Self-Esteem: The Impact of Low or Overly High Self-Esteem in Our Lives

by: Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C. Psych.

Our deepest sense of our own worth or value is an important part of our self-esteem. Having a positive sense of self-esteem involves being able to hold a solid sense of being a good person, making life decisions that are respectful toward ourselves, and having a sense of worth and competency. Our early childhood experience in our family of origin has a significant impact on how our self-esteem develops. Peer relations and then relationship partners also have an impact on our self-concept. Our relationships to others will play a role in how we view ourselves, the confidence we have in our selves, and our deepest sense that we are good and competent individuals; in short, we are more likely to have a good sense of our own value and worth. This good sense of our own value and worth affects how we talk to ourselves, the choices and decisions we make for ourselves in everyday life, and how we will experience and manage our relationships with others. Healthy self-esteem adds to our sense of resilience.

Individuals with low self-esteem often struggle to come in touch, or maintain, a sense of being a good and competent person. Typically, individuals with low self-esteem experienced challenging early life environments that may have involved harsh criticalness about appearance, intelligence, or clothing by family members or peers, bullying and teasing, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and neglect, obstacles that blocked achievement, or mistreatment based on social identity (e.g., gender, sexuality, race) or on a learning or physical disability. As a result of these experiences, one might be more self-critical, preoccupied by doubt and uncertainty, overly driven by perfectionistic standards and ideals, have less belief in one’s ability to achieve or accomplish, or experience an increased sense of anxiety, loneliness, and shame that block them from building relationships with others.

When we did not develop a positive sense of self-esteem, we are less able to tolerate challenging life moments and sudden life changes, to cope with adversity and perceived failure, or to deal with work and relationship issues. Lower self-esteem diminishes our ability to deal with these moments. Life challenges and financial, relationship, and career difficulties or failures can also have an impact on our self-esteem.

Some individuals have overly-inflated self-esteem or fluctuating self-esteem. In cases of overly-inflated self-esteem, an individual may be compensating for low self-esteem. Typically, this includes over-working, or over-achieving at the expense of mental, physical health, and relationships. They may also overestimate what they are able to achieve or accomplish, and set unrealistic goals with the intention of improving their sense of value and worth. Sometimes individuals oscillate between periods marked by anxiety and depression as they shift from experiencing low to overly high self-esteem.  

There are many dimensions to self-esteem. Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR in our Self-Growth & Self-Esteem Service are skilled in being able to understand how your self-esteem developed, and the necessary steps to foster a positive and healthy sense of self-esteem in the ‘here and now’.

Read more about our Self-Growth & Self-Esteem Treatment Service.