I have spent 6 years of my life in a girls hostel. If there’s one thing I learned- Although men aren’t safe from it, it’s largely the women (particularly Muslim women) that are victims of low self-esteem. And with good reasons too.
Why is it that more and more young Muslim women are suffering from low self-esteem today?
It’s like an epidemic that is consuming women from all over the world. I use the word “suffer” because low self-esteem is no less than a disease that makes the person writhe in agony over the mere existence of self.
From nose-jobs to Botox, there’s no end to what women will do today to feel better about their appearance… To like what they see when they look in the mirror… To feel confidence about their mere existence as they walk among people.
And body-image is only one of the many reasons why one can fall prey to low self-esteem.
Why do Muslims suffer from low self-esteem?
With that said, let’s go over the most common causes of low self-esteem (some are general causes while the rest of them are highly specific for the Muslim community).
This will help you pinpoint exactly why your self-esteem is suffering so you can later treat that problem (if it’s treatable).
BTW, this is Article #6 of the Self-development in Islam Series.
You can read the previous articles of the series by clicking the links below:
- Article 2: The Good Muslim Mindset: 20 Types of Muslim Mindsets that either MAKE or BREAK You (with Real Life Examples)
- Article 3: Islamic Thoughts: Practical Tips for Developing the Good Muslim Mindset (with a Free Cheatsheet)
- Article 4: The Rock-solid System of Planning and Goal-setting in Islam (with a Free Productivity Bootcamp and a Planning Workbook)
- Article 5: A Complete Step-by-step Self-development Plan for Muslims: 3 Success Levels, No Confusion, No Overwhelm.
GET YOUR SELF ESTEEM BOOSTER PACK! (Contains 5 Printables)
Causes of low Self-esteem in Islam:
- Negligent parents, negative peers: Starting with the external causes, one of the biggest reasons for low self- esteem is faulty upbringing. The way we’ve been brought up by our parents/ guardians plays a major role in the formation of our personalities. Below are some of the main reasons why negative (or negligent) parents (or peers) can lower our self-esteem to a pathological level:
# 1: Lack of proper attention and care in early childhood and teenage years: Children in their growing years yearn for attention and care. Negligent parents make them feel unwanted and unloved. These feelings later transition into low self-esteem and poor confidence.
# 2: Constant comparison between siblings:
This includes comparison of physical features (appearance) as well as skills, talents, intellects, habits- basically personalities.
#3: Parental pressure in studies and choice of career:
Some of the Muslim parents tend to control their children’s major life decisions such as career choices.
Moreover, they also tend to put a lot of pressure on their children to excel in their studies/ careers. This can seriously damage their self-esteem if they don’t live up to their expectations (which they never really can no matter how hard they try *sad haha*. Story of every Muslim kid).
Children naturally rely on their parents’ approval on everything they do, especially in their growing years.
#4: Verbal/ physical abuse:
Abusive parents can seriously mess up their child’s esteem, whether it’s physical or just verbal. Constantly being degraded by parents can make the child grow up feeling inadequate and deficient.
- Abusive relationship with partner:
1. Abusive language/ negligent attitude:
The biggest glue holding a couple together in a healthy marriage is proper communication. If the bridge of communication weakens, the marriage suffers.
On the negative extreme of communication is the use of abusive language between a couple. If one verbally abuses the other repeatedly, it can cause serious esteem issues.
Besides language, negligent attitude of the spouse can also be a cause of low self-esteem. Lack of care, attention or love can make the partner feel neglected, unattractive and less important (especially women). These feelings are at the foundation of poor self-esteem.
2. Lack of compliments:
Somewhere near the negative extreme of the communication spectrum, there’s the lack of appraisal and compliments from the spouse.
Women have instinctive desires to be praised. Their language of love is, in most cases, verbal.
