How To Get Help!

Breaking The Chain of Low Self-Esteem

Dr. Sorensen has a program for recovery from low self-esteem.

Are you suffering from low self esteem?

self-esteem questionnaire

Take the Sorensen Self Esteem Test and find your score!

Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to view this PDF.

Symptoms and Consequences of
Low Self-Esteem



phone therapy


Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem

Fear & Anxiety are the cornerstones of low self esteem. Those who suffer from low self-esteem experience extreme fear and anxiety frequently. Believing that there is something innately wrong with themselves, these low self esteem sufferers experience self-esteem attacks (often called panic attacks) when they do something they deem to have been stupid, something they think others have noticed, and something that confirms their own feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, being undeserving or unlovable. During these attacks they may attack or withdraw and isolate while feeling embarrassed, humiliated, devastated, depressed, even despairing. Depending on how seriously they perceive their "mistake" they may not recover for minutes, hours, days, or longer. They are often too fearful to ask for help, thinking that needing help is an admission of inadequacy.

Self-Esteem Attacks: Often mistakenly called panic attacks, Self Esteem Attacks often lead to depression and feelings of devastation. Common to some degree to all who suffer from low self esteem, Self Esteem attacks occur when a person perceives she has done or said something insensitive, inappropriate, stupid, or ridiculous. As a result of these dreaded periods of self-loathing the low self esteem sufferer tends to do such things as: a) isolate or refrain from new activities to avoid looking foolish or inept, b) stay quiet and not share ideas or perceptions for fear of saying something "wrong," c) not initiate with others for fear of rejection, and d) not look for a better job because of feelings of inadequacy, or e) remain in a destructive relationship because of feeling too inadequate to be alone.

"Self Esteem Attacks" occur whenever a person with low self esteem does or says something that he afterwards deems to have been inappropriate, stupid, rude, obnoxious, off target, or inaccurate. At that time, the person may experience immediate remorse, excruciating anxiety, his heart racing, his face turning red, a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation. Wishing he could sink into the floor or disappear he may immediately look for a way to escape. He may feign illness, sneak out without saying anything, or just become totally silent, hoping not to be noticed. He will believe that everyone saw his blunder and is thinking poorly of him, maybe even laughing at him. This is a full blown Self-Esteem Attack that may last for minutes, hours, even days during which he berates himself, is fearful of seeing anyone who was in attendance at the time he made his "mistake," and remain seriously depressed. All people who suffer from low self-esteem have these attacks though they vary in degree and in length depending upon how serious the person judges his gaffe, how highly he values the opinions of those in attendance, and what he surmises the repercussions will be. As people go through recovery, these attacks gradually become less frequent, less severe in their intensity, and shorter in duration. Being rid of these attacks is one of the goals of Recovery.

Depression: Low self-esteem is the underlying cause of much of the depression people suffer. They feel that there are things they can't do well, especially as it concerns social skills, being successful, initiating and maintaining relationships, or having the courage to try new things. As a result they often feel hopeless about their situation and about the future.

Hypersensitivity: Because those with low self-esteem feel so inadequate, they automatically think that others see them in the same way and that others are laughing at them, will likely reject them, do not respect them, and will take advantage of them. Consequently they tend to watch for signs this is happening and then tend to by overly sensitive and are easily offended.

Hypervigilance: Feeling inadequate, as thought they don't fit in, and then constantly fearful of repercussions, low self esteem sufferers watch others in an effort to figure out what to do and say, what to wear-what seems to work. But, as situations change, behaviors also change leaving these individuals confused about what they should do or say, adding to their anxiety and fear of rejection and so their social and relationship skills do not improve leading to many boundary issues.

Lack of Assertiveness: Assertiveness requires boldness that most low self esteem sufferers do not have. They are often too fearful of upsetting others (and then being rejected) to tell the truth, ask for what they want, or share their feelings. Instead, they tend to become passive until their anger builds at which point they can become aggressive-defensive, sarcastic, brusque, or rude, even violent such as is the case with domestic, gang, and teen violence.

Another response often give by those who have low self-esteem is acting in ways that are passive-aggressive. Examples are any form of manipulation, planned tardiness, throwing out cues for the other to pick up on, making insinuations to get the other person to do what you want, gossiping, etc.

