If you constantly suffer from self-doubt, you probably experienced these 7 things growing up

by Mal James | April 30, 2024, 11:26 pm

Ever find yourself grappling with that nagging voice of self-doubt, questioning your every decision and move? 

You’re far from alone; it’s estimated that a staggering 85% of people worldwide struggle with low self-esteem. But why is this such a universal issue? 

While numerous factors come into play, experts often point to the profound impact our childhood experiences have on shaping us long into adulthood. 

As put by Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa, Program Director of the Global Institute of Emotional Health and Wellness, “Our self-esteem develops as we grow from childhood to adulthood.” Some researchers have gone as far as to say that childhood experiences play an “essential” role in building self-esteem later on in life. 

With this in mind, we dive into childhood experiences that might have sown seeds of uncertainty within many of us. 

Before we get into it, it’s important to note that even the most well-meaning parents can overlook these things, and self-doubt can be overcome

Right, let’s get to the experiences. 

1) Your parents were overly critical

It’s not hard to imagine how criticism from parents or guardians can instill a habit of self-doubt. 

Picture a child constantly being told they’re not good enough, their efforts always falling short, or their achievements being met with remarks on how they could have done better. 

Were you the child who brought home a report card full of A’s but was asked why there wasn’t an A+? Or a young athlete who, instead of being praised for effort, was critiqued for not winning every time?

This sort of constant criticism can significantly erode self-esteem. As noted in a Psychology Today post by Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, “Frequent criticism early in life can make it hard to trust yourself.” 

This erosion of self-trust doesn’t just disappear as we age; it manifests in numerous behaviors related to self-doubt, such as overthinking even the smallest decisions, striving for unattainable perfectionism, and hesitating to take on new challenges for fear of failure or further criticism. 

2) You were coddled

Many well-meaning parents, in a bid to shield their children from the harsh realities of the world, fall into the trap of overprotecting them. 

While this comes from a place of love and concern, research suggests that this approach might not be the way forward and can, in fact, do more harm than good. A 2016 study, for example, indicated that parental overprotection is associated with children having lower academic self-esteem. 

However, the repercussions of being overprotected stretch far beyond academic performance; they can severely hinder the development of self-reliance and confidence. 

Clinical Psychotherapist Padraig Gibson has noted, “young people, when overparented, often harbor a grave mistrust in those around them and in their own capabilities.” 

This mistrust and lack of confidence can make navigating the challenges of adulthood markedly more difficult, as individuals may struggle to trust their judgment or take the initiative due to a lifetime of reliance on others to make decisions for them.

If you are a parent, this might just be one to keep in mind, as is this next one. 

3) You didn’t receive much praise or recognition

So now we jump to almost the opposite of what coddling parents might do: a lack of praise. 

In an age where children often receive medals just for participating, it’s easy to think that maybe we’re overdoing it with praise. But children do need a certain amount of praise.

As Time highlighted, one study suggests that receiving five pieces of praise a day can significantly help children thrive emotionally. 

The absence of such reinforcement can have profound effects. Without regular affirmations of their worth, efforts, and achievements, children may struggle to develop a robust sense of self-confidence. 

This lack of self-assurance doesn’t just vanish as we grow older; it can very well follow us into adulthood, casting long shadows over our personal and professional lives. 

When our accomplishments go unrecognized, we may begin to question their value and, by extension, our own. This can set the stage for a lifetime of seeking external validation, never quite believing in our worth unless it’s affirmed by others.

4) There was a lot of sibling rivalry in your family

Did you find yourself constantly measuring up to a sibling, only to feel like you were always falling short? Or maybe you were part of those dinner table conversations where one sibling’s achievements become the gold standard, leaving you wondering where you fit in?

Most of us will be able to relate to this one in some way. Despite family sizes becoming smaller over the years, as of 2014, almost 80% of moms still had more than one child. And in environments where multiple children vie for attention, resources, and recognition, comparisons and some rivalry are almost inevitable. 

But this sibling rivalry might not be as healthy and harmless as many believe. 

As noted by CBS, researchers from the University of Missouri found that teen siblings who fought were more likely to show self-esteem issues a year later.

Another study showed that higher levels of sibling rivalry can result in sibling bullying. As one might imagine, victims of such bullying were likely to have a lower sense of competence and self-esteem.

5) Your parents got divorced

It should come as no surprise that the experience of parents getting divorced, if not handled properly, can have a number of negative effects on children.

Research has shown that parental divorce is associated with academic problems, disruptive behaviors, and even depressed moods in children. 

Another significant result? 

You guessed it; multiple studies have found low self-esteem to be a consequential effect of parental divorce.

But the worst part is that the impact of a parental split isn’t just a transient phase of childhood discomfort; it can have deep-seated effects that extend into adulthood. 

The stability and security that a united family structure often provides are disrupted, leaving children to navigate the uncertainties and changes that come with divorce. This upheaval can shake the foundations of a child’s sense of self and place in the world, leading to lasting questions about their worth and capabilities.

The confidence to face the world, take on challenges and believe in one’s own values often stems from the affirmations and security provided in childhood. When significant events like a divorce shake this foundation, it can take considerable time and effort to rebuild that sense of self-worth and assurance. 

The bottom line

That just about wraps it for today, folks. 

As you may have expected, I’ve mentioned parents a lot in this post, but as I noted earlier, even well-meaning parents can make many of the blunders on this list. 

Most of the research I quoted, in fact, simply had not been done when most of us were kids. So don’t go too hard on Mom and Dad if you recognize a few of these experiences. 

Do, however, remember that self-confidence can be developed. Yes, it’s harder if you had negative experiences growing up, but it can be built. 

As always, I hope you found some value in this post.

Until next time. 

Related: If you grew up in a large family, you may struggle to set these 4 personal boundaries

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