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Do you suffer from low self-esteem?

Drops in self-esteem in young adults reach an all-time high and social media is to blame. This is one of the most common myths that circulate public spaces. It is convenient for parents, teachers, and employers so they spread it out without a thought. Let’s examine some facts.

Myths about self-esteem

Self-esteem is a concept that describes how you feel about yourself. If you frequently consider yourself ugly, inadequate, or stupid despite evidence to the contrary, you have low self-esteem. The first disturbing question is whether it is true that nowadays more and more young people experience low self-esteem, compared to decades ago. And the answer is most likely negative.

The reason: people are becoming more open, willing to seek help and to talk about their problems at a younger age than before. If twenty years ago the average age of psychotherapy clients was 40, today it is 30. It is precisely the abundance of information in the digital age that makes them seek help soon after problems appear. This is why we are left with an impression that suffering starts at a younger age – suffering has always been there; what starts at a younger age is addressing it. And this is a good trend.

Self-esteem in the digital age

The second disturbing question is whether social media truly undermines self-esteem. As social creatures, we are programmed to compare to others. So yes, we will scroll down through our friends’ photos and we will try to match their experiences to ours. Healthy individuals though tend to make positive comparisons – finding similarities, feeling empathy, finding motivation, and so on.

Those who make negative comparisons, on the other hand, do so because of their internal predispositions. Jealousy, envy, and spite towards others, for instance, stem from personal dissatisfaction rather than others’ realities. Therefore, social media do not cause bad feelings about self but simply channel them.

The roots of self-esteem

So if social media is not responsible for the negative beliefs the recent generations hold about themselves, then who is? In 95% of the cases I work with, the answer is… upbringing. To be more specific I would say overly critical parents.

Few evils are greater than the constant remarks of demanding parents, who wish their kids operate at their greatest potential all the time. Nearly all of my clients, who identify anxiety as their primary concern, describe similar environment they grew up in. Half of them had to constantly match their parents’ explicit demands for decent behavior and good grades. The other half used to have role models critical of themselves, thus internalizing perfectionism. Both cases are doomed to various amounts of self-loathing, which, under stressful circumstances, surfaces as self-harm, depression or panic attacks.

Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all model, but it has proven itself a tangible trend among youth today.  In the multitude of individual factors, however, there would still be those, who would blame capitalism for the anxiety epidemic, but it is far more likely to fall victim to crappy parenting than to economic inequality.

Next time you feel bad when spotting some of your friends doing great on Instagram, ask yourself, “What is it in my current life situation that I don’t feel happy about?” You might be surprised what train of thought you are about to unleash with your answer.


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