So if they don’t receive compliments from their husbands, particularly about their physical appearance, they might end up feeling physically unattractive. This can badly impair the body image of women. That brings me to the next cause of poor self-esteem…
- Impaired Body Image:
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or the perception of your physical appearance in your mind
1. One of the reasons for poor body-image is covering up/ Hijab/ Niqab (veil): Because Muslim women are obligated by Allah (S.W.T) to cover themselves and not flaunt their beauty according to Islam, they have to suppress their natural desires to beautify themselves and dress up the way they want to, especially as they go out in public.
This constant suppression might take a toll on their self-esteem as they see other women who disregard the teachings of Islam and beautify themselves for the public eye.
In other words, covering up lowers self-esteem of some Muslim women. It’s ironic how our self-esteem might suffer as a result of covering up since the hikmah (wisdom) behind hijab/ veil is partly to raise the self-esteem of Muslim women.
2. Thin model media images:
A recent study has proven how constant exposure to thin model media images is damaging the self-esteem of women globally.
Today our media gets to decide what is the “ideal” body-type for women. And following the ideal blindly, regular women starve themselves to match these ideal body-types.
Now skinny is the new pretty. Healthy is no longer attractive.
Muslim women are strained under this self-inflicted burden of looking like the skinny models to prevent their husbands from looking elsewhere. Women affected adversely by the thin model media images are more prone to compare themselves to other women. That brings me to the next factor responsible for lowering self-esteem among women…
3. Constant comparisons:
Muslim women today are constantly being compared to the Western women. By whom? The men, who else. These actresses and models are becoming the gold-standard to which married men compare their wives with and bachelors compare women in their society with, before asking for their hand in marriage.
“I want a tall girl” “Women with a fair complexion are the prettiest” “If she’s not slim, I’m not marrying her”. These beauty labels placed on women by our men are the most damaging of all.
Combine that with the lack of compliments from their husbands, fathers or brothers and their body-image is surely bound to get hurt.
- Unrealistic goals and failures:
Besides the physical appearance, self-esteem is also dependent on your abilities, skills and above all, achievements.
That’s why anything that comes in the way of your growth and achievements can hurt your self-esteem. Which is why the following growth-impeding factors can also lower your self-esteem in the long run:
Here’s what happens when you over-plan; You expect yourself to complete more tasks than you can realistically finish in the given time-frame.
When you repeatedly don’t complete tasks as per your plans, your inner critic starts to question your abilities- or the lack thereof.
So although over-planning seems to be a harmless thing, it can be potentially responsible for “never being satisfied with self”, aka poor self-esteem.
2. Extreme perfectionism:
Perfectionists are notorious for being the most unhappy people in the world. When perfectionism becomes a trait and unhappiness the mere consequence, self-esteem becomes a victim of your inner critic.
3. Poor response to failure:
Failure can either stunt your personal growth or elevate it, depending on your response to failure. For all those who are not well-equipped internally to deal with failure, it can damage their self-esteem.
- Bad choices in the past (committing major sins):
For Muslims, spiritual relationship with Allah (S.W.T) is also directly proportional to their self-esteem.
So anything that damages their spiritual relationship with Allah (S.W.T) can potentially damage their self-esteem as well.
Which is why sins, particularly major sins, result in guilt, depression and eventually poor self-esteem.
Repeatedly committing the same type of sin can also lower one’s self-esteem by giving genesis to negative thoughts such as “I’m a horrible Muslim” “Why do I always end up committing this sin?” “there’s something wrong with me”.
- Negative thinking
Self-infliction is basically cursing yourself and blaming yourself for almost everything that goes wrong in your life.
Self-inflictive personalities are always looking for reasons to blame themselves. They have a hard time accepting praises and they hardly ever experience self-satisfaction or acknowledge their achievements.
Understandably so, persistent self-infliction can be a huge cause for low self-esteem.
Probably the biggest cause for unhappiness and dissatisfaction in general is ungratefulness. Not acknowledging and enjoying the little things in life every day can contribute negatively to your personality.
An ungrateful Muslim is more likely to be dissatisfied with self and physical appearance than a Muslim who practices gratitude regularly. And where there’s dissatisfaction, self-esteem suffers.
