The Root Causes of Low Self-Esteem

In the simplest terms, self-esteem hinges on six critical practices, which I will henceforth refer to as the “six pillars of self-esteem.”  The six pillars of self-esteem are, in brief: the practice of living consciously, the practice of self-acceptance, the practice of self-responsibility, the practice of self-assertiveness, the practice of living purposefully and the practice of personal integrity.  Deficiency in any of these areas can contribute to low self-esteem.

Depressed Man

The practice of living consciously:

If we do not bring an appropriate level of consciousness to our activities, if we do not live mindfully, the inevitable penalty is a diminished sense of self-efficacy and self-respect.  We cannot feel competent and worthy while conducting our lives in a mental fog.  Our mind is our basic tool of survival.  Any betrayal of it diminishes our self-esteem.

The practice of self-acceptance:

Without self-acceptance, self-esteem is impossible.  In fact, it is so intimately bound up with self-esteem that one sometimes sees the two ideas confused.  Yet they are different in meaning, and each needs to be understood in its own right.  Whereas self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do.

Self-acceptance necessitates our willingness to experience – that is, to make real to ourselves, without denial or evasion – that we think what we think, feel what we feel, desire what we desire, have done what we have done, and are what we are.

Self-acceptance entails the declaration: “I choose to value myself, to treat myself with respect, to stand up for my right to exist.”  This primary act of self-affirmation is the base on which self-esteem develops.

The practice of self-responsibility:

Experiencing a sense of control over your existence is endemic to self-esteem.  Without a sufficient measure of personal autonomy and self-responsibility, self-esteem cannot exist.  We alone are responsible for our happiness.  The realization that no one is coming to coddle us is empowering.  It forces people to seize control of their own lives.

In stressing that we need to take responsibility for our life and happiness, I am in no way suggesting that a person is responsible for everything that may happen to him or her.  Some things we have control over; others we do not.  A person who holds themselves responsible for matters beyond their control jeopardizes their self-esteem.

The practice of self-assertiveness:

Self-assertiveness does not mean belligerence or inappropriate aggressiveness; it does not mean pushing to the front of the line or knocking other people over; it does not mean upholding my own rights while being blind or indifferent to the rights of everyone else.  It simply means the willingness to stand up for myself, to be who I am openly and to treat myself with respect in all human encounters.  It means the refusal to fake my person to be liked.

To practice self-assertiveness is to live authentically, to speak and act from your innermost convictions and feelings.

The practice of living purposefully:

To live without purpose is to live at the mercy of chance- the chance event, the chance phone call or the chance encounter.  Outside forces bounce us along like a cork floating on water, with no initiative of our own to set a specific course.  Our orientation to life is reactive rather than proactive.  We are drifters.

To live purposefully is to be concerned with these questions: What am I trying to achieve?  How am I trying to achieve it?  Why do I think these means are appropriate?  Is there new information that I need to consider?  Do I need to make adjustments in my course or strategy?  Do my goals and purposes need to be rethought?  Thus, to live purposefully means to live at a high level of consciousness.

As mentioned earlier, living without consciousness is a betrayal of both your mind and your self-esteem.  Living purposefully is a distinguishing characteristic of those who enjoy a high level of control over their life.  Success in life requires that we live purposefully.

The practice of personal integrity:

As we mature and develop our own values and standards (or absorb them from others), the issue of personal integrity assumes increasing importance in our self-assessment.  Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs and behavior.  When our behavior is congruent with our professed values, when our ideals and our actions match, we have integrity.

To understand why lapses of integrity are detrimental to self-esteem, consider what such a lapse entails.  If I act in contradiction to another person’s moral value, I may or may not be wrong but I cannot be accused of betraying my convictions.  If, however, I act against what I believe to be morally permissible, I betray my mind.  By its very nature, hypocrisy is self-invalidating; it is the mind rejecting itself.  A default on integrity undermines your sense of self.