Many people live their entire lives without getting to the source of what originally caused their feelings of low self-esteem. Because they are unaware of how they can heal their painful past and reframe the circumstances that originally resulted in interpretations of being unworthy, unlovable, or deficient in some way, most people instead often resort to finding ways to distract themselves from the unpleasant sensations that accompany feeling inferior. Instead of effectively silencing the nagging voice of past hurts, they seek out distractions to help them temporarily forget about their lacking confidence and deficient self-image. Five of the more common ways to relieve the pain of low self-esteem and poor self-confidence involve excessive attention to work, food, sports, sex, or even shopping. Like all addictions, they help to distract from but do not resolve the underlying problem and so one is still plagued by feelings that will continually require greater efforts from which to hide.
In our culture, work is usually an acceptable means of diverting our attention. Through hard work, we busy ourselves to the extent that we lack the free time needed to brood over our sorrows. Those who work excessively are often too tired to worry about a lacking social life or the pursuit of fun pastimes that they often likewise believe they do not deserve to experience. Work provides rewards such as money, recognition, and a feeling of accomplishment, all of which help to compensate for feelings of failure in other areas of life.
It's not that a commitment to work is bad. In fact, it is quite admirable as just one component of a well-balanced life. However, when pursued to excess, it doesn't allow for the honoring of other equally important elements such as a commitment to family, friends, fun, recreation, personal and spiritual development, etc. An obsession with work can take its toll on health, relationships, and missed opportunities for other equally valuable pursuits.
Moreover, when work is undertaken from the perspective that one is not good enough in one or more aspects of their being, it canít be fully enjoyed. Feelings of low self-confidence and little self-esteem diminish oneís energy by consuming attention that could have been spent more productively in the joyful pursuit of oneís goals, rather than as a distraction from persistent negative self-talk.
Like working excessively, an obsession with food is often a common escape from feelings of unworthiness. Eating can serve both as a distraction and a way to make ourselves feel better temporarily. We often seek from food the emotional connection that we are lacking in close, intimate relationships. Frequently, food is linked in our minds to happy times with family or friends. Perhaps we experienced food rewards from our parents or authority figures for scholastic or sports accomplishments. For many, food has become synonymous with love. And so in times of stress, fear, and loneliness, many turn to food to fill a void that only loves and self-fulfillment can satisfy.
Habitual overeating also results in being out of shape, overweight, and generally unattractive in the paradigm of Western modern-day culture. The more one eats as a substitute for missing self-love and intimacy with others, the more obese he or she is likely to become. This in turn reinforces the feeling that the heavier the person becomes, the less she fits in and the lower her self-esteem and self-confidence plummets. The greater the feelings of loneliness and not fitting in that result, the more she is likely to seek comfort in food (especially the high carbohydrate, high fat, high comfort variety). A vicious cycle is thus set in motion ensuring more weight gain and lower self-esteem.
Sports and Other Physical Outlets
Some people run to overcome feelings of loneliness, boredom, depression, or lacking self-worth. Some pump iron, play golf or work out at the gym while others find their own unique way to divert their focus through exercise, hobbies, or sports. Many would argue that such a diversion is a healthy way to funnel energy into an activity that contributes to good physical health. However, like any obsession, when taken to the extreme for the purpose of diverting attention from issues in need of resolution, it can become an unhealthy means of avoiding areas in serious need of attention.
An obsession with sex outside of a healthy, loving relationship can likewise become a means of distraction to take the focus away from self-esteem and self-confidence issues. Whether itís Internet porn sites, an obsession with strip clubs, or the need for frequent casual sexual encounters, all serve as an effort to numb the pain of isolation. Ironically, the greater the obsession to connect with others through meaningless sexual experiences, the greater oneís sense of isolation will likely become.
Another common obsession to compensate for a low self-image is shopping. While some find temporary comfort in making themselves feel more attractive by purchasing the latest, most stylish clothes, shoes, accessories, or even cars and other expensive toys if their budget allows (and many times even if it does not!), compulsive shoppers find that the comfort they seek in material items is typically short-lived. They often fool themselves into thinking that the next new dress, sport coat, outfit, or cologne purchase will make the difference they seek in having them feel better about themselves. Sadly, it never does. However, all too often such excessive spending sprees send the shopaholic deeper into debt. This further reinforces or worsens the failure interpretation they already possessed and continues to diminish their self-esteem and confidence level.
There are countless other addictions that people resort to in an effort to find meaning in life when their own self-worth is lacking. Whether it is compulsive gambling, studying, puttering in the yard, decorating the house, or whatever other diversion, those who lack inner peace will not soon find it externally with a focus that seeks to cover up feelings of being unworthy or unlovable.