Codependency SCUBA Crisis at 60 ft Under Water
Free Therapy: I'll Take the Pain I Know Over the Cure I Don't Know

Low Self Esteem: How Low Can You Go?

Note: This is topic # 2  from the 10-part series, The Fine Art of Misery.

*On a serious note: Please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.

Grief Wood Sculpture

OK, here's the thing. If you truly aspire to a miserable life, you must begin here. Low self-esteem is at the very core of misery. You must perfect an absolute commitment to self-loathing. You do this by taking advantage of three powerful tools:

  • grow up in American culture
  • create a belief system, complete with attitudes and automatic thoughts, that is devoted to negativity and cynicism (see Topic # 1: Stinking Thinking: The Sweet Smell of Successful Misery).
  • stay as far away from spirituality as you can get (organized religion might be just fine - use your judgment on this.

Low Self-Esteem: Your American Culture at Work

If you happen to be raised in the American culture, you enjoy a distinct advantage over others from more tolerant societies. In American culture, we have very narrow parameters for what are considered attractive qualities. The entire popular culture is Flag 4th of July
set up to program you for low self-esteem
. You have to have just the right body type, the right skin color, the right age, the right gender, the right religion, the right sexuality, and have the right type of education. You must have the right values, be raised on the right side of the tracks, by the right parents, and have the right bank balance. Otherwise, "you ain't from 'round these parts" and you are viewed with suspicion just because you are different. So few people can meet these criteria, a miserable low self-esteem is almost guaranteed for most of the U.S. population. And that's even before your dysfunctional parents have had a shot at you!


I'm Not OK, You're Not OK, Nobody's OK, Nothing's OK, Nowhere, Never

It is important to develop a pretty comprehensive belief system that the world is awful Approval Thumbs Down
and that you hold the distinction of being the armpit of the world. Again, your core beliefs are essential here. You are innately inferior, you don't matter, you have no purpose, you are a mistake, you have nothing to contribute to the world, you are a loser and you deserve to be all alone as a social outcast. Focus on your specific physical flaws and then your obnoxious personality traits. You are too fat, too thin, too hairy, too wrinkly, too bald, too short. You are not smart enough, not popular enough, not nice enough, not healthy enough, not mature enough, not good...enough.

Mouse Vision, Not Eagle Vision

"A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small package."  Be self-absorbed. Remember that you are all alone

 in the universe, separate from the rest of us. Stay away from all things spiritual.  I define spirituality as the belief that there might be something bigger than you in the world. A quick look in the mirror could do that for you, so beware Mouse
when you enter the bathroom. Be particularly wary of any spiritual belief system that insists that you are a child of God.  I can't think of a single more powerful destructive force that will obliterate low self-esteem faster than the belief that God knows you and loves you and that there is a divine plan in which you play a significant role. Spirituality is kryptonite to the person determined to be miserable.

Remember, if you somehow start to feel like you matter, that you like yourself, there are a few quick things you can do: watch a few TV commercials advertising beauty products, drive yourself over to the "right side of the tracks" in your town and compare yourself to those people, put yourself into the middle of a huge crowd of people and just feel your invisible insignificance.  Above all, don't contemplate the miracle of the butterfly or the expansiveness of a star filled night sky, or the Perfection of synchronicity and coincidences.

Remember, Eleanor Roosevelt was said to have observed, "No one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission."  So, go ahead! Give yourself permission to stay in your belief that you are not worthy. Besides, what in the world would you do with yourself if you were happy?

Spirituality Clouds

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I believe in what you said about the American society being so 'tolerant.' People in this society claim to be accepting of others' behaviors and actions, but when one person is not politically correct they get thrown to the wolves.


Well said. I was Vice President of the Misery Club for awhile. Now, I just enjoy being sarcastic and sometimes cynical!


I personally take issue with the whole spirituality part. I have plenty of self esteem issues, but the fact that I am atheist is one label that I feel really good about. I don't think believing in a magic man in the sky is necessary for self worth.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Steph,
I am glad that you feel really good about being an atheist. I think that when we are very secure about who we are and what we believe, that security gives us the magnanimity to be more tolerant and respectful of other views. To each her own.

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