I have a working theory (and feel free to disagree vigorously) that every social ill, every war, crime, genocide, etc. can be, in some way, linked back to a single root cause and that is poor self esteem. Fundamentally, human beings are hard wired to be social creatures. We survived, while Neanderthals died out, in part because of our ability to hunt together. In order to survive, we had to seem valuable to a group in order for them to include us in the hunt, or to share the mammoth-meat they brought back.
In this light, poor self-esteem (not regarding ourselves as worthy or valuable) is a threat to our perceived ability to survive – even at an unconscious level. I believe that, except for an immediate threat to our survival, there is nothing that is more primal in our nature.
A natural extension of self-esteem is the esteem gained by borrowing group identity. In order to survive, we also had to belong to groups that had superior hunting and gathering ability. If we didn’t feel good about the group we belonged to, again there would be a threat to our very survival. This is a really fundamental idea as it can go a long way to explaining things like racism, sports rivalry, religious war, political party rivalry, etc. These things make much less sense in modern times where competition for survival is not as much of a driving factor.
So, what happens when people have a very low self-esteem? I believe that the unconscious and the body perceives this low self worth as a persistent threat. A ongoing stressor, such as this can lead to increased metabolic dysfunction by the constant release of stress hormones such as cortisol. This can lead to chronic systemic inflammation and many health disorders.
Psychologically, I believe, poor self esteem can contribute to disorders like depression. However, poor self-esteem may also cause people to act out in socially destructive ways. If you constantly felt an underlying threat to your survival, would you be more or less likely to commit a crime? Would you feel better about your religion if you felt it was the one true religion better than all others? Would you seek addictive mind-altering substances, or food, or sex, or gambling to escape the feelings of threat? You might do almost anything to mitigate the pressure you feel to survive, join a gang, start a revolution, etc.
Imagine how things might have turned out if Hitler hadn’t been rejected from art school.
Here’s an exercise you can do to bolster self-confidence:
Every single day, think about the following question for at least five minutes: What do the people who love me love about me?
Write down every answer that comes up and review them regularly.