It starts small. Little insults and jabs that people tell themselves that seem harmless and even laughable at first. Like these beauties I told myself in the last 24 hours “I’m such a loser – I forgot my cell at home” – only to find it in the car, stuck between the seat and cup holders for the umpteenth time. I returned back inside the house with a “God, I’m such a loser. I keep getting it stuck between the two thingies.” I followed that up, throughout the day, with: “I hate my knees, they’re so knobby,” “I can’t cook to save my life,” and a few other semi-existentialist, semi-self-conscious gems that I’d rather not rehash.
The problem is, these seemingly minor self-criticisms can grow. Breed. Feed on themselves. If people tell themselves often enough that they are worthless, it starts to become believable. In fact, after analyzing data from nearly 11,000 people who took our Self-esteem Test on Queendom, we discovered that people who criticize themselves several times a day are more likely to:
- Have low self-esteem overall (score of 43 on a scale of 0 to 100), compared to those who do so occasionally (score of 65) and those who rarely do so (score of 77).
- Have a low sense of self-worth (score of 44 vs. 68 vs. 81).
- Have a strong desire for approval from others (score of 59 vs. 42 vs. 30).
- Feel inadequate or experience thoughts/feelings of never being good enough. For example:
- 64% ask others for approval before making a decision.
- 66% believe that they are “worthless and useless.”
- 57% consider themselves a failure.
- 51% feel that they will never amount to anything significant.
- Set unrealistic expectations or excessively high standards for themselves. For example:
- 54% said that a partial failure is just as bad as a complete failure.
- 49% said that if they can’t do something perfectly, they would rather not do it.
- 38% said that failing any one thing makes them a failure as a person.
Our research also reveals that individuals with low self-esteem are more likely to have been diagnosed with depression. Those whose self-esteem is particularly low seem to be the most likely to seek out therapy, which is a good first start.
Here’s a follow-up question I often get when talking to people about self-esteem: “What’s the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence?” Self-confidence is self-esteem in action. It’s a mirror of our internal workings. Self-esteem is so deeply-rooted in our core that it becomes our persona and defines who we are. That’s why I like to call low self-esteem the “silent assassin.” It acts like a virus, spreading and infecting a person’s thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. You start to question yourself – your skills, your ability to succeed, and even your relationships. You start to worry about everything. You become cautious and reluctant to take any risks. Your self-doubt results in decisions that reflect your lack of faith in yourself, like not going for that job, not asking that person out, or not asserting yourself when you should. Once low self-esteem infiltrates your life, it becomes a part of who you are – you start to believe the lies it tells you, and may end up becoming the failure that you think you are.
So here’s my challenge to you all: Spend one week consciously taking note of all the times you discount yourself, even if the self-criticism is said in a joking manner. Once you’ve made a record of how often you do this – and many people will be very surprised at the frequency – make an effort to immediately reword what you think or say in a more positive manner. So, for example, if you find yourself saying “I always make stupid mistakes,” reword it as “I am human and I’m allowed to make mistakes – this is how I learn.” I know it seems rather simplistic, but a lot of people will see a reduction in self-criticism, and an improvement in their self-esteem overall.