How Low Self-Esteem is Causing Your Anxiety

Dec 3, 2021 | Advice

Learn how low self-esteem can be causing your anxiety. Learn why focusing intervention towards how we see ourselves can alleviate anxiety.

*Rebecca is a female in her late 30’s. She has a partner and two children. She has worked her way up from an intern to a sales manager, has a few close friends and generally seems like she has it all together on the outside. Rebecca works really hard and at a quarterly review, she was of the top 3 salespeople in her company. However, Rebecca experienced significant anxiety and believed that it was only due to luck that she had got so far within her role.  She also felt like she was failing for not being the top salesperson in her company. She was constantly worried that she would be “found out” by her colleagues believing “I’m not good enough at my job”.

But Rebecca is good enough; she enjoys the role and has the skills for it…. So why does she think in this way and feel so anxious? Rebecca has a habit of consistently comparing herself to others and seeing herself in a negative light.  She has low self-esteem. We are driven by our core beliefs which are the ideas we often develop early in life about ourselves, others and the world around us. They can include beliefs such as “others are better than me” and “I am not good enough”. These beliefs create a personal evaluation of ourselves and lead to our “rules for living”, which determine how we face various situations and experiences. For example, Rebecca had rules about “I am only good enough if I am perfect” and “I must never make a mistake otherwise others will see that I’m not good enough”.

So where does low self-esteem come from?

Anything we face in our lives can impact on our self-esteem (i.e., our opinion of ourselves). It does not have to be significant abuse (although this can also impact) but can also be contributed by lack of praise and achievement in school and at home. Rebecca went to a good private school and achieved all A’s. However, she was never at the top of the class as some of her classmates achieved A*’s. But despite her intelligence, she began to feel she was never good enough and felt inadequate compared to her peers. Low-self esteem can also stem from our home environments, such as not feeling that you are as intelligent or as competent as your siblings.  Over time, these frequent experiences can develop beliefs of “I am not good enough compared to others”, which further impact the thoughts and feelings we experience when entering situations.

But how does low self-esteem cause anxiety?

In situations where our core beliefs or rules for living become “triggered”, our mind creates negative predictions about the future which can have a significant impact on anxiety. Rebecca’s pressure on herself for the next quarterly review has created a prediction that she will fail at performing well next time, and she predicts her colleagues will “find out” that she is actually not good at her job, which will perhaps lead her to be fired from her job.  Based on these predictions, she starts to worry that she won’t be able to provide financially for her family and it will all be her fault.  As Rebecca’s anxiety begins to intensify, she starts to get reaffirmations that she is not good enough. She feels she cannot control her anxiety or her work now and this has created a vicious cycle.

As shown in Rebecca’s example, low self-esteem impacts on our cognitive processes. When we are caught up in the vicious cycle, it changes our perception and how we interpret things. We may only focus on the negatives or things that fit with our belief. Low self-esteem can also affect our attention. We may have minimal focus or not focus on anything at all because we are so caught up with what is going on in our minds. Rebecca starts to notice this and forgot about a task she was meant to do at work. Because of her reduced focus, it has now reaffirmed the belief she has about her competencies for the role even more, further perpetuating the cycle.

The Good News!!

But there are ways to get out of this cycle and that is by tackling the underlying cause…not directly focusing on anxiety itself but on the underlying low self-esteem! The aim of this blog was to help you understand where your anxiety may be coming from and how exploring and focusing on your self-esteem may be the most helpful intervention. Maybe ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you feel anxious, what thoughts do you have about yourself?
  • What do you think your core beliefs are?
  • In a situation where you believe this belief has been triggered, what impact has this had on your anxiety?
  • What messages from your early experiences have you picked up about yourself?

The good news is that our core beliefs and consequent rules for living can be changed! And this can have a positive, lasting, and significant improvement on your anxiety. Another blog will focus on helpful strategies that will help to start to overcome low self-esteem. However, it may also be worthwhile to discuss any concerns regarding anxiety with your GP. Further information on low self-esteem and anxiety can be found at and If you would like further independent support with low self-esteem and anxiety, I offer online therapy sessions that may be helpful for you. Please find more information on my website (


*Rebecca is an amalgamation of a number of clients presenting with low self-esteem and anxiety.

Blog written by Dr. Jennifer Vaughan (Clinical Psychologist) and Tania Singla (Assistant Psychologist)