What Contributes to Low Self-Esteem? (Part 3)


We completed three factors:

#1    Dysfunction Family Upbringing

#2   Unrealized Self-Expectations

#3   Underperforming Significant Others’ Expectations


This week, we will discuss three other factors

#4   Failing to Recover from Bad Past Experiences

#5   Failure to Fulfill our Dreams and Aspirations

#6    Failure to Recover from Devastating Failures or Tragedies

If you have any other factors, please feel free to write to me at john.ng@meta.com.sg


Factor #4    Failing to Recover from Bad Past Experiences


Our inability and unwillingness to deal with these painful and spiteful pasts can haunt us. They will debilitate us in moving forward.


At work and home, we do have bad past experiences. Unfortunately, these negative experiences DO haunt us.


  • How our parents demean us and make us feel unworthy of their love.
  • How our siblings betray us by not standing by us when we need them most.
  • How our teachers constantly badger us for our under-performance and failures. They make us feel stupid!
  • How our school friends cyber-bully us and taunt us for our race, culture, and gender.
  • How our superiors treat us shabbily, unjustly and destroy our esteem.
  • How our team members deliberately exclude us in projects and informal gatherings and make us feel like a pariah.


All these destructive experiences cause us deep pains. These will edge deeply into our cognitive memories. When triggers are activated, we react detrimentally to people and situations.


They live in our subconscious until we are hit with triggers. This is because our self-esteem is hurt. Our inability and unwillingness to deal with these painful and spiteful pasts can haunt us. They will debilitate us in moving forward.


Factor #5    Failing to Fulfil our Dreams and Aspirations


Some of us have unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. We can do well with our work but somehow, we still feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled. This lack of fulfillment and significance can inhabit us and make us feel small, especially when we compare ourselves with those who are able to achieve their dreams.


Wong always wants to be a singer-composer. But his parents forbid him. In our Asian culture, being a performing artist is not a profitable career and therefore, a waste of talent. He was forced to do an accountancy course at the university, which he hated.


He struggled through it. Upon graduation, worked in an audit firm. Soon, he became a manager.  But he never felt satisfied. With this struggle of unfulfilled dream and working incessantly as an audit manager, he suffered from depressive thoughts.


He has been in and out of work for the last few years. He always lamented that he should follow his dreams!


When we are not self actualized, we have a deep sense of discontentment.


Factor #6     Failure to Recover from Devastating Failures or Tragedies


“A major failure or catastrophe in our family or career can decapacitate our esteem.”

John Ng

Some years ago, my self-esteem was crushed when I encountered a major failure in my life as a leader. I was appointed as Acting President of a non-profit organization when the President went on study leave.


Under my leadership, one of our key leaders, who was a very close friend broke rank and left us. I confronted him for being abusive to a few of our staff. He was so disgusted and walked out on me.


Despite my willingness and gestures to deal with the situation, he refused any communication. Our relationship fell apart. The organization went on a tailspin. Although the board was very supportive of me, I felt like a failure. I questioned my own leadership ability. That failure crushed me. It took me one full year to recover and I questioned my leadership ability because of that shattering failure.


Other times, tragedies in life can shake up our foundations, break down our self-worth. The emotional pangs can break our morale. A marital divorce, death of a loved one, a business partnership break-up, or a betrayal by a close friend and associate can immobilize us.


I remembered when my mom passed away suddenly. I was in a state of shock for weeks. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I went into a tailspin of self-blame and self-doubt. I wondered if I could have done more for mom. It was the most emotionally draining period of my life. I lost purpose and meaning in leading.


Devastating failures can do a number on your self-esteem. Unless we have a recovery plan, it can decimate your esteem.


Can you think of any more factors?


Personal Reflection Questions

  1. Which factor affects me the most in my esteem needs?
  2. Which factor affects my team the most in my esteem needs?
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