Low self-esteem and social anxiety
Do you sometimes feel as though other people will judge you negatively if you express your true opinions? Or do you worry that all your friends secretly find you to be boring and dull?
Self-esteem is the term for how we perceive and value ourselves. If we have low self-esteem, we can see ourselves as worthless and unimportant. Often this is accompanied by self-criticism, where we have negative thoughts about ourselves and judge ourselves harshly. There are many reasons why this might happen. For some, it is linked to wanting to achieve perfection, and a pressure we experience to be highly successful or be constantly achieving. This pressure can be experienced by others, from the expectations of society, or from standards we set ourselves. Others may have a more emphasised fear of failure, or of getting things wrong or looking stupid in front of other people.
Having low self-esteem can then have an impact on how we function in the world, as we start to find it difficult to be around others. Often, we compare ourselves to other people and imagine that other people are more interesting, beautiful or intelligent than we are. This creates a cycle where we are constantly putting ourselves down, as we look for flaws instead of appreciating our positive assets. We begin to see ourselves as somehow lacking and feel 'less than' other people in the world. Perhaps we start to feel we have failed where others are succeeding, and start to experience self-hatred and other very difficult emotions.
This very low self-esteem can then create or exacerbate feelings of anxiety, and potentially lead on to warning signs of social anxiety. This is a particular type of anxiety disorder, but many people experience several of the symptoms daily. These can include;
- dreading situations where you have to be with other people
- worrying about doing something wrong, strange, or embarrassing in front of others
- having panic attacks, sweating, or palpitations when in public
- over-thinking conversations and worrying to an extreme about social events
Social anxiety can be particularly challenging because if we think of ourselves negatively then we increase the chances that other people will react less positively to us. Some will imagine that other people are being as critical of us as we are about ourselves. Take for example if we are at a party and we are worried that if we try to speak to people we might say something stupid. This will make us very guarded and quiet; we will restrict what we say, and perhaps not say anything at all. We will avoid making eye contact with other people. Perhaps we sit in the corner and stay silent all night. How likely is it that anyone will want to talk to someone who is hiding away and hoping no one speaks to them?
It can be a vicious cycle of holding yourself back out of fear and low self-esteem, and so you end up coming across in the very way that you were trying to avoid.
What can you do if you find yourself in this kind of situation?
If you think you may be suffering from social anxiety, then counselling can help you to look at the different factors which have caused your low self-esteem, and to understand the difficulties you are experiencing. By talking with a professional you can start to understand how you can move forward and make changes.
Four tips to increase your confidence and push out of your comfort zone
1. Try something new. Every time we do something differently, even if it is a tiny change, we are opening the door to new possibilities and opportunities. Perhaps a fear of failure is holding you back? Remember that no-one is expected to be great at anything new straight away. Give yourself a break and know that it is OK to simply do your best no matter what happens. Try that salsa class, take that pottery course, speak to that person at work... whatever it is, give yourself permission to try, whatever the outcome.
2. Set yourself small goals. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, just take small steps into the unknown and test the waters. Every time you achieve a goal, pat yourself on the back and reward yourself for your achievement. Notice how far you have come and celebrate your successes as you go.
3. Talk to a trusted friend. Ask your friends or family how they perceive you, and find out what they would say are your best assets. It could surprise you to find out how well-liked you are! It also helps to be around people who help you to stay positive. Take time to consider how your relationships help you or hinder you.
4. Take up space. Sometimes, without even knowing it, we can be keeping ourselves as small as possible so that we don’t get in other people’s way or annoy anyone. This one, in particular, might come out of childhood, if we think we should stay quiet and not be too big or loud. Practise letting your physical body take up space, and see how freeing that can be. You might want to try an exercise class or a sport that enables you to improve your relationship with your physicality and start to enjoy your body.
I wish you all the best in your journey towards self-compassion and self-acceptance.
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