Written by TJ Helms
Low self-esteem is often ignored in mental health discourse as it is an inherently immaterial concept. However, self-esteem can control a lot about us and is incredibly prevalent in society. As in-school therapist Pamela Cotton put it, “We are living in a cesspool of low self-esteem.”
According to Mrs. Cotton, issues like depression, self-harm, suicide, and bullying can all be linked to low self-esteem. These issues are all incredibly serious and are more likely to be brought up in a typical conversation about mental health compared to low self-esteem because those issues have clear consequences, even though those issues are all often caused by low self-esteem they unfortunately are not talked about as self-esteem issues. However, those aren’t the only mental health issues that can be created by low self-esteem. Other examples of problems with huge causal links to low self-esteem are eating disorders and unhealthy relationships. Eating disorders are usually rooted in a person’s low self-image, as they are a kind of unhealthy coping mechanism a person adopts to control their body and change it so that they can escape their low self-image. Eating disorders are incredibly serious. They are not something anyone should ignore. Anorexia alone has claimed more lives than any other mental illness. Anorexia as well as all other eating disorders are self-esteem issues, not just mental health issues.
Unhealthy relationships are also another issue that should be looked at as a self-esteem issue. These relationships are more often than not maintained by the abuser trying to keep the self-esteem of the abused low. The reason for this was put into words perfectly by Mrs. Cotton. “You will tolerate a person being mean to you verbally or physically because you just feel so bad about yourself that you will tolerate anything just to feel like someone loves you,” she said.
These issues all have their roots in low self-esteem and they are all issues with obvious and severe consequences. However, that alone does not express the incredible severity of the effects of low self-esteem. To see the full extent low self-esteem has on the collective mental health of the world, you must also examine how it comes about and how difficult it can be to escape it.
According to Mrs. Cotton, “kids who have had trauma or kids from a family that is not supportive or nurturing to a child” are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem. While everyone experiences low self-esteem sometimes, the people who come from these situations are a lot more likely to have bad experiences. These situations can be the best examples of how dangerous a low self-esteem can be because it shows how incredibly hard it can be to break out of. When a person comes from an abusive home and they are treated badly from childhood, it can create unhealthy ideas of what is normal. When all they know is people treating them badly, people often believe that they must be a bad person and therefore deserve what happens to them. They normalize this abuse and assume everyone will treat them this way. The same thing can happen with traumatic events. They can become life-defining moments, and if that event is someone doing something bad to them, it’s not hard for the victim to believe that what they are experiencing is normal. This is what low self-esteem is at its worst. Not only can it create a very harmful situation, but the way it starts makes it incredibly difficult to break out of. This is the true unspoken cost of low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is an obviously important factor in all many mental health issues and must be discussed and treated seriously. Its important people don’t feel bad about having low self-esteem. Not everyone has a severe low self-esteem problem, but almost everyone deals with it and should feel okay about it. Getting through it is hard, but if people talk more openly about it and seek help, then people will get better.
To those who are dealing with low self-esteem, remember these words from Mrs. Cotton: “Forgive yourself and move on.”