The Muslims who are not thankful to Allah (S.W.T) for the way He has created them will find faults in everything they are born with, including their facial features, height, weight, complexion, voice, figure etc. These minor faults can accumulate and lower your self-esteem severely.
In my personal opinion, impaired body image, negligent (not in accordance with the Islamic teachings) upbringing by parents and ungratefulness are probably the biggest causes of low self-esteem in our Muslim society today.
Practical tips on how to raise your self-esteem
You may be already doing some of them. And you certainly don’t need to do them all. Do only the ones you are comfortable with.
1) Daily positive affirmations (But avoid generic positive affirmations)
You have probably heard many self-development gurus talk about positive affirmations. Well, I’m here to tell you that positive affirmations are from the Sunnah.
However, the practice of positive affirmations in Islam is quite different than that of the non-Muslim self-development gurus.
They’ll teach you to make it all about YOU. Myself, me, mine, I. Common affirmation practices are focused around the “Nafs”, “Ego” or “I”. Examples of such affirmations are:
“I believe in, trust and have confidence in myself.”
“I know I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.”
In Islam, positive affirmations are God-centric. They are not focused around the Ego body/ the Nafs. They are focused around your relationship with Allah S.W.T. So they are dual in nature. They involve you and Allah S.W.T.
Examples of positive affirmations from the Quran are:
“Say, ‘Allah, Holder of all control, You give control to whoever You will and remove it from whoever You will; You elevate whoever You will and humble whoever You will. All that is good lies in Your hand: You have power over everything” [Quran Surah 3: Ayah 26).
By reading the above Ayah, you are giving all control to Allah S.W.T rather than taking it in your own hands. So rather than saying, “I know I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.” We say “I can accomplish anything I set my mind to with the will and help of Allah S.W.T”.
And instead of saying, “I believe in, trust and have confidence in myself”, you should ponder over the ayah that’s telling us to trust in Allah S.W.T and let him take care of all your worries:
“And for those who fear Allah, He always prepares a way out, and He provides for him from sources he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him. For Allah will surely accomplish His purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.” [Quran Surah 65: Ayahs 2-3]
Another thing you should definitely do along with your positive affirmations (ideally first thing in the morning) is practice gratitude. I keep a gratitude journal sometimes, other times I like to practice gratitude during my self-talk sessions. Do whatever floats your boat.
So to summarize, the best daily practice would be to write (or say out loud) positive affirmations and things you are grateful to Allah S.W.T for. It hardly takes 5 mins but it is a transformational habit if followed consistently.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t write qualities about yourself that are far from truth such as;
“I’m so grateful to be the BEST doctor/ teacher/ student everrr” *sounds lame and so-not-true*
There’s always someone better out there *hurts to know, tell me about it*
These generic positive affirmations often tend to backfire in a person with low self-esteem because they only work if you truly believe the affirmation. If you are saying something you don’t believe in, your mind will instantly reject the affirmation and make you feel horrible for not being the way you apparently “should be”, lowering your esteem even further!
That’s why the Islamic practice of gratitude and affirmations from Quran are the best forms of therapy for negative thinking associated with low self-esteem.
Which reminds me, you are in for a treat 😉
I have a complete pack of printables that will help you raise your self-esteem. I think everybody needs it even if your self-esteem is just fine, it can help immensely in developing positive thinking and a grateful mindset. I’ve put a lot of thought into it and then tested it out- it really works.
Get your free pack by clicking on the button to the right.
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2) Aim for effort rather than perfection
And the little trick is: Every time your mind starts obsessing to be perfect in whatever it is that you’re doing and you start wasting time as a result, replace the word perfect with progress in your mind.
Tell yourself you will work hard and make it better over time. Make yourself a pact that you’ll progress in whatever it is that you’re obsessing over. That one word changes everything. Progress. And progress requires what? – Effort.
About effort, even Allah S.W.T is telling us in the Quran how effort is what really counts at the end of the day:
“And that his effort will be seen”. [Quran Surah Najam: Ayah 40]
You’ve probably heard me say before that the word “perfect” should NOT exist in the human dictionary. It’s a word best suited ONLY for Allah S.W.T. For us mere mortals, the best word to use would be “better”, not perfect.
