Diseases of the Heart-Low Self Esteem and Insecurities

What does it mean to have a healthy heart? It is a constant process, purifying the heart is a life-long process. Although there are increasing numbers of Muslim psychologists in America, I do not think our communities are well equipped to deal with common emotional and psychological problems that inflict havoc on the health of our hearts. I know a number of happy and well adjusted Muslim women, however, I know of American Muslims who are suffering from depression and poor self-image. Many suffer in silence, ashamed to seek professional help. Many of us are taught to mistrust western approaches to emotional well-being and mental health.

A lot of people read books, go to various talks, and listen to recorded lectures hoping to incorporate the lessons in classical texts. I have spoken with a number of women who have gone to Imams, Sheikhs, or scholars in search of answers and the main problem is accessibility. Often, they are given a quick fix, but not one works with them over a long period of time to begin the path of healing. Speakers and scholars provide certain tools, but often they do not know the particularities of a person’s past or problems. They may not know of the underlying problems that plague an individual. Since they do not speak to the person on a regular basis, they cannot help them go through the long process of working out the deeper issues.

We are in a highly literate society, so we have access to books that for centuries were only in circulation among the scholarly elites (‘ulema, fuqaha, and government officials). Much of the Purification literature we read is based upon the writings of men in the 12th to 17th centuries. We turn to these important medieval texts that discuss diseases of the heart with little guidance. I know so many Muslims who feel overwhelmed after reading these texts. These texts deal with diseases of the heart within the context of getting to the hereafter or annihilating the ego. Little of the text deals with emotional pain that may even preclude someone from seeing beyond their immediate situation or the pain and baggage that may prevent them from letting go. A number of Muslims may even feel worse about themselves because these texts outline their clear shortcomings. But often these texts leave us feeling like “You can’t get there from here.” In fact, we should feel overwhelmed after reading how difficult it is to shed all the baggage and all the veils that prevent us from becoming who we are truly meant to be. Further, this literature reflects their worldviews, preoccupations, social norms, and cultural assumptions. Often, these scholars overlook the emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of women even during their time.

While I still believe in the value of many of these classics, these texts do not offer the same types of services as a counselor or therapist. And many counselors or therapists are not Muslim and they may not be equipped holistically deal with the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of a Muslim. With little options, many people turn to reading books or listening to tapes about Purification of the Soul on their own. But it is not like the original sciences were meant to be self-help tools. In fact, students of Islamic sciences often traveled and studied directly under a teacher. They had very strong intimate relationships with their peers and teachers. Islamic knowledge was taught in a way that knowledge directly connected with praxis. Otherwise, knowledge of the nafs can also be destabilizing and it can be misused. I guess this is why I am skeptical of the self-help industry.

I often reflect on the relationship between “Ilm an-Nafs” Psychology and Tasawwuf “purification of the Soul.” I believe that our traditions can be adapted to fit modern needs and social demand. We should work on emotional balance and well-being and mental health because in reality diseases of the heart undermine almost everything we do. These diseases cause fitna (discord between community members, conflict, and enmity), jealousy and envy, misguided behavior, corrupt leaders, and bad intentions behind our followers. For every community, there should be 10 counselors, psychiatrists, advisers, life-coaches, etc. I will begin with a discussion of insecurities and low self-image because it is a problem that faces many women. My last entry was on Narcissism and Pathological Narcisissm Disorder, a disorder that largely effects men. But Low-self esteem is something that effects women, but it is by no means limited to women.

You can take a test online here to see if you have the symptoms of low self-esteem.

I found the characteristics of low self-esteem that you might look for:

Characteristics of Genuinely Low Self Esteem
1. Social withdrawal
2. Anxiety and emotional turmoil
3. Lack of social skills and self confidence.
4. Depression and/or bouts of sadness
5. Less social conformity
6. Eating disorders
7. Inability to accept compliments
8. An Inability to see yourself ‘squarely’ – to be fair to yourself
9. Accentuating the negative
10. Exaggerated concern over what they imagine other people think
11. Self neglect
12. Treating yourself badly but NOT other people
13. Worrying whether you have treated others badly
14. Reluctance to take on challenges
15. Reluctance to trust your own opinion
16. Expect little out of life for yourself

Information from this site this website here.
Another website, Self Esteem Awareness has an even more comprehensive list:

Characteristics of Low Self-Esteem:
1. Feel and act like a “victim”
2. Judgmental of self and others
3. Break agreements, violate own standards
4. Cover, phony
5. Exaggerate, pretend, and lie
6. Self-deprecating, shameful, blaming, critical,
7. “Nice” person, approval-seeking, people pleaser
8. Negative attitude
9. Rationalize
10. Jealous/envious of others
11. Perfectionist
12. Dependencies, addictions, compulsive, self-Complacent, stagnant
13. Not liking the work one does
14. Leave tasks and relationships unfinished
15. Judge self-worth by comparing to others, feel inferior
16. Doesn’t accept or give compliments
17. Excessive worry
18. Fearful of exploring “real self”
19. Shun new endeavors, fearing mistake or failure
20. Irrational responses, ruled by emotions
21. Lack of purpose in life
22. Feel inadequate to handle new situations
23. Feel resentful and “One down” when I lose
24. Vulnerable to others’ opinion, comment and attitudes

