Psychological self-harm and self-esteem

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Robert Maurer
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Psychological self-harm and self-esteem

What is the role of psychological self-harm in our life? How related is it to self-esteem? What do we lose when we hurt ourselves? Find out in this article.

Last update: February 05, 2021

Psychological self-harm is the other side of self-esteem and is more common than we think. Most of us make judgments about ourselves, what it deserves and what it's worth. We process these thoughts within ourselves, keeping them secret most of the time and belittling the achievements. At the same time, we tend to exaggerate our mistakes.



By doing so, we raise our standards of self-need, leaving us overwhelmed by the feeling that anyone could have done better our. Thus we undermine our self-esteem. Let's find out more about the link between psychological self-harm and self-esteem.

How does psychological self-harm develop?

In general terms, self-esteem is our ability to value ourselves. It also involves a willingness to challenge the negative thoughts others may have about us.

Low self-esteem makes us more vulnerable to criticism from others, increasing the likelihood of considering them absolute realities. It is at this point that that "inner dictator" can emerge, psychological self-harm: we diminish our efforts, we increase the perception of mistakes, we feel ashamed for ourselves.

Psychological self-harm and self-esteem: where the "inner dictator" is born

From the moment we are born we are exposed to the judgment and opinion of others. A lack of motivation received from an early age can undermine our ability to defend ourselves from criticism.

If from our first experiences we have seen ourselves punished for our failures, belittled in achieving our goals, it is normal to grow unable to find one's own value.


Rather, the idea develops that avoiding bankruptcy is fundamental, at least to avoid running into judgments and criticisms. If the drive to not fail becomes more important than the motivation to achieve goals, we may, if unable to take criticism from a constructive point of view, lose all the value they can bring.


In this dynamic, the criticisms of others are internalized, compromising our integrity. They turn into self-criticisms, much more dangerous because they come from within us. As we see, self-esteem goes hand in hand with psychological self-harm: we believe that our existence is based on our goals, but we are unable to value them.

How to recognize psychological self-harm?

Normalizing psychological self-harm is very dangerous. Not only does it damage self-esteem, but it can lead to more dangerous stages such as mood disorders or depressive disorders.

The self-harm tendency does not arise suddenly. It is an aggression towards oneself that macerates over the years, sometimes to the point of making it difficult to distinguish between the criticisms made by others and those directed towards ourselves.

When self-harm establishes itself in our life, the constructive opinions of others, those aimed at improving us, are also welcomed negatively. Let's see some examples:

  • You are at work and they have suggested that you try to perform a task differently. Convincing yourself that the way you did it was totally wrong.
  • Make a mistake and continue to mull it over, even though you have been forgiven and acknowledged your efforts.
  • You feel you are not worthy of your job, that others could do it better and that your boss will sooner or later realize it.

Pause us to stop the inner dictator

The voice of the inner dictator can be strong enough to paralyze our value-based actions. If we interrupt activities that we consider important, we will fall into the trap of our experience (the judgments of others received in the first phase of our life, in addition to the current ones). In other words, we will base our existence on trying not to fail.



Avoiding failure at all costs means not being willing to experience the slightest discomfort on the path to values. And this will not free us from the voice within us that continues to suggest that if we find ourselves in this situation, the fault is ours and our inability alone.


What is the role of self-esteem?

Have you ever stopped to observe your situation with the eyes of another person acting on the opinions of others? You will realize how your mind, in self-harming mode, is pulling you away from what you think is important.

Crediting this inner dialogue and understanding it as absolute truth will only hinder the achievement of your goals; your mind will tell you that you are not capable.

Trying to eradicate the inner dictator is like weeding from garden: you can tear them, but they will grow back. Even reading books on self-esteem cannot help eliminate psychological abuse altogether. They can guide you on a path of improving self-esteem, but new knowledge will not eliminate the experiences of a lifetime.


However, there is the possibility of looking at the struggle between self-harm and self-esteem from another perspective: by practicing self-compassion. The latter allows us to analyze the confrontation on a new level, there where it is allowed to make mistakes and allow the malaise to take its course fearless.

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