3) Compare yourself- To YOURSELF from yesterday not to others
The moment a comparison sneaks into your brain, remind yourself of the fact that Allah (S.W.T) created everyone differently. Which means He (S.W.T) blessed one person with a unique set of skills, appearance and qualities. You may be amazing at one thing while someone else is talented in another.
“If we compare our talents and looks to those of others, we are only creating reasons to hate ourselves and be jealous of others.”
Think about it: What if Allah (S.W.T) had given you something you really wanted? Maybe another couple inches of height or a prettier face (whatever you feel like you want right now).
Do you believe for one second that even then Shaiytaan wouldn’t convince you of wanting something more, something you didn’t have? If you do, you’re being a fool. No matter how much you have been given by Allah (S.W.T), Shaiytaan will ALWAYS try to convince you of wanting something more in life.
That’s literally like his job- from the beginning of times- to keep you away from Allah.
Another way to look at it is that Allah S.W.T could have created us all as clones of each other.
100% similar in everything, not an atom different. That way there would be no room for comparison. But He (S.W.T) didn’t. Because where’s the test in that? Where’s the struggle in that?
And if everyone’s the same, there would be no room for different or unique or “your own quirky way” kinda special. Imagine your life without your uniqueness. There’s only one word that comes in my mind- BORING. Dull. Bland. Bleh.
So embrace the differences and actually spend mindful moments enjoying the fact that you are unique in your own weird ways! Who cares if I don’t have “skill A” or “Look A”, when I have “Skill B” and “Look B”, right? At least what I have is a unique gift given by Allah (S.W.T) to ME.
Abu Hurairah (R.A) narrated: Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) said, “Allah does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts [and deeds].” [Muslim]
4) Recognize and accept what you CAN change about yourself and what you CAN’T
If the things you are insecure about can’t be changed, such as your height, skin color or feet size etc., then simply shrug it off. Shove it under the mat. Throw it out the window. Drop it in the deep waters of the sea. *Okay, no more*.
Just be comfortable with what you are blessed with.
Start talking about your insecurities rather than hiding them. A time will come when you’ll look back and laugh; was I really insecure about something as dumb as a mole on my cheek or a disproportionately long middle toe? Psshh.
*Ta-da* You’ve just outgrown your insecurity!
On the other hand, if your insecurity is variable such as like weight, bad habits (backbiting etc.) or anger issues, then congratulations! Because those are areas you can actually work on and improve. Don’t wait around feeling sorry for yourself and talking about “I am so fat” or “I am so rude”. Take action and fix them. Your self-esteem will thank you.
The bottom line is- it all begins with you taking a deeper look at your insecurities and identifying whether they can change or not. If they can’t- accept them, if they can- change them.
I have a complete exercise for you that will cover this point in detail. Download the Self-esteem booster pack and get started.
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5) Identify and do MORE of the things you are actually good at
My dumb self: “Ooh have you seen how well Leena sews clothes? You should also learn how to sew, you know”.
My dumber self: “Umm… But I don’t even like sewing at all. Still, I guess I should learn. Maybe then I’ll get praised by my mom and other aunties. Although, probably not because I won’t even be good at it… I hate myself… I’m not good at anything.” *please go cry now*
Don’t do that.
My smart self: “I don’t care about what Nada or Leena are AWESOME at. Good for them. I don’t need to seek self-validation copying others. I’m going to do more of what I am good at or at least what I enjoy doing. And I think that’s illustrating.” *woah, girl!* (
Errr… BTW, No offense against all Nadas and Leenas- I actually don’t know of any Nada or Leena, so… 😛
Also, FYI, I absolutely DON’T sound like that in my head, because that would be so lame. *awkward laugh*
So now it’s your turn- What are you good at? Remind yourself that everyone excels at different things. Find your skill-set and work on it. That way you will feel greater satisfaction and give a sweet oomph to your self-esteem. 😉
6) Don’t kill yourself pleasing others
Let’s suppose you kill yourself trying to please someone else (not literally of course) and that person ends up highly displeased with your efforts.
