9 Thinking Errors That Keep Low Self-Esteem Going

12 Thinking Errors That Keep Low Self Esteem Going

It is normal for all of us to have thinking errors in our everyday thoughts about ourselves every so often. However, when you are stuck in the endless loop of low self-esteem, these thinking errors become more and more frequent. After a while, these thinking errors can start to go round and round and round in your mind until it feels as if you can’t get them out of there. And they can then reinforce your overly negative or unrealistic deeper beliefs about yourself and lead you to feel a variety of negative emotions, especially a lack of confidence, self-doubt, and a fear of rejection, failure, humiliation and being judged negatively by others.

So, let’s explore the basic types of negative self-esteem-related everyday thoughts. And try to replace them with positive and realistic thoughts so you can prevent yourself from falling into the common thinking traps.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking:

Here you hold yourself up to a perfect, or near-perfect, standard. If you fail to do something perfectly as you expected, you conclude that you are worthless. If you must judge, try judging performance only, not the core self. You might think, “I batted about eight hundred on this task. That’s pretty good. Next time I’ll try to do things a bit differently.”

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect in order to be worthwhile.

2. Labeling Yourself:

Have you ever noticed that people often label themselves harshly? “I’m  dumb.” “I’m such a loser.” “I’m boring.” “What an idiot! Why am I so stupid?” (Notice that this last saying

really  isn’t  a  question  as  much  as  it  is a  statement of dislike.)  People  who  use  such  expressions  are  more  likely  to  be depressed because they keep themselves feeling stuck and powerless.

You might think that these unkind judgments really serve to motivate as well as encouragement does. On the other hand, you might think, “A loser never wins, so why try?” Here’s why a negative label is unreasonable. When you say “I am stupid (or dumb, or boring),” you are saying that you are stupid always and in every situation. BUT this is clearly not true.

3. Overgeneralizing:

Overgeneralizing involves seeing the world in black and white with no shades of gray. You take one isolated fact or event and believe it will always happen. For example, you get into an argument with your spouse and things go wrong. Then, you start thinking “I always mess up relationships. I never get them right.” However, it is less judgmental and more precise to think “I (or, perhaps, we) haven’t learned how to handle this difficult topic calmly.”
One who overgeneralizes tends to use words like “always” “never” “nobody” and “everybody.” An antidote to overgeneralization is to use the word “some.” It’s usually more accurate to think “Sometimes I do fairly well. Some people like me, at
least somewhat.”

4. Mind Reading:

Your thoughts tell you what other people are thinking, and you believe others are always focused only on your faults. You assume that someone dislikes you and your proof is the way he treated you. He may or may not dislike you. He might simply be angry about something that happened to him twenty minutes or twenty years before. He might be quite annoyed at something you did, but he may not dislike you. So his dislike of you is just one possibility.
Understand that you don’t really know other people’s thoughts unless you ask them to tell you. People may look at you or act in a certain way for a variety of reasons. Undoubtedly, none of these reasons have anything to do with you. Although people do sometimes make judgments about others, this thinking error either gets it totally wrong or exaggerates what people are thinking.

5. Fortune Telling:

When you make the error of predicting a negative outcome, you assume that things will turn out badly, much worse than you have reason to. You can even foresee a catastrophe ahead, and this thought causes you great anxiety and worry.
you might assume that if you go to a party everyone will in fact dislike you and you’ll
have a miserable time. In fact, some might like you, some might dislike you, and some might hardly notice you. You could go to the party with an open or beginner’s mind and just observe what happens. Sometimes good things happen, too!

6. Emotional Reasoning:

To “emotionally reason” is to take your emotions as evidence for the truth. For example, “I feel so depressed, this must be the worst place to work in.” or “I feel guilty, therefore I must have done something bad.”
We can be open to and accepting of feelings, but we can also recognize that feelings don’t necessarily represent reality. Remind yourself that negative feelings are signals of upset, NOT statements of fact.

7. Dwelling on the Negative:

you might dwell on a mistake or shortcoming to the point that you ruin your self-esteem, or even your life. You fail to take into account all the good that exists, all the good that you have done.
Make a determined effort to emphasize the positive instead of the negative. Put your thoughts on what you’re doing right or what went right instead of what went wrong. A man once joked to his neighbor, “Why are you so happy? Your life is just as bad as mine.” Perhaps the happy person is taking the time to see the bigger picture and appreciate what isn’t wrong.

8. Negatively Comparing Yourself to Others:

Something like “I wish I could be as successful as Randi—she’s a bright manager and I’m just a salesman.” or “I’m not as smart as john.” You should simply stop comparing and recognize that each person contributes in unique ways at his or her own unique pace.

When we consider who is more important to the nation’s health, the doctor or the garbage collector, we soon realize that people contribute in very different ways. Why must we compare and judge? As we step back to see the bigger picture, we begin to see that each person has a different blend of strengths and weaknesses. Also, as we compare ourselves to shining examples of success, we can remember that each person, even an expert, struggles in certain area.

9. Shoulds, Oughts, and Musts:

A special kind of the thinking errors is the destructive use of the word “should”
and its siblings “must,” “ought to,” “have to,” “got to,” and “better.” It’s one
of the most common errors because everyone learns from their parents and
from society at large how to be.
“Should” statements are perfectionistic, rigid demands that we make of ourselves, perhaps hoping that such demands will help us to overcome the discomfort of being imperfect. “I should not make mistakes,” “I should have known better,” “I ought to be better,” or “I must not fail.” And when you fail, you feel worthless. In addition, Research suggests that we tend to perform better when we strive to do a good job, not a perfect job.


Note: These Thinking errors only reflect your feelings about yourself, not the actual truth. For most people, these feelings begin in childhood and continue into adult-hood. But the fact that you have these feelings doesn’t mean that they’re an accurate picture of reality. There are numerous ways your mind can deceive you into believing that you have little value. These are irrational errors that make you feel bad and act in self-defeating way.

Learn also: 5 Effective Strategies to Help You Build Your Self-Esteem


  • S. Renee Smith (2015) Self-Esteem For Dummies

  • Glenn R. Schiraldi PhD (2007) 10 Simple Solutions for Building Self-Esteem: How to End Self-Doubt, Gain Confidence, & Create a Positive Self-Image

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