Many sensitive people with become religious and dogmatic because they have low-self image. But insecurities and low-self image leads to other diseases of the heart (such as, ungratefulness, envy, backbiting, anger, resentment, and arrogance) which may not always be dealt with if the person covers themselves with the cloak of religiosity or superficial spirituality. Instead, the rituals and practices become a scaffolding, as opposed to become pillars and reinforcements for purifying the heart. I believe we can make our paths easier by getting to the root of the problem.

Low self-esteem and insecurities are huge problems that prevent us from receiving any benefits from our relationships and good deeds. Why? Low self-esteem leads to backbiting, jealousy, and approval seeking and attention getting. Insecurities prevents a person from being truly intimate with other people. We don’t want to become close to someone because we truly love them, but because we seek their approval. Insecurities distort our intentions, an insecure person does something to please others, to find their value in other people. They do not do things for the sake of Allah.

Umar bin Al-Khattab, Radi-Allahu unhu, narrates: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions. And every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.”

Insecurities affect how we view ourselves and others: we become competitive and constantly compare ourselves to others; sometimes we become judgmental in order to make ourselves feel superior; and other times we compare ourselves negatively to others and develop inferiority complexes. This leads to envy.

Volume 2, Book 24, Number 490:
Narrated Ibn Masud:
I heard the Prophet saying, “There is no envy except in two: a person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it in the right way, and a person whom Allah has given wisdom (i.e. religious knowledge) and he gives his decisions accordingly and teaches it to the others.”

If you find that you have fallen into these traps, do not beat yourself up. Instead, make tawba (go through the process of forgiveness) for whatever actions that have corrupted your intentions or wrong deeds that came from your insecurity. There are some simple steps and one is to let go of the pain and hurt and to take a step on the right path. Purifying the heart is about changing how you think in order to change how you act. Changing how you act and how you think will influence your heart. Purifying your heart will connect you with you spirit. It is an uplifting and freeing experience. But the first thing you have to do is to take responsibility for your actions, and stop feeling like a victim and recognize that Allah is in control. You have to recognize that he enable you with the possibility to do good and wrong.
1. Ask Allah for forgiveness (You may have to go to someone you have hurt and ask them for forgiveness
2. Forgive others
3. Remove yourself from the company of those who you have done wrong with.
4. Have faith that Allah has forgiven you (this means that you need to forgive yourself and move on.) If the person doesn’t accept your forgiveness, then they are in bad shape themselves.

Once you have begun the process of tawba, maybe it is time to think about the roots of your low self-esteem. There can be outside forces and internal. Sometimes, people are highly sensitive and internalize criticism. Sometimes you don’t see our self worth because other people projected their hurt and pain on you. Friends, classmates, associates, and strangers may have taken cheap shots at you and you may take their criticism to heart. Sometimes we are taught to think about things in distorted ways. Recognize how your distorted thinking leads to low self esteem. Other times, we look for other people to validate us, as opposed to turning inwards and turning to Allah to make sure we are doing the right thing. Other people, and the broader society, cannot define your self-worth. That is the Allah’s job. If you feel like you need other people’s praise and approval, you will find that desire insatiable. People cannot truly fill the void of low-self esteem and insecurities. Self-esteem comes from having confidence in yourself and knowing that you are a worthy individual. Each individual has intrinsic worth and beauty because that is how the Creator ordained it.

I would ask any individual: Is it worth having low-self esteem and insecurities? Why waste all your good actions, hard work, and efforts? Also, why spend your life undermining your efforts? You should be tired of beating yourself up, getting into dumb situations, and not creating boundaries and getting hurt. If you realize that you have low self-esteem, whether you have known all along, took the test and found out, or realized that some of the traits in this blog fit you, I think you should seek a counselor, psychiatrist, spiritual advisor, Sheikh(a), or imam who can help you work out your issues. Seek someone who will help you work through your issues over time. You deserve it. Let go of the pain and doubts and discover our self-worth. Once you let go of your insecurities, you will then discover how easy it is to love and be loved.

21 thoughts on “Diseases of the Heart-Low Self Esteem and Insecurities

  1. Salaams Margari,

    May Allah reward and bless you for a well written, sensitive and very important post.

    I have often thought about some of the issues you raise. You’re right about classical texts. That is, I don’t think they were ever really supposed to be used in isolation, without a qualified counsellor, guide, shaykh (or whatever you call them).

