Low self-esteem shows itself in many ways. Thinking others’ poor behavior is a reflection on us instead of them, disliking the human race, perfectionism, over- and underachievement, and feeling “different” from others are all possible correlates of low self-esteem.
There’s no automatic connection between self-esteem and any one behavior. It’s important to look at the big picture before assuming someone has low self-esteem based on a given trait. What is the person’s general pattern? Having said that, discussed below are two more potential symptoms of low self-esteem. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather part of a continuing discussion.
High self-esteem doesn’t get along with dishonesty, and so the latter can only thrive where self-esteem is low. High self-esteem always embraces a basic policy of honesty, in the interest of maintaining open and truthful communication with others and ourselves.
On the other hand, low self-esteem invites and promotes dishonesty. When self-esteem is low, it feels necessary to lie at times—to ourselves, others, or both—in order to avoid painful consequences.
For example, if my self-esteem is low, I would rather lie about my feelings than tell you where I really stand and risk an uncomfortable confrontation. Or I would rather lie to myself about my disappointment than experience it directly and suffer all the more.
Not being able to see ourselves as truthful and trustworthy poisons our opinion of ourselves, making it hard to feel pleased with who we are. Hence, like all other factors that interact with self-esteem, dishonesty is both a result and a cause of low self-esteem.
Challenge Your Patterns
If you regularly find yourself avoiding being truthful, take the risk of being honest—at least with yourself—whenever possible. Whenever you decide to tell a lie, make it a conscious choice; say to yourself, “Right now I am choosing to lie to my friend/husband/mother to avoid a confrontation that I don’t want to deal with.”
The more you get real with yourself, the harder it will be to continue being untruthful with others.
2. Poor Boundaries
Boundaries are the psychological borders between two people. Rather than being a wall or defense I put up around myself, a boundary represents my understanding of where I end and you begin. Though often confused with defense mechanisms, boundaries are just invisible borders. We can choose to ignore or defend them, but they are always there.
Boundaries divide what’s mine from what’s yours. From my point of view, everything inside the boundary belongs to me, and what’s outside my boundaries belongs to someone else.
Rights and responsibilities are the most common victims of poor boundaries. When I understand the extent and limits of my rights and responsibilities, it is easier for me to comprehend yours. Healthy boundaries help me know what is and isn’t mine to take responsibility for, and they help me respect your autonomy and separate identity even while I’m in a close relationship with you. When someone treats you as an extension of themselves, they are revealing their poor boundaries.
Poor boundaries and low self-esteem frequently go hand-in-hand because of our foundational relationship with boundaries. We learn about boundaries from our family of origin. If we were acknowledged and valued as beings separate from our caregivers, we are more likely to have developed healthy boundaries. However, if our caregivers did not respect our separateness from themselves, or if they gave us too much room and not enough connection with them, we develop too loose or too rigid boundaries.
Whether there was too much enmeshment or not enough connection with caregivers, we likely felt invisible. When children feel invisible to their parents, they begin believing that they’re not worthy of love or attention. Of course, this belief prohibits the development of robust self-esteem. If they are treated as an extension of the caregiver, then they will feel unfamiliar with their self. If denied affection, the child will feel rejected and inherently unlovable.
Those invisible and rejected children grow up to be adults with injured self-esteem and impaired awareness around boundaries.
Challenge Your Patterns
Assertiveness training can help a great deal. It’s also useful to be in relationships with people who have good boundaries. People with healthy boundaries know how to be close and intimate with others without losing their sense of self or steamrolling the other person.
Counseling can also help you learn more about boundaries, provided your counselor practices good boundaries. A counselor with good boundaries is clear about setting appointments, starts and ends sessions on time, and is direct and consistent about issues of payment.
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