What do you think will happen? You will be hurt, maybe even miserable. Because your happiness and self-satisfaction was, in that scenario, dependent on the satisfaction of the other person.
Now imagine someone who does this unintentionally on a regular basis. I feel bad for their self-esteem crying and crumbling under insane pressure.
We should only exert effort with all our might to please Allah (S.W.T) alone. And when you do that, quite often those around you will automatically be happy with you. And even if they are not, it doesn’t matter.
Get this in your head- It is NOT possible to please everyone in your life.
Rasulullah (S.A.W) said, “He who displeased Allah for seeking the pleasure of people, Allah is displeased with him and those people are also displeased, for pleasing whom he had earned Allah’s displeasure. And he who pleases Allah, although by it he displeased people, Allah is pleased with him, and also those people whom he had displeased for pleasing Allah become pleased with him. Allah makes him splendid and his speech and acts in the eyes of others beautiful.” [Tabarani]
7) Keep a track of your achievements and reward yourself
The reason why we’re doing this activity is because self-achievements give signals to your inner self that you are capable of doing good things. You have abilities.
Those green signals have a longer lasting impact on your self-esteem than the immediate rush of dopamine during or immediately after your achievement. Because soon after receiving the reward, the thrill of winning dies down and is not sustainable to constantly influence your self-esteem.
But the knowledge of your capabilities will stay and keep your self-esteem focused around your efforts not the results. Even the most successful people in the world stay driven because of their efforts, not their results.
That’s because ultimately we don’t want to become too dependent on success to feel satisfaction with ourselves otherwise our self-esteem will come tumbling down with the faintest hint of failure.
So after you’ve celebrated your success in the moment, keep a record of it. That record is all the proof your self-esteem needs to know that- You. Are. Capable.
That brings me to my next point…
8) View mistakes and failures as learning opportunities
Here, I’ll give you my favorite trick for boosting your self-esteem. Put on a pair of glasses and start visualizing every failure, big or small, as a learning opportunity. As a reason for growth. As a cue to become better.
That’s one of the many differences between the majority and the rare% of highly successful Muslims in the world. Truly successful Muslims are greedy for growth. They are always eager to learn something, even if it’s through failures.
9) Set achievable goals or challenges for yourself.
You get what I mean though… Think of the first km of your hike not the entire journey. Or else you will crawl away from that goal.
And y’all know what happens when you crawl away from your goals… You feel like a loser before you even gave yourself the chance to succeed.
We learned how our achievements are associated with self-esteem. When we over-plan, setting airy goals that are not realistically achievable and then inevitably fail at achieving them, we give our self-esteem signals that it is in fact we who are incapable of achieving them. Umm… WRONG. Duh. But our self-esteem doesn’t know that. (I feel like I’m treating self-esteem as a separate individual- *W.E.I.R.D*)
Also, I’m guilty of this. I would put so many goals on my plate and many of them would be, realistically speaking, SO not achievable. (I still do that sometimes hehe) And when I wouldn’t be able to achieve them (to no surprise), I’d feel like I was not good enough or efficient enough.
But when I’d make my goals achievable, I’d actually achieve them. *Shocking, hah*
And like I mentioned earlier, every little achievement adds to your record, consequently boosting your self-esteem.
If you want to learn how to set achievable goals without overwhelming yourself and take action on them without procrastinating, then join me in my free 3-video training. I’ll also send a free 27-page workbook along your way so you can start planning your goals immediately! 🙂 Click on the button below to enroll.
10) Identify & Avoid negativity (all sources including people)
We are literally surrounded by negativity! Friends who are passing insulting/sarcastic comments on each other, family members who are constantly degrading you, media idealizing skinny models… the list doesn’t end!
You can’t possibly lock yourself up in Rapunzel’s tower to keep yourself safe from all hits at your self-esteem now can you? But what you can do is at least avoid the main sources around you. That’s not so hard.
