How self-esteem affects communication: understanding your brain

An exploration of how your self-esteem impacts your communication, your relationships and your future happiness.

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map and compass

On the one hand you are one of the most complex and sophisticated beings on this planet, capable of transcendent, spiritual experiences. On the other hand your animal nature is full of instincts and impulses that compel you to satisfy your senses and succumb to those quick fixes like chocolate or alcohol. The level of your self-esteem plays a huge role in how you can balance these two sides of you and this feeds into the way you express yourself in the world: your communication.

To understand how self-esteem affects your communication, we need to look at what self-esteem means and how it is represented in the brain. Self-esteem is defined as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.” As a result of past experiences – emotional traumas, painful past events, or resentment towards specific individuals, self-esteem can drop significantly.

These past events lead you to create limiting beliefs that prevent you reaching your potential and hold you back. You develop feelings of fear, guilt, shame and anger to name but a few. These emotions are heavy – they weigh you down and over time chip away at your self-worth, often leaving you feeling not good enough.

When your self-esteem is low, your perception of yourself compared to others takes a beating. You see other people and think they are smarter, more attractive, wealthier, fitter, and any number of other comparisons which lead to further self-depreciation. When you have a low opinion of yourself, something fascinating happens in the brain.

Schafer and Schiller’s (2018) breathtaking research shows how we each have a ‘social map’ stored in our brain that maps out our place in the food chain. When your self-esteem is low and you interact with someone in the world, the grid and place cells in your hippocampus (a group of neurons that performs important functions in learning and memory) registers the other person and through your perception of them being better in some way, they are stored above you in your ‘social map’. This means in real terms, your brain stores them above you, putting you beneath them.

The inverse is also true. If you judge someone to be worse than you, your grid and place cells perceive that person as below you.

This has huge implications for your transcendent and animal nature. If you are experiencing low self-esteem the probability of you experiencing those moments of enlightenment, inspiration and presence are low. Instead you are more likely being governed by your animal nature – that of predators and prey.

When you see yourself as below or beneath them, they are above you. This puts them in the powerful predator position, and you in the lowly prey position. This sparks fear, anxiety, stress. It sparks a fear for survival.

When you nervous system is stressed, blood moves away from the cortex and the ‘smart brain’ and moves towards the reptilian brain – to prepare for fight or flight. This change in blood flow prevents you from thinking clearly, from articulating your message, and stops you from communicating with confidence.

As a result the lower you self-esteem the more challenging communication with others becomes and this creates a vicious feedback loop which ebbs away at your self-esteem even further.

What can you do?

Your brain undergoes a process known as neuroplasticity. This is your brains ability to form new connections and reorganise old connections to create new thoughts, decisions and perceptions.

This means your self-esteem is not static or fixed. Improving your self-esteem enables you to improve the way you see yourself, improve the way you relate to yourself and others, and improves your ability to connect with other people in a genuine and authentic way, dissolving the need for hierarchies and predator-prey relationships.

Developing your self-esteem requires a holistic approach to improve body and mind. Common effective strategies include exercise, meditation, journaling, learning new subjects and material, and practising self-love.

As your self-esteem improves, so does your confidence and so does your communication. One step at a time, you can build and enhance your self-esteem and express yourself fully. All it takes for your journey to begin is for you to take that first step today.

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