    Confidence is such a crucial issue. It’s a strange truth, but unless you have self-esteem you can’t really access the insights you need to move further forward.

    I wrote a piece about confidence in the context of higher education (just a few thoughts really): http://thecorner.wordpress.com/2006/06/22/confidence-in-education/

    For me, this is what Islam is all about: making a difference in people’s lives.

    Thanks again for this. More please!

    Ma’as salama,
    Abdur Rahman


  2. Oh, that was a wonderful post. I believe we do not have enough Scholars/Imams who are Islamically and western educated and SINCERRE and WISE. Usually this comes with age so I give it another twenty years, insha Allah there will be more such people who are available to the community. Its seems the ones now who fit the bill are taxed because there are so few of them. I used to think joining a tariqa is the answer but its really hard to find a Murshid who understands your culture, experience. I think thats why so many people flock to Shaykh Nuh, but he can only give time to so many people.

    A lot of times people just want someone to talk to about their struggles without being judged harshly. That is so hard to find because Muslims are so judgmental. Thats why when I was reading your post I was thinking, it sounds like the whole muslim community has low self esteem.


  3. Salaam alaikum Abdur Rahman and Um Abdullah,
    Jazak Allah kheir for your feed back. I think our Ummah is suffering from low self-esteem. But with patience and constancy, we can improve our condition. We need more accessible people who are trained to deal with the emotional and spriritual problems that our community faces. My hope is that insha’Allah each one of us encourages someone to take that role. I think it is fard kifiyya. What do yall think?


  4. An acquintance of mine was seaually abused as a child and she is seeing a non-Muslim therapist who is helping her see the link between the sexual abuse and her conflicts as an adult. I believe that as an ummah we have to get to the point of naming issues and validating people who have experienced them. Sometimes purification books, although well-intentioned, leave victims more paralyzed with their guilt, shame and blame, as they are unable to ‘transcend’ and be people of ‘good’ heart.
    Deep wounds need to be addressed from their roots and not just have a band-aid applied to the surface.


  5. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Around the Blogosphere (4.10.07)

  6. Salaams Margari,

    I’d say you’re right. Spot on, in fact. I’ve been asked on several occasions what a Muslim with mental health issues should do and my answer is always – seek professional help. Muslim counsellors, psychotherapists, etc are able to understand Muslim patients more fully and can offer a more all round level of care. That said, though, professional help is always best and is actually the most Islamic.

    Abdur Rahman


  7. Assalam Alaykum

    Good to see something so relevant and so common been posted up, i appreciate how you have bought low self esteem and discussed it in the contexts of Islam. I have all the above symptoms and well I find it easy to have people label us including ourselves upon those predosposition however what really struck me was the fact that i am made to feel like a problem and hence it seems i have to consult help externally which i have done many times to no avail. I hold religion dearly because its the key for giving me the relief that nothing else can offer, however sometimes i fall from faith and it feels like the whole world will fall onto me. I dont know, the problems u have stated clearly the solution has been said but not much emphasis, at the end of the day every man has to carry his burden i dont understand how another can help i guess in a way we all fight our own battles some do it better and others no so well and i dont know your article has placed me in much doubt i am solely relying on Allah, prayers and duas to give me a sense of security and stability and here it claims that i shouldnt rely on it for a self esteem boost.


  8. F Ali, you seem to miss the nuances of what I am saying. Depression and low self esteem are life long battles. Friendship and consultation does help, but there is no easy solution. If you find consultation, counseling, companionship, or advise helps, then I wish you well in your search to find security and happiness. It is not for me to decide how you chose to address the internal issues that you are facing. The people who have done me the most damage, betrayed me, and been the most jealous have had profound insecurities and confidence issues. Some of them have been mosque goers and avid readers of books like “Purification of the Soul.”


  9. Salaam..hakatha…a believer benefits from every flower like a bee seeking nectar. The bee unkowingly fertilises the plant. I am some what stunned as to the diqa and rafaha of your post.

    I think its fard ayn on every fard to lend a helping hand to their kith and kin (ie ..adamity & occasional jinn).

    Jzakillahu Khairan..


  10. asalamu-alakum,

    everyone (muslims) happy RAMADHAN. may it bring peace, joy n love. may you all recieve it with proseperity n beauty. enjoy every moment but nt jus of rmadhan but of life. inshallah.



  11. Salaam,

    I really appreciate this article, and I feel comforted now that I have found what I assume I have been struggling with. Your blog title really intrigued me, and I think the best bet for me would to get over the stigma, and perhaps go speak with a professional. I feel like I’d be burdening my friends, and I have a tendency of pushing loved ones away. May Allah(swt) protect and guide us all. Ameen.


  12. Pingback: Diseases of the Heart-Low Self Esteem and Insecurities | Sheikhonderun's Weblog

  13. Thx for the post sister. I am