Excuse the dramatic title, but it is true. Living with chronic, long term, low self esteem can really ruin your life in more ways than one, and warrants intervention like any other psychological issue. Whilst it may not lead to full blown depression or anxiety, living with low self esteem is just as debilitating.
So what is self esteem? I suppose my way of defining it would be your view of your self, both inside and out. How we see ourselves, and our confidence in ourselves, can have a knock on effect in all areas of our life, from our relationships, our career, our mental health and our physical health. In today's society of selfies and social media, our physical appearance has never been under so much scrutiny.
Having long term low self esteem has an enormous impact on the choices we make, and can lead to impulsive and risky decisions to try and make ourselves feel better.
Here are some of the ways having low self esteem can be extremely dangerous:
Financially- If you struggle to like yourself, buying lots of stuff can seem like a good way of easing some of that inner turmoil. Buying new clothes, splashing out on expensive accessories, wearing designer labels, and spending a fortune on an expensive social life to 'fit in' can all do serious damage to your finances, and becomes addictive. If you try to make up for your perceived short comings by throwing money at it, you'll soon end up even more stressed when you have no money left.
Sexually- Having a low self esteem puts you in a very vulnerable position when it comes to sex, and could leave you leading a dangerously promiscuous life just to feel like someone else finds you attractive. Not only are you putting your health at risk, but this can lead to even more self loathing when you feel you've done something you aren't proud of. The internet is full of apps and sites that foster this kind of promiscuity, which can lead to impulsive and risky sexual choices in order to feel more attractive.
Legally- A huge majority of the men I worked with in prison, for many different offences, had chronically low self esteem, and felt they deserved nothing more than a life behind bars. Low self esteem can lead to dangerous choices when it comes to crime, and feeling like you don't deserve a non-offending life only continues the cycle. If you feel low about yourself, you can end up thinking you have nothing to lose, and that the consequences of your decisions won't be as bad as how you currently feel, putting your future in jeopardy. If you find yourself wanting excitement in your life, and crime seems like a bit of exitement, your on very dangerous territory. Believe me, a life spent in prison because you don't like yourself is not worth it.
Addiction- Using alcohol or drugs to block out your low self esteem is a slippery slope, and only leads to an even deeper dislike of who you are, but this is common side effect of low self worth. The lifestyle that comes with addiction is often highly dangerous and could kill you, and this path will never lead to self love.
Suicide/Self Harm- Throughout my years working in prisons and in addiction, suicide and self harm has been a battle fought by many. I once worked with a man who went on hunger strike for months and months in an attempt to kill himself because he thought he was a terrible father. I've seen people choke on razor blades because they hated themselves so much, and another person set his clothes on fire. If you don't like yourself, hurting yourself can feel like a way of self punishing for all the things you struggle to accept. I don't know anyone with positive self esteem who has ever considered suicide or self harm.
Relationships- Working in domestic violence highlighted a very common theme, and that was low self esteem on both sides. The abuser and the victim commonly had low self esteem, with one fighting to feel better about themselves, and the other 'accepting' it because they felt they deserved it. This leads to long term abuse behind closed doors that is left to get worse and sadly often leads to serious harm or death. If you have low self esteem, you are a lot more likely to accept abuse as a normal part of your life, and even make excuses for it that justify it. Even if you leave one relationship, it is likely that your low self esteem may follow, and put you in another vulnerable situation. Abuse is never acceptable.
It is important to highlight the serious impact that low self esteem can have, as I feel it is often belittled and not treated seriously enough. If you struggle with low self esteem, it is important to recognise this as a problem that needs attention, to avoid some of these potential life threatening consequences. We do not need to live the rest of our lives feeling this way, as there is a lot that can be done to improve your own self esteem and move forward to a happier more self loving place. I will post soon on ways you can change your self image and do something good for your future. In the mean time, perhaps start noticing some of things you do like about yourself. It can make the world of difference.