When the reality of having depression kicks in, and anxiety about our self-worth appears as well, we tend to lose sight of ourselves — at least the parts of ourselves that are bright, shiny, and healthy. We lose our self-esteem.
We hate ourselves.
In the midst of depression, it becomes progressively easier to forget about your positive qualities, and to accept the labels society puts on your symptoms: useless, weird, broken, lazy…
When you’ve been in the depression hole for a while, you also forget you have resources and options to recover and come out on the other side. You’re never irreparably damaged, since healing from depression is a process, not a destination.
Start the process, below.
How Depression Steals Your Self Esteem
Self esteem is the sense of value we assign to ourselves. Having high self esteem feels like we are worthy of love and belonging.
When we start to question our place in the world and in our own lives, we start to feel lonely and isolated. We feel like we don’t deserve space in the world.
This is when the deepest self-hatred comes out — when we stop believing that we are unconditionally worthy of love and belonging. In this headspace, we spiral further into depressed symptoms and thought patterns — soon, our depressed selves feel like all we are, all we’ll ever be.
This is when the deepest self-hatred comes out — when we stop believing that we are unconditionally worthy.
We forget there’s another way to be, and we give up: “I can’t stop hating myself.”
Low self esteem and depression go hand-in-hand, because depression makes it easier to think about your inadequacies.
Its cognitive biases make you focus on the negative feedback you receive, ponder only that feedback, and as a result become more depressed. Depression shifts your focus from growth to disappointment. And when this shift continues for many years, it starts to become something you actually believe in. Even if it is not at all the truth.
Look Back To Childhood…
Low self-esteem (and maybe even depression) can often stem from deep-seated habits and beliefs, like those learned in childhood.
If you’ve never completely been yourself around others, you’ve never seen evidence that your genuine self is lovable and worthy.
In order for children to adjust to the world, they must feel the love of a caregiver — a mother, father, nanny, or even extended family member. Studies have shown that without the trust and love of a reliable caregiver, children’s bodies may react to fear as if they are in danger of dying. Other than food and physical security, a child has a tremendous need for love and emotional security. This need is arguably just as important to a child’s health and wellbeing, but far less frequently fulfilled.
This is why, in childhood, we tend to do whatever it takes to feel accepted and loved. When we don’t get adequate acceptance from our caregivers, we learn to seek it from anyone we meet – we need to feel worthy to function.
To keep functioning, we tend to stick with this approach to our self-worth: seeking approval and molding ourselves to make that approval more likely.
Over time, we internalize that our self-worth derives from our peers’ or superiors’ positive reactions, which kills our self-esteem.
After all, if you’ve never completely been yourself around others, you’ve never seen evidence that your genuine self is lovable and worthy.
What Have You Given Up While Seeking Acceptance?
What parts of yourself have been clouded by depression and its self-directed negativity?
This may be a painful question. It requires you to acknowledge and grieve the time you lost, out of touch with your authentic self.
It also may force you to struggle through the disheartening process of rebuilding your identity. Yes, it might be disheartening — if you’re already depressed, many do-able things feel hopeless. That includes trying to rebuild your self-esteem.
Missing Parts of Your Identity May Include:
- things you like: foods, activities, places
- people you genuinely enjoy being around (with both depression and low self-esteem, many of us seek out friends who specifically ease negative feelings, often without regard for authentic connection)
- opinions on news, events, anything around you
- conversational presence (you may find it least threatening to just go with what everyone else is saying, or to stay quiet in a group)
The things you gave up on over the years — in order to receive approval and love — are the things you need to take back in order to heal.
Win-Win Self-Esteem Boost: Work
Although there will always be a learning curve at work, your professional successes will surely nurture your self esteem. And when you have healthy self esteem, you can make mistakes and feel like it’s not the end of the world.
When you have low self esteem you tend to take every situation personally. Try to shift your focus and internalize only your successes, giving less thought to the ambiguous or negative events.
A person who makes a mistake at work can decide to see it as an opportunity to grow. And professional accomplishments boost your self esteem in an indirect, safe way – your work doesn’t directly reflect who you are, so it’s slightly lower stakes than, say, social situations.
From the small confidence you develop, taking pride in your work, build your self-esteem. Aim to call out just one piece of evidence for your self worth, daily.
Build Self Esteem With Friends
More than your professional life, your social life directly impacts your self esteem. Depression makes it difficult to connect with friends, or to get out in the first place.
You may not even enjoy doing the things you used to with loved ones, which leaves you feeling more broken. And since you know yourself best, your self-hatred feels universal to everyone in your life.
You might hate yourself, but what does that say about the people that love you?
Do try to believe that you’re worthy of your friends’ love. They do see you. They love you and probably wish you could feel more comfortable proudly flying your flag.
Friends Build Evidence Of Your Worth
Self-esteem comes from an evidence-building feedback loop – incidentally the same type of loop that can bring you out of depression.
You have to take a small step, even if it feels scary or useless – build small bits of evidence that it’s safe to be your authentic self, that you’re worthy of self-love instead of self-hatred.
Tiny interactions can be those small steps. Even if it’s not a whole conversation (which feels vulnerable when you hate yourself), connect in a tiny way, like by sending cat gifs or Snapchats.
When you open up to the people you trust, and they are there to support you emotionally, you begin to feel connected again. Real friendships are about being present to someone else’s pain and struggle — by opening up about your self hatred to a trusted friend, you deepen your connection while practicing authenticity.
Only you can heal you, but having someone hold you while you do that… that is a great gift.
“I Hate Myself” vs. “I Hate Where I Am Now”
The former ends your narrative; the latter inspires change.
It helps to remember that as Mama Cax says, “How you talk to yourself affects how you feel.”
Trust that you are on a self discovery journey and will continue to be. You are growing and evolving into a healthier self-awareness. And the result will be worth it.
If you don’t have someone to hold your space and keep you going, try reaching out at Supportiv – in an anonymous, low-stakes setting, until you feel better.
Written by: Ioana Ungurianu and Christina Beck