Low Self-Esteem


Low Self-Esteem - A common name for a negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.

Feeling like a Failure

People with low self-esteem often see themselves as unworthy of being successful in personal and professional settings, and in social relationships. They may view their successes and their strengths in a negative light, and may also believe others do too. As a result, they may develop an avoidance strategy to protect themselves from criticism.

Low self-esteem affects all kinds of people - not just those who suffer from Personality Disorders. However, people with Personality Disorders are often prone to an acute, consistent or pervasive form of low self-esteem which makes them behave in ways that are self-destructive - or destructive to those around them.

People will often try to hide their low self-esteem by trying to portray a facade of confidence, self-righteousness, or self-aggrandizement. They may also try to divert attention away from their own insecurity by highlighting or exaggerating other people’s weaknesses.

People who suffer from low self-esteem may behave in self-destructive, defensive or aggressive ways that can cause their fears to become self-fulfilling prophecies. For those with Personality Disorders, these feelings can be accepted as facts and all potentially competing positive thoughts disregarded or suppressed. This can lead to erratic mood swings from high to low.

Downward spirals of negative self-thought can be self-perpetuating. The emotional human mind often uses a form of shorthand which helps us to sort through the overwhelming clutter of data and competing thoughts which compete for our attention at any given time. Hence, we have the ability to broadly judge people and circumstances, political positions and religious views as “right” or “wrong” “good” or “bad”, “positive or “negative”, “safe” or “dangerous”, etc. even when there is only partial data or when the data we have is conflicted or compromised.

Taken to extremes, this type of judging can lead to Splitting, where a person views other people or circumstances as “all good” or “all bad”. Splitting is particularly common among people with Personality Disorders, and can also affect Nons who are close to them. Beaten down by a history of negative experiences and failures to bring about change in a loved-one, a Non may begin to see the situation as hopeless, and feel helpless and powerless. This is often not an accurate self-view, but an emotional exaggeration of the circumstances.

Low self-esteem is closely related to Depression and is a common form of Identity Disturbance.

What NOT to Do

When you are living with a person with a Personality Disorder who has unhealthy low self-esteem:

  • Don’t put yourself in the role of the “fixer” of a loved one’s mood or feelings. You will most likely just frustrate yourself and annoy the other person. You weren’t responsible for getting them into a negative thought pattern and it’s not your job to get them out of it.
  • Don’t feel obliged out of “love” or “commitment” to join in with a downward spiral of negative thought. They are free to have negative thoughts and you are free to have positive ones.
  • Don’t thought-police or unleash a barrage of criticisms about their attitude or their mood. You will only contribute to their sense of anxiety and low self-esteem.
  • Don’t nag, argue for hours, or get into circular conversations about it.
  • Don’t try to manipulate them “out of it” by trying to change the mood or the environment. Their sudden mood change was probably not caused by an external event and probably won’t be fixed by it.
  • Don’t blame yourself for what the other person is feeling or how they are behaving. Don’t look for ways to change yourself to try to fix another person. You are only responsible for your own words and actions.
  • Don’t stay in the room if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy.
  • Don’t go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret.

When you are a Non-PD person who has an unhealthy low self-esteem:

  • Don’t immediately deny what you are feeling or ignore it. Some negative thought cycles are the result of “Depressive Realism” - a sober self-evaluation that things are really not that great.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of Splitting - if your thoughts are “purely” negative then they are probably not very accurate.
  • Don’t go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret. Try to avoid becoming isolated when you are facing negative self-thoughts.

What TO Do

When you are living with a person with a personality disorder who has an unhealthy low self-esteem:

  • Remind yourself that this may be related to a mental illness and that you are not to blame.
  • Detach yourself from being responsible for how another person is feeling, behaving or thinking.
  • Turn your attention on your own behavior and your own thought patterns. Discard the unhealthy and learn what is healthy for yourself and pursue it - regardless of what reaction you get from the person with the Personality Disorder.
  • Talk about it! Talk to trusted friends and family about what you are dealing with.
  • If you are ever confronted with violence or abuse, get yourself and any children immediately out of the room and call for help. Report all acts of violence, threats of violence or self-harm to the police immediately - every time.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and positive thoughts. You will need them. If necessary, explain to your loved-one gently, but firmly that you are doing what you need to do for yourself and then close the conversation.

When you are a Non who has a low self-esteem:

  • Try to embrace the gray. In every circumstance, try to see both sides of your situation, the positive AND the negative.
  • Write down your fears and evaluate them with honesty and candor.
  • Share your concerns with wise, caring friends who can see what you are dealing with and will give thoughtful encouragement. Work hard to be around people who will encourage you to be healthy and help you to feel better about yourself. This can be a therapist, a teacher, a family member or a friend.