What Causes Low Self-Esteem

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala (Psychiatrist)

Last updated date : March 31, 2022

Table of Contents

What Causes Low Self-Esteem

  1. What Causes Low Self-Esteem? 

Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. People with high or healthy self-esteem value their achievements and themselves. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem feel chronically unsatisfied or unhappy. In this article, we will cover what causes low self-esteem. However, before let’s characterise what low self-esteem means.

A person with low self-esteem is likely to

  1. Ignore or downplay their good qualities
  2. Have quite critical thoughts of themselves
  3. Blame themselves when something wrong happens. However, if something good happens, they take little or no credit.
  4. To be someone who struggles to accept compliments.

Low self-esteem can reduce a person’s happiness, ability to enjoy life and lead to perfectionism, relationship breakdowns and lower life satisfaction. You are probably starting to appreciate just how hurtful having low self-esteem can be. So what causes low self-esteem?

Chapter 1:

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

It is usually many factors that work together to cause low self-esteem. Rarely is it a single factor, Also, it’s important to note that a person’s self-esteem can vary. It is certainly possible to get help to boost your self-esteem.

Mental illnesses

One of the definite answers to what causes low self-esteem is having a mental illness such as anxiety or depression. With both of these illnesses, people get repetitive and quite negative thoughts. They worry, have a negative outlook and think quite poorly of themselves. These illnesses, by themselves, can cause or worsen low self-esteem.

Stressful life events

Financial troubles, relationship breakdowns, losing one’s job can contribute to low self-esteem. We find meaning in our relationships and work. Money can provide a sense of security. Understandably when we are stressed, we think negatively about ourselves. We can get quite critical self-thoughts. Thoughts such as “I’m not worthy, no one will love me. I’m a failure”. These stressful life events can worsen negativity and intern lead to worse self-esteem.

Having critical parents or teachers

Self-esteem is about self-worth. If we were constantly criticised, made to feel small repeatedly, over time, we will internalise those views. It can be highly damaging to a child’s self-esteem if they are constantly put down. They will eventually lack self-belief and overtime not value themselves.

Abusive relationships

A relationship does not need to be abusive to contribute towards low self-esteem. Poor ongoing treatment from a parent, manager at work or friend can slowly over time erode self-esteem.

Past mistakes

Sometimes people get locked into a pattern of behaving and end up thinking there are “the kind of person” that act or behaves in that way. Once stuck in a rut they repeatedly make those poor choices. All the time, these poor choices then reinforce their negative view of themselves.


There is quite a bit of overlap between perfectionism and low self-esteem. Some psychologists argue that perfectionism is driven by low self-esteem. When a person has unrealistic expectations of themselves, tries very hard to achieve them but doesn’t succeed, this can lead to low self-esteem. Why? Repeated self-perceived failures, reduce a persons self-confidence and belief in themselves.

Antidotes to what causes low self-esteem

If you think you have low self-esteem, can relate to some of these causes, there is no reason to despair. You can make choices which over time will improve your life. You can focus on your strengths and work to reduce the negativity or unhealthy choices you are making. Over time it is possible to improve one’s self-esteem. It requires attention and almost daily practice to boost self-esteem gradually.

Here at Epsychonline, we have a six-week course on low self-esteem. We hope you have found this article insightful, helped in your understanding of what causes self-esteem. Visit our courses page if you would like to see all our courses.