What causes low self-esteem?

It is not possible to identify one cause of low self-esteem for everyone. You form your beliefs about yourself over a long period of time and this process is likely to be affected by a range of different things.

Some factors that can contribute to low self-esteem include:

  • Negative experiences in childhood, such as bullying, difficult family relationships or having a hard time at school
  • Difficult experiences as an adult, such as the end of a relationship, long-term illness, the death of someone close to you or becoming unemployed, particularly if you experience several difficult events over a short period of time
  • Elements of your personality, such as a tendency towards negative thinking or finding it hard to relate to other people
  • Feeling different, feeling like the ‘odd one out’, or under pressured to conform to social norms you do not agree with
  • Other people being negative about you or making you feel like you have little worth, or feeling like you do not or cannot live up to other people’s expectations
  • Stress and excessive pressure
  • Negative thinking patterns, such as constantly comparing yourself to others or developing unrealistically high standards for yourself
  • Discrimination and stigmatisation
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Trauma, abuse or bullying
  • Mental health problems (see ‘ Self-esteem and mental health’)


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