Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Do you hate the way you look or are you easily manipulated to do the job nobody else wants to at your workplace?

Are you unable to sleep properly at night, or do you feel that nobody likes you?

Then most probably you have confidence issues and are suffering from low self-esteem, and that can have drastic effects at work or with your relationships and your family life.

But you do not have to spend the rest of your life feeling miserable as this negative feeling about yourself can be unlearned.

“Low self-esteem can affect anyone but the negative perceptions about oneself can be changed”, says Dr Shaju George, specialist psychiatrist at International Modern Hospital in Dubai.

There are various reasons why some people think so low about themselves. One is your upbringing: if your parents were always critical of you, comparing you to someone else, Or, if your parents pushed you to be perfect that would have given you a complex that you are incompetent and you have no redeeming capabilities, says the doctor.

Genetics also has a role to play in your low self-esteem, says the psychiatrist. “Personality disorder can run in the family,” he says. “If someone in the family has a social phobia, you will have the genes for that,” he says.

“It’s nature and nurture. Nature (genetics) you cannot modify. But nuture (the environment), we can,” says the psychiatrist.

Most people with LSE have illogical assumptions about themselves. “We have to help them see things in a positive perspective.”

“Low self-esteem (LSE) can affect anyone,” says the psychiatrist. “Most of us develop our (future)traits from childhood, through adolescence, and to the young adult period.”

He says that a person whose work is not acknowledged positively and if his contribution is always criticised, will suffer from LSE and wonder why he should keep working and whether he is incapable at his job.

“Many companies do not realise that if your work is not appreciated, and on the other hand you are squeezed to do more and more, the pressure will make you depressed and you will not do any qualitative work,” says the doctor.

The doctor says the way to beat the bias at the workplace is to believe in yourself and to be assertive. He was responding to a question about a study that said men who were taller usually got better salaries, and that the pretty woman usually lands the coveted job.

He notes that if as a child you did not have someone who would listen to you positively either at home or at school or among your peers, that could push you to feel low about yourself.

The doctor says that LSE affects both men and women equally. One aspect of LSE is body image and that is common among women. “Boys during adolescence, also have body issues when they start comparing themselves with adults when they begin growing a beard and getting more muscles.”

The doctor says that people with LSE unfortunately have a huge negative perception about themselves. “When I tell them to write down their plus and minus points on a piece of paper, I get three pages of negative points and usually a request that they will hand in the plus points later. After two weeks I get 2 plus points from that person,” he says. 

LSE affects health 

The psychiatrist says the problems arising due to low self-esteem are usually multi-faceted. “It can affect your scholastic performance, your social relationships. You may develop phobias and will try to avoid situations where you feel uncomfortable and avoid assignments given to you.”

He says the bodily or somatic symptoms are also wide-ranging and begins with lack of sleep and waking up intermittently in the night. “You will start losing weight, and will have no interest in pleasurable activities. You will feel restless and anxious.”

Dr George cites the wide-ranging repercussions of stress and anxiety that comes out of feeling low about yourself. “Indian women, for instance, are marrying later today, between the ages of 25 to 35, when earlier they would marry at 18 or 32 years,” he says.

That puts extra pressure on the woman both from her work and also maintaining her family. “That stress affects the ovulation cycle and leads to infertility,” says the doctor.

Stress will also further escalate chronic disorders such as diabetes, cardio vascular disease, hypertension, says the psychiatrist. “It will affect the prognosis or delay the improvement of these disorders.”

Unfortunately, people with LSE are more susceptible to substance abuse, such as alcohol, drugs and will have suicidal thoughts, he says. 

Condition is treatable

The doctor says LSE is treatable. “All behavioural problems stem from wrong learning and based on experience and illogical beliefs (about themselves),” he says.

“If you are shunned by a particular group at some time, you may wrongly or illogically believe that they are ignoring you because you are not handsome.”

The doctor said that helping such a person would require taking stock of his plus points and help him identify his negative feelings.

There is a simple formula for the professional counsellor to look at behaviour modification and it can be broken down into A, B and C: A is Antecedent (an event that occurs prior to your behaviour). Behaviour (such as avoiding a group) and C is Consequence, such as depression, that occurs after the Behaviour.

Dr George says that CBT ( Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) will help change people see themselves in a different way. “The (counselling) sessions are usually from six weeks to three months,” he says.

CBT helps by making person change his cognitions or perceptions about himself.

The doctor says that your friends and family can then reinforce the positive behaviour and help restore your health self-esteem.