Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Is there any connection between social anxiety and low self esteem? If so, what?
You may be forgiven for thinking that there’s no connection because they’re not an obvious fit. One is feeling anxious about being in social situations whilst the other is the way we are unfair to ourselves.
However, there’s one common thread that runs right through both conditions and that is:
Low self esteem feeds social anxiety
This may seem obvious but how does this actually follow through?
Here we’ll look at what low self esteem is and then what social anxiety is and how the two are interwoven.
What’s Low Self Esteem?
There are some general characteristics of low self esteem. These include:
Lack of self-confidence.
Bouts of sadness
Lack of social skills
Not following the mainstream
Unable to accept compliments
Unable to be fair to yourself
Highlighting the negative
Overstressed about what you imagine other people think
Treating yourself badly
But NOT other people
But worrying if you have treated others badly
Unwillingness to take on challenges
Reluctance to put yourself first or anywhere.
Hesitancy to trust your own opinion
Having low expectations out of life for yourself
Low self esteem is characterized by two things. One, feeling bad about ourselves and two, lacking confidence. We feel unlovable, so much so we can’t even love ourselves.
We are hypersensitive with a fragile sense of self that can easily be wounded by others and we become hyper alert to signs of rejection. Fearing that there’s something wrong with us, even though we can’t voice it, we live as adults silently condemning ourselves. This all takes place as a normal course of life.
If we are aware of our patterns, we don’t know how to stop them. It’s easy for us to think that something is wrong and we can’t stop it and that this is our fate. This leads into hopelessness which, in turn, has led us to dysfunctional (and sometimes destructive) behaviours.
All this exacerbates our isolation and loneliness.
Meet The Inner Critic
The part of us that drives the low self esteem is the inner critic. This is the inner voice that judges others and ourselves, harshly. We’ve become comfortable with our self-criticism and can’t hear the extreme negativity. But we feel different to other people without knowing why.
This may show in our body language or the way we can’t make eye contact. We often feel very guilty but we can’t pinpoint the reason.
We project this inner critic onto others and assume they think about us the way we think about us.
Many of us who have been challenged on this subject will adamantly state that we KNOW that others think badly of us. The inner critic is so harsh that it makes us believe we are completely unacceptable to everybody we know.
We’re vigilant about making mistakes, being awkward in front of others, acting childishly or losing self-control. We may have to put on a mask of perfection to hide our vulnerabilities. Even those closest to us are not aware how hard we try to keep our defences in place.
What’s Social Anxiety?
There are some general characteristics of Social Anxiety. These include:
Worrying about embarrassing yourself
Fear of being judged
Terror of talking with strangers
Worrying those physical symptoms may be an embarrassment e.g. sweating, blushing, and shaking.
Avoiding situations where you might be noticed
Anticipating anxiety of an upcoming event
Expecting the worst possible outcome from social situation
Going over and over a situation whilst analysing your performance and pinpointing your mistakes
Being shy or uncomfortable in a situation isn’t necessarily a sign of social anxiety, especially when related to children. There is a lot of variation of different personalities, some of whom are simply reserved.
Real social anxiety is our whole different thing to everyday nervousness. It's a terror of awkward social engagements so much so that some people can have panic attacks and pass out when in a situation where they can't control the anxiety.
Sometimes the only answer is to completely avoid social engagements and this can have a devastating effect on relationships, the daily routine, work, school or other activities.
Here’s a link to my blog that goes much deeper into the issues of social anxiety:
So Is It Social Anxiety vs Low Self Esteem? No, It’s How Low Self Esteem And Social Anxiety Feed Each Other.
This isn’t about battling one disorder against the other or having one disorder and not the other. There’s an intertwining of the two disorders that is unhelpful.
Take a look at this illustration.
It illustrates how the critical voice, as part of the social anxiety, tells us that no one likes us. That’s what stops us from going out and enjoying ourselves and increases the level of anxiety.
Once we begin to listen to that voice, and believe it, we feel too vulnerable to go out again and the critical voice will affirm this by telling us know one cares. Then our self esteem is hammered.
While low self esteem can put us at risk of social anxiety, experiencing an anxiety disorder can make us feel so bad about ourselves that it can badly damage our self esteem.
The interaction of these two disorders maintain, and feed, the negative cycle.
