You’ve Been Conditioned Into Low Self-Esteem—Here’s How to Get It Back

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 10, 2021
You've Been Conditioned Into Low Self-Esteem: Here's How to Get It Back

People often confuse confidence and self-esteem. While correlated, they’re not one in the same. Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance that arises from the appreciation of one’s abilities (like being a good tennis player or entrepreneur) or qualities (like being funny or pretty), while self-esteem is confidence in one’s own inherent worth or value.

Those of us who confuse confidence and self-esteem often find ourselves trying hard and not getting any satisfaction. We can be good at doing many amazing and difficult tasks. We can even be the superstar in our field and still, not feel good enough. Take it from me, the former Queen of “being awesome at doing and horrible at being.”

It’s said that seven out of 10 girls ages 8 to 17 have negative opinions of themselves in some way, such as their looks, school performance, or relationships with family and friends. Research tells us that majority of girls ages 8 to 17 are insecure and unsure of themselves. At age 17, our self-esteem doesn’t increase significantly, but the research on self-esteem disappears because we stop focusing on holding ourselves in high regard and begin crushing accomplishments—in hopes that increasing confidence will close the gap.

The problem: It doesn’t. We find becoming a rock star in all the ways that society values doesn’t cut it, because society is where we are, not who we are. Even more, the more we internalize society and its messaging, the more our self-esteem is at risk. Let me explain.

The messages that we women receive from birth—to be accommodating, thin and attractive, smart but not too smart, successful until we threaten the social system—have a significant effect on how we think, feel and behave. We are taught that our value is based on our appearance, our relationship status and the like. Of course, we don’t value ourselves for who we are. Of course, we don’t recognize our real worth. That, ladies, we aren’t taught.

Here’s the deal: Shedding the impact of social norms takes much less efforting and much more challenging old-school, misogynistic core beliefs that we’ve unknowingly internalized.

In order to increase esteem, we must identify the problem (social norms) and hop into the solution (ourselves!). You heard me. We are not the problem. We are, instead, the solution. It’s time for us to stop taking over where society leaves off with our negative self-talk, focus on fitting in and desire to be liked.

It’s time for us to come together and stand in our own power. We make up 51 percent of the population. With each of us showing up for all of us, our value is enough to become the new norm.

Here’s where we start, in three steps:

1. Take control of your thoughts.

Each one of us has both a positive and a negative thought voice. The negative voice is the part of you that has internalized all of the warped messages thrown at you by society since birth and works overtime to shame you into fitting in with societal norms. The negative voice is trying to save you from rejection much of the time.

Traditionally, psychology has told us that the negative voice, or “inner-critic,” spews irrational thoughts. I disagree. Society fuels self-destructive thoughts. Make no mistake! You are not crazy. You’re an intuitive good listener, which is the very reason that many of our self-destructive thoughts look similar, such as “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m a burden” or “I’m a loser.” When not overt, all you have to do is read between the lines of social messages and that’s what you get.

Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to actions. To change the way you feel (aka less than), change the way you think. Identify thought patterns that lead to unwanted feelings.

Thoughts are not facts. Instead of buying into what you’ve internalized over decades in this place, I invite you to challenge what you’ve learned. What is learned can be unlearned—with practice.

Call bullshit on your negative thoughts. Write them down. Replace them with truth. Get on with your day. Remember, each one of us came with everything we need to get through this life in a healthy and happy way. Period.

2. Teach others to respect you, not like you.

Of course, we all want to be liked, but when being liked is top priority, we often compromise ourselves. We, women, are not schooled on setting boundaries, which leads to over-commitment, resentments and all-out exhaustion.

Screw that, seriously. You deserve time. You have a voice. Even when it’s uncomfortable, use it. Comfort is overrated. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable for you, for me, for all of us.

3. Get here, show up.

You are the only person in the world with your experiences and perspective. You don’t have a purpose. You are your purpose, and frankly, we need you. You’ve gotta show up for you, for us. The goal is to have your head and your body in the same place at the same time—no easy feat (for now, anyway).

Start by using your senses—look at what’s around you, take in the colors, smell the scents in the room, feel the fabric on the chair or that of your skirt, taste the watermelon in your mouth, listen to the bird outside the window. It’ll take you a couple of minutes to truly be in your moment. With practice, it begins to come more naturally.

It’s worth it, because there’s nothing that keeps you from feeling good where you are, quite like being where you’re not. Our power is in our presence. Our duty is to get here.

After practicing thought management, boundary setting and presence, your value will be unmistakable—even to you.

We’re in this together.

Dr. Lauren Hazzouri

This post originally appeared on and has been updated.
Photo by @Elisall/Twenty20

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