When our self-esteem is low, which is typical of codependency, we’re at greater risk for depression. Codependency is learned, and so are self-esteem and the beliefs and habits that cause both low self-esteem and codependency. Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves. It includes positive and negative self-evaluations. Good self-esteem is a realistic, positive self-concept. It reflects self-respect and implies a feeling of worth that’s not determined by comparison to, or approval from, others. Self-acceptance (which some writers include as part of self-esteem) is even deeper. It’s a feeling of being good enough, neither perfect, nor inadequate. We feel we have worth and are lovable, not merely because of beauty, talent, achievement, intelligence, status, or popularity. It’s a sense of inner contentment.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of "Codependency for Dummies" and "Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," as well as five ebooks.. Her articles have been published widely in professional and popular periodicals. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis.
We each have intrinsic value, not based on how we perform or what we do or give. Just as every baby and breed of animal are unique and worthy of love, so are we. Unfortunately, as codependents, many of us grew up in families where love was nonexistent, conditional, or had to be earned. We believed that we had to earn or win the love of a parent. As a result, we’re afraid to be authentic for fear we may be disliked. We may pursue people who cannot love and reject those who love us. We “over-do” or “over-give” in relationships and at work, and end up feeling resentful, used, or exploited.
Habits that Damage Self-Esteem
If you conclude that self-esteem is essential to enjoying your life and enjoying enduring, healthy relationships, you're right! The following bad habits, typical of codependents, can make you feel insecure, ashamed, anxious, sad, and hopeless:
- Negatively compare yourself to others
- Find fault with yourself
- Tyrannize yourself with “Should’s”
- Project self-criticism onto others and imagine they’re judging you
- Don’t try new things to avoid failing
- Doubt your instincts and decisions
- Ignore your needs and wants
- Don’t set boundaries and allow abuse, criticism, or exploitation
- Refuse to forgive yourself
When we compare ourselves to someone else, whether favorably or unfavorably, we are measuring ourselves by an external standard. Feeling “better than” someone is really a means to compensate for underlying shame and low self-esteem. The lift we get is false. It would be more helpful to wonder why we need to compare ourselves to someone else. When we compare ourselves negatively, it’s self-shaming. We feel inferior, lose confidence, and like ourselves less. It depresses our mood and discourages us.