the hole of negative thought." You'll notice a big difference.
4. Believing You Know What Others Are Thinking
Assuming you already know what other people are thinking can be damaging, too. "Not only is sitting around worrying about what others are thinking a huge waste of your precious time, this kind of commentary is often driven by negative personal experiences rather than anything factual," online counselor Nicole Hind tells Bustle. It can lead you to expect the worst from others, or to assume everyone's judging you — even though that's hardly ever true.
5. Giving Into Your Fears
While being brave is always easier said than done, habitually giving into your fears can knock your self-esteem down over time. "An individual’s world gets smaller each time they give into a fear," counselor Monte Drenner tells Bustle. "And each time they give into a fear it gets easier to give into the next one." Since self-esteem is built from getting out into the world and proving to yourself what you can do, getting stuck in a comfort zone will not do you any favors.
6. Saying "Yes" To Everything And Everyone
If you already have low self-esteem, you might think being super agreeable is the way to win lots of positive attention, and thus feel better about yourself. But the opposite is actually true.
"People who have difficulty saying no are often people pleasers and are trying to make too many people happy," says Drenner. "Over time they become over-extended and exhausted and their self-esteem is eroded, because no matter how hard they try to please others, they can never do enough." That's why it's completely OK to say "no" whenever you need to.
7. Believing Failure Is The Worst Thing Ever
If something bad happens — like, maybe you don't get that job you wanted, or that promotion — how do you react? If you view it as a slight hiccup in the timeline of your life, that's great. But if you fall to pieces, it could start to become a problem.
"No one likes to fail, but some people take it harder than others," Drenner says. "People with a healthy self-esteem tend to view failure as an event. People with low self-esteem often view failure as fatal. This thought process pummels one’s self-esteem and overtime being a failure becomes their identity." But of course, this isn't the case. If you find yourself having a difficult time dealing with failure, remember that positive self-talk can reframe how you see that event.
8. Assuming Nobody Likes You
While it can hurt when a friend doesn't text you back, it's important not to jump to conclusions. "If it seems your friends are neglecting you it doesn’t mean they don’t like you," NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. "They may have other things going on or you may need to speak to them about this. Overgeneralizing will make you feel there is something wrong with you but it’s really the other person who may have issues."
9. Not Accepting Compliments
The next time someone gives you a compliment, take note of how you react. "When people compliment you do you tend to say things like, 'Oh no, I didn't really do that good of a job' or 'Well it's not as nice as yours'? If so, you are consistently refusing to take in positive information about yourself from others," licensed psychologist Dr. Natalie Feinblatt tells Bustle. "This will have a negative impact on your self-esteem over time because you will be deflecting any external validation you are getting and diminishing yourself every time you rebuff a compliment." Just remember, if you are being given a compliment, it's because someone believes you truly deserve it.
10. Comparing Your Life To Someone Else's
It's tough to look at someone else's life, and not compare it to your own. And yet, this is pretty much the number one way to hurt your self-esteem. "Comparing your reality to your perception of what someone else’s life is like is a recipe for disaster," says Graham. "Rarely do we have a full understanding for the difficulty others are experiencing. And more than likely your perception is skewed. Self-comparison can lead you to believe your life is unfair, less happy, or more difficult in comparison to others and therefore cause a drop in your self-esteem."
11. Constantly Aiming For Perfection
We all want to be the best possible version of ourselves. But if you don't accept anything less than perfection, it can start to mess with your head. "When you only aim for perfection you will let yourself down and reinforce the negative thoughts like, 'I knew I couldn't get that done' or 'I knew I wouldn't get that part,'" therapist Lakiesha Russell, MS, LPC tells Bustle. It's much healthier to allow yourself a little wiggle room.
12. Not Setting And Maintaining Your Personal Boundaries
Be sure to let other people know what things are OK with you an what aren't. And be firm about enforcing it. "When you don't set and maintain boundaries you are damaging your self-esteem in two ways," says Feinblatt. "First of all you are telling yourself that you don't have the basic right or dignity to assert your preferences. Second, you are allowing others to treat you however they like including in abusive and damaging ways."
13. Censoring Yourself In Relationships
"If you keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself, you are telling yourself you don’t matter," psychotherapist Sona DeLurgio, PsyD, LMFT tells Bustle. So go ahead and speak your mind around your partner, friends, and family — even if it feels uncomfortable at first. "By really 'showing up' in your relationships you are giving yourself a message that you are valuable and worth being known."
14. Waffling On All Your Decisions
While you should always be open to other opinions, sticking to your guns — when you really truly believe in something — is the healthier option. "When you defer to another person’s truth, you are leaving yourself in the dust and figuring they know you better than you do," says DeLurgio. "You definitely can hang on to your unique self, trusting you do know yourself enough, while still leaving space for another person to be their own true selves."
15. Spending Too Much Time On Social Media
If you have a healthy way of partaking in social media, then keep doing you. But if you find yourself feeling badly about yourself after perusing Instagram, or feeling FOMO while scrolling Facebook, it could be a sign you're going overboard.
"Social media, while sometimes a good tool for keeping in touch with friends or organizing activities, can also deteriorate your self-esteem over time," licensed social worker Alyssa Petersel tells Bustle. "This relates to a larger pattern of comparison of self to others, which can be very detrimental ... [and] can create a sense of despair, and a feeling that you are not as good, or not doing as well, as some of your peers."
So don't be afraid to take a break, and to look out for your well-being in other ways, as well. If some of your habits seem to be affecting your self-esteem, being aware is the first step in feeling better.