What is low self-esteem really about?

I think that my problem with alcohol has something to do with the way that my body reacts to drunkenness. Since the very first time I got drunk, I have always reacted to alcohol by wanting more. The more alcohol I consumed, the happier I got. Perhaps that is an inherited disposition. My father and my grandfather were alcoholics and they both died of alcohol-related illnesses. But I don’t think that my genetic disposition explains why I get so anxious and depressed for several days after having been drunk. That has to do with something else. And probably more than anything, it has to do with my low self-esteem. That’s at least how I think about it right now.

I have been thinking a lot about what low self-esteem actually is. Or rather, what effects my low sense of self-worth has on my everyday life. For most of my life I haven’t spent any time thinking about whether I liked the person that I am so I am really only at the beginning of figuring out what my sense of myself might be.

I am really amazed at the social efficiency of a somewhat fractured self-image. Even when you are unaware of how you perceive yourself, low self-esteem can be a subtle and efficient tool for optimizing social relationships. Because you are always scanning the social landscape for signs of weaknesses that you have caused and which you therefore also have to repair. That is a never-ending process. When I am driving in my car on the highway, I will constantly check the rearview mirror for signs that I have been slowing down the traffic and will worry that the person in the car behind me might be getting angry. If I am having dinner at a restaurant, I always try to disturb the waitress the least amount of times because I am afraid that she will get irritated and think that I am an annoying person. When I shop in the supermarket, I am always a bit embarrased to put beer bottles on the counter because I am convinced that the people standing behind me - whom I rarely know - will think that I am an alcoholic. And so I always feel extra good about myself when I slide organic vegetables and hummus onto the counter because then I am putting on display the person that I would like to be. The daily shipment of emails often leads to discomfort if I don’t get immediately replies from recipients. Why didn’t they respond? Did I write something that angered them? Oftentimes, I will end up opening sent emails and carefully go over the wording. And I will check the number of visits to my blog almost daily. If there are fewer visits then the previous day, it is probably because I wrote some self-absorbed and uninteresting nonsense. 

But I have also found that I don’t always react on the feelings that my low self-esteem generates. Even though I worry about whether an email will cause anger and frustration for the recipient, I do actually send it off. I don’t know why that is, actually. Maybe I have taught myself to override the immediate feeling of discomfort in situations that are directly related to my work and whatever project I am involved in. That is something that I definitively haven’t learned when it comes to alcohol and drunkenness.  

Teenage drinking

Keeping track of the conversation