If we have a social anxiety disorder we will probably have some core beliefs about ourselves which maybe incorrect and illogical. Core beliefs, originating from childhood, are the very essence of how we see ourselves, other people, the world, and the future.
These core beliefs are what others told us enough times that we've now believe they're fact. For those of us who suffer from social anxiety, those core beliefs might be that we will never be able to control our anxiety around other people and will never possess skills to cope with social situations.
As long as the core beliefs feed our low self esteem, we won’t have resilience to bounce back from our negative thoughts. Anyone who experiences this will be vulnerable to spiraling into toxic shame and negativity.
People who have high self esteem are able to see that they are worthwhile people in spite of making mistakes.
It’s clear that the interaction between low self esteem and social anxiety is self fulfilling like partners in crime. The next question is, why is our self esteem so low?
The Origins of Low Self-Esteem
Low self esteem is one of the main reasons that people look for self help or enter therapy.
There are many reasons why we suffer from low self esteem but there are some common themes:
There are issues and worries that have plagued us our whole life. This might be carrying secrets from our past all feeling that we were not able to fix situations when we were younger.
If we struggled without our parent’s support, especially at school, when we were young we were at greater risk of suffering low self-esteem. Children who did not do well at school felt stupid and often feel like they are the only person who doesn’t understand the work. We feel like a failure and hide away trying to make sure nobody notices. Sadly we are often successful and we carry this feeling of failure into adult life.
We were bullied when we were younger. Bullying can be physical or but just as powerful is verbal bullying. Being relentlessly teased build our negative self image that will carry on into adult hood. If no one steps in to onto that damage we hang onto the pain and negative self image for the rest of our life. Eventually we believe what they say and internalise it believing we deserve it.
If we suffered trauma during our childhood, studies[i] have shown that if we don’t get help to work through it, it can have a permanent impact on the way we see ourselves. Suffering trauma can make us feel like we did something wrong or were not good enough to put it right. This trauma could be physical and emotional or sexual abuse. Sometimes we believed we deserved the abuse because it was our fault. If no one stepped in to protect us and in our mind it confirms that it was our fault and we deserved the punishment.
Turning to social media as a way of communicating can have a very negative impact on our self esteem. We are presented with images of other people’s lives that look perfect and they look happy. Of course this is unrealistic but if our esteem is not healthy, we don’t see these as unrealistic, we see them as unattainable and judge ourselves against them.
There’s a process called ‘self verification’ which is when the negative voice in our head tells us that we are no good in social situations we believe it and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This backs up our core beliefs.
The more we believe that voice, the more we seek out proof that it is speaking the truth.
We stop looking for the different and more positive point of view because it conflicts with our view about ourselves. So we side with the negative voice and it grows stronger, developing the low esteem and feeding the social anxiety.
It’s easy to fall back on the strategies that have worked for us in the past such as avoiding social situations or if we have to take part then putting on our defensive masks. We can be in a room full of people yet feel lonelier than we’ve ever felt before.
This is the perfect storm for low self esteem.
How Can I Boost Self-Esteem and Lower Social Anxiety?
It doesn’t work to separate the two disorders as in social anxiety vs low self esteem because they are entwined.
And it’s not as easy as simply looking in the mirror to do a ‘self love exercise.’
This critical voice is deeply embedded and it will take support from other people who can help challenge those deep beliefs.
I’m going to show you a radical approach to get started on this journey.
You may have to take my word for it that there is even a critical voice in your head. This voice can be subtle and difficult to hear, particularly if it’s been with you since childhood. It may take a while because we are so comfortable with shaming ourselves we don’t hear the negativity.
Here is the radical bit:
this critical voice is usually the voice of one parent, and occasionally both.
As hard as this is to process, it is the reality. It sometimes takes a long time to connect the dots between our parent’s negative attitude towards us and the voice in our head. In order to recover we dive in deep because this voice is our key driver.
What I suggest is to separate out the critical thoughts whilst remembering where you’ve heard that statement before. This will stand you in good stead for when you undertake more in-depth work on yourself.
Whether you go into therapy or run with a program like ‘A Program Of Miracles’, understanding that there is a critical voice that runs our life is a key milestone in anybody’s evolvement in lifting self esteem.
By discovering and acknowledging that voice, it’s the first step in silencing it. Learning to silence that voice will directly increase self-esteem. A healthier and more accurate sense of self will emerge.
This is not dissimilar to how people break away from the brainwashing of a cult.
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