What Contributes to Low Self-Esteem
(Part 1)



There are 6 Factors that can damage our self-worth. These are factors that I have personally encountered in my own life. Understanding them is the first step towards healthier self-esteem.


As we go through these factors, if we are honest, each one of us has experienced these in our lives. Healthy self-esteem has to be nurtured and sustained. There are times when our esteem gets bash through a series of failures and suppressed ‘triggers’.


These upheavals make us question our self-esteem.

Let’s examine them carefully to see if any of these factors affect us so that we can prevent ourselves from spiraling downwards.


We start with the first two factors:

#1    Dysfunctional Family Upbringing

#2   Underachieving Self-Expectations


Factor #1     Dysfunctional Family Upbringing


“Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.”

Shannon L. Alder


Family upbringing is often one of the chief factors of low self-esteem. What and how our parents think and feel about their children have a profound impact on our self-worth.


Parents, who tend to compare them to other siblings, often make their children feel inadequate when compared to their siblings. They will constantly live under the shadows of their more endowed and smarter siblings. They then grow up becoming resentful and always having to prove themselves to their parents. They live in the ‘never-good-enough’.


I have a very good friend, Joe (Josephine) whose parents were very devastated because they have wanted a boy instead of a girl. The parents were so distressed that they gave her a boy’s name (Joe instead of Josephine) to hide their disappointments.


They even bought toys for boys to help her become more man-like. Joe confessed that she was always very competitive,  to prove that a girl is no less smart than a boy. She was not any less deficient being a woman. She became a perfectionist and topped her class every year.


Her perfectionist streak and driven-ness caused her to have anxiety attacks, be very controlling, extremely result-oriented in all her dealings and relationships. She acknowledged she was a very difficult boss and an extremely over-functioning mother.


This comparison can be self-induced. We can compare ourselves with our classmates, friends, and relatives, who seem to be more ‘successful’ than us. This unhealthy comparative spirit can deflate our ego and threaten our self-worth.  A comparative mindset will constantly make us feel inadequate and create the missing piece in our puzzle of self-worth: An insatiable void in our lives.


I remember I used to be envious of my classmates who are driving Bentleys, living in high-end bungalows, traveling business class, holidaying at exotic places and having a lavish lifestyle. This envy, if not managed, is going to eat me up. Fortunately, I begin to realize that ‘all that glitters is not gold!’


Factor #2    Unrealized Self-Expectations


“Constant unrealized expectations can deflate our egos and kill our self-esteem.”

John Ng

Self-Satisfaction = Achievement ÷ Expectations


I found this equation on self-esteem very useful. Self-satisfaction or worth is a function of achievement over expectations.


There are three possible mathematical results to this equation:


> 1   Terrific: You achieve more than your expectations. You feel very satisfied and your esteem goes up.

= 1   OK: You achieve exactly your expectations You feel just OK.

< 1   Lousy: You achieve less than your expectations. You feel lousy about yourself.


If our expectations are unrealistic or too high and if we are consistently under-achieving our expectations, our self-esteem plummets. Our esteem gets a beating. That is why some people who are high-achievers have low self-esteem. Others may swoon at their achievements and wish they could be like them. But, because they have set the bar so high that even if others feel they have done well, they still feel terrible about themselves.


I have a friend’s daughter, Jane, who scored 11 As and 1 B for her Cambridge ‘O’ Level Exam. but still felt terrible and cried for one week because she had expected 12 As, which is the perfect score she wanted.


Therefore, we have to be very careful about how we manage our own expectations. Constant unrealized expectations can deflate our egos and kill our self-esteem. We have to see a healthy balance between having stretched goals and unrealistic expectations.


This is a three part series. We will continue to explore What Contribute to Low Self-Esteem (Part 2) next week.

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