Some years ago, I personally distanced myself from a woman who at the time I used to call my friend. I never fought with her, didn’t even tell her that I don’t want to be her friend anymore. Our friendship lasted for a year or so during which I tried really hard to better her extremely negative approach to literally everything in life into a more positive one.
But some time down the road I realized I wasn’t having much influence on her actions but her constant negativity was bogging me down A LOT. Every time I’d leave her company, I’d leave with a heavy heart. That’s not healthy.
I wish I could have helped her more but I’ve realized you can’t help those who are not willing to help themselves. Even Allah (S.W.T) doesn’t help those who don’t help themselves.
“Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves” [Quran Surah Ar-Ra’d 13: Ayah 11]
Anyway, I’ll tell you one important thing I learned from that experience- ENERGY TRAVELS.
So if it’s negative energy that’s around you, excuse yourself. Walk away politely, distance yourself. You don’t have to fight, yell or create a scene. Not at all. Just protect yourself in such toxic situations.
Another thing you can do is bring more positivity in your life. And the biggest source of positivity and hope for everyone is Quran. Bring more of the Quran in your life and you will instantly feel the change in your attitude.
You can also try to actively replace the negativity around you with positivity by spending more time with genuinely vibrant people.
The type that lift your spirits, sending waves of positrons along your way. The kind that make you feel good about yourself. If you ever come across such a person, my advice is- NEVER let go. They are like unicorns, quite rare to find. SubhanAllah.
I’ll show you exactly how you can convert your negative self-talk into positive as well as identify the toxic triggers around you so you can avoid them in one of the exercises. Have you downloaded the self-esteem booster pack yet? What are you waiting for, because I’m going to nag you till you do 😀
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11) Take proper CARE of yourself- because nobody else is going to do it for you
How do you expect your mind to feel good when your body feels all grumpy because you’ve been neglecting it? Remember that for the major part, how good you feel about yourself is actually dependent on your body image.
Looking clean, and dressing nice are part of the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (S.A.W). So don’t for a second underestimate the importance of putting some real effort in the way you look!
“O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty and clothing that guards (against evil), that is the best. This is of the communications of Allah that they may be mindful.” [Quran Surah 7: Ayah 26]
You are the caretaker of your body that Allah S.W.T has appointed. Do that job with dignity.
Eat clean, don’t put junk in your body. Junk messes up with your mind and body at so many levels. Shut down your computer, turn-off your TV and phone after Isha’a. Have a good night’s rest.
Our bodies are designed by Allah S.W.T to be ACTIVE. They have great potential. Be active in any way just to get those limbs moving, workout or no workout. There are so many ways to be active. Find one that you enjoy the most and get moving! I love walking (not that it’s relevant in any way, dunno why I thought I should drop it in. :D)
The more productive you become, the more you’re going to feel good about yourself because of daily wins and little achievements piling up over time.
Plus exercise/ activity gets your endorphins (happy neurotransmitters) kickin’ so that’s ought to make you feel real gewd about yo’self!
12) Show some love to others and GIVE
Prophet S.A.W said: “Shall I tell you the definition of a believer? He is one with whom people feel themselves and their property to be safe. A Muslim is the one who does not abuse people by word or deed” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
You don’t have to go out of your way for others all the time. Start by smiling more at your family members, and actually paying attention while listening to them. No extra time from your life is needed. Just hold back your tongue and keep your anger under check.
From there, you can work your way up with time Insha’Allah!
Every night before you go to bed, review what you did right and what you could have done better. Think about how you acted yesterday and what you can improve about yourself today.
The more you give to others, the better you’ll feel about yourself. Studies have shown that giving is possibly the biggest secret-sauce for happiness! (besides gratitude of course)
And Allah knows best!
I pray Allah S.W.T helps us all become more confident in ourselves, Ameen!
Now it’s your turn. Tell me which one of the above tips for raising self-esteem as a Muslim resonated with you personally the most? Share it with me in the comments section below 🙂
Wrapping up… What can you expect from this Self-Development In Islam series?
In this particular series, I’m covering topics under emotional, physical and mental aspects of self-improvement.
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