Lack of Self-Confidence, those with low self esteem generally become either overachievers or underachievers. Some are angry and are driven to prove their adequacy-often becoming very successful as the result of their low self esteem . Other low self esteem sufferers remain in unsatisfying and or abusive relationships, remain in jobs where the pay is poor and the benefits nonexistent, give up on their dreams, and float through life because they are convinced that trying to change these factors will result in failure, humiliation, or being alone. People who lack self-confidence are very needy. These are self-defeating behaviors that low self esteem sufferers repeat over and over.

Obsessive-compulsive or addictive behaviors: Trying to feel better about themselves, those with low self esteem may become involved in over spending, alcohol, perfectionism, drugs and elicit sex.

Workaholic behavior: Because we all gravitate to the place where we feel best about ourselves many people with low self esteem become workaholics. At our jobs we tend to know what is expected of us and therefore we feel more secure there than in relationships and in the social world where expectations differ and so much is unknown. As a result those with low self esteem stay at jobs even though the pay is poor and benefits are nonexistent rather than try for a new job, or rather than focus on building individual relationships.

Overachieving & Underachieving Behaviors: A widely-held belief, at least in the past, has been that those who suffer from low self esteem would naturally become underachievers. I have not found this to be true but instead have found that people with low self esteem tend to be one of two extremes-either underachievers or overachievers, thus achieving less than they are capable of or more than they might have if they didn't have low self esteem. Too anxious and fearful of failure, rejection, or making a fool of themselves, some low self esteem sufferers have shrunk back and not put forth their best effort to be successful, choosing instead to stay safe. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have pushed themselves inordinately to achieve and become successful, needing to prove to themselves and other that they are adequate and competent. For underachievers, each new level of success has brought feelings of accomplishment that are unfortunately short-lived, requiring that they push even harder. They also find that this success at work does not equate with happiness away from work and instead tends to result in them becoming workaholics.

Poor Boundaries: Most people who suffer from low self esteem have come from homes with poor boundaries. Individuality and creativity may have been discouraged; personal space and ownership of personal possessions may have been violated; the right to have personal preferences or make choices may have not have been allowed. The freedom to express oneself may have been squelched. Individuals coming from this environment may feel to frightened to share their feelings or to even know what they feel; they may not know what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior and act in ways that looks stilted or awkward.

Poor Relationship and Social Skills: Adding to the fact that many low self esteem sufferers did not get the necessary support or guidance in developing social skills during their developmental years, they now find themselves paralyzed in knowing what to do differently or in having the courage to ask for help; they view asking others for help as a sign of inadequacy. Fearful of trying anything different and anxious about putting themselves in any new environment where they may not know what is expected, they become Floaters in life-taking what comes without doing much to chart their path or increase their skills. This is but another way in which those who have low self-esteem act in ways that are self-sabotaging.

Self Sabotaging:Self-Sabotaging acting in ways that are not in one's own best interest. Falls into three categories:

The Floaters: Unable or unwilling to take charge of their lives or make changes, they float through life taking what comes their way,. These people often become Underachievers. So fearful of failure or rejection that they stay at jobs with inadequate pay, poor or nonexistent benefits, or in abusive and unfulfilling relationships, convinced it's the best they can do. Often too fearful to take classes (for fear they would fail), join groups (for fear they won't fit in) or even to go to therapy (because it would be an admission of inadequacy), or unwilling to read books or even too fearful to be seen purchasing them, they are stuck. They tend to repeat their mistakes, unaware of their self-defeating behavior and unable to do things differently.

The Needy: They rely on others for direction in their lives, defer to others, try to please others to be liked, who act as though they need help, who don't respect themselves or feel they have worth.

The Workaholics: These low self esteem sufferers know they have ability and skills to be successful in their careers and put the majority of their time and energy into making that happen in order to feel good about themselves. This is also a form of self-sabotage, because they work to avoid the personal side of life where they feel inadequate. Workaholics often don't have time for a personal life or ignore and neglect those who are in their lives. Often they become Overachievers.

Sexual Dysfunction: Anxiety is considered by physicians to be the primary cause of impotence in men and inability to reach orgasm in women. These problems are especially prevalent in those with low self esteem.

Unreasonable Expectations: Low self esteem sufferers often "test the love and devotion" the of people they are with, throwing out cues as to what they want or need and then expecting their partner's, friends, and family to pick up these cues and supply what's wanted or needed. In this way they set themselves up with unreasonable expectations and are often disappointed-something they internally digest as the other person "not caring."

> back to top