While most people understand what self-esteem is, it can be hard to define and identify. According to Merriam-Webster, self-esteem is “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Self esteem relates to your opinion of yourself and your worth, which is often based on your successes, accomplishments, or lack thereof, your relationships with others, their opinions of you, and your beliefs about yourself being a good or bad person. Because self-esteem is a subjective value that we assign to ourselves, it is nearly impossible to objectively define self-esteem. That being said, people with high self esteem tend to have a high opinion of themselves and their worth (or a high overall rating of themselves) and people with low self esteem tend to have a low opinion of themselves and their self worth (or a low overall rating of themselves).
According to the University of Texas at Austin, our self-esteem develops throughout our lives based on our experiences and connections with people. Self-esteem is in large part formed throughout childhood, as we begin to form our own identities. Childhood experiences that may form healthy self esteem are:
Childhood experiences that may form low self-esteem are:
It should come as no surprise that low self-esteem can have devastating consequences on a person’s life. In the U.S. alone, approximately 85% of adults report having low self-esteem. The opinions that you have of yourself and your worth as a person reflect the way that you navigate life, the way that you interact with people, and the way that you perceive yourself and your successes and failures.
Low self-esteem can be a particular challenge for people who struggle with substance abuse. Substances may temporarily make you feel better about yourself, however, abusing substances can also lower self esteem it might make you feel bad for not being able to stop using substances, or knowing that you have a problem and feeling like a failure because of it. Some of the consequences of low self esteem include:
The connection between self-esteem and substance abuse has long been established. In the 1970s, people who abused substances were found to have low levels of self-esteem, especially among women. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, having low self esteem during childhood and adolescence can increase your risk of substance abuse later in life.
The reason that self esteem and substance abuse are so intimately linked is that your sense of self and self-worth is greatly impacted by, and can greatly impact substance abuse. For example, people with low self-esteem may turn to alcohol and substances for a temporary confidence boost and to feel good about themselves. This is short-lived, however, and when the substance wears off, the person typically finds that their self-esteem has plummeted even further. Conversely, the presence of a substance abuse disorder may create low self esteem because of the disorder. Becoming dependent on substances and stuck in a cycle of abuse is not something that anyone chooses for themselves and substance abuse can contain feelings of failure and guilt.
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