I don’t deserve it: How low self-esteem affects us fundamentally

Close-up side profile photo of a girl
Art DiNo/Creative Commons

Related Posts

Over the course of the school year, as I’ve adjusted to life as a college student, I’ve had many deep conversations with my roommate. We have talked about our fears, our likes and dislikes, our goals, our worries and as it becomes more apparent, my low self-esteem. 

I used to think of my low self-esteem as something that I only brought up when I used some self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood. When I use humor to bring myself down in some way, it conceals the fact that I genuinely believe what I’m saying. The more I dig, the more I find out that my perception in every aspect of my life has been shaped by the fundamental belief that essentially boils down to this: “I don’t deserve this.” 

My low self-esteem has been so ingrained in me that I didn’t even notice until my roommate pointed it out to me. I have a habit of weaponizing my own achievements against myself to argue about how unqualified or undeserving I am, or how it was simply due to luck. On the other hand, when I make the simplest mistakes, I’m quick to tear myself down because I believe I deserve it. I berate myself for being so stupid or careless while dismissing any accomplishments in favor of criticizing myself. I forgive others easily for small mistakes but am harsh and cruel towards myself. When it comes down to it, the issue of it is that I simply don’t think I’m good enough. 

Prior to moving to college, I hadn’t even realized how low my self-esteem truly was or how much it affected me fundamentally. It influenced how I viewed myself and the world, and I’m slowly growing aware of how nearly every single issue I need to improve on is closely tied to low self-esteem. 

I used to joke that my self-esteem set a bar so low that you couldn’t even play a game of limbo with it, but I didn’t realize how true it could be. My first instinct is to criticize myself in some way, to tell myself that I could have done better, that I didn’t deserve whatever I got and that I only did it because I’m lucky. It’s natural for me to focus only on what I’m bad at to the point that I’m basically blind to anything of merit I did. The issue of my low self-esteem isn’t the thoughts that I had. It’s that I genuinely believed them. 

So how do I combat this? Well, first, when my roommate started to point out instances where I would simply naturally tear myself down, I began to take notice. I stopped for a moment. I imagined myself as if I were a perfect stranger. Would I say those things to myself? Would I tell them to someone I love? The answer is an obvious no. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never ever be that cruel to anyone. So why was I so cruel to myself? 

I am truly my own worst enemy. Because I know myself the best, I am also the best at picking at the tiniest flaws. Even after I realized these destructive habits of mine, I still found it hard to break out of my shell. How could I just change the way I think just like that? It’s simple. I couldn’t. 

During times of great distress, I was quick to fall back into old habits just to berate myself further. I was quick to kick myself back down. However, these things take time. If I can be patient with the people I love, I can be patient with myself. I can now more easily recognize what I’m good at. I acknowledge my achievements. I tell myself that I did accomplish them. I build myself up. I used to be so afraid of being seen as smug that I would avoid bragging about myself at all costs. But as I am still learning, there is a world of difference between bragging and tearing myself down.

Contact Winnie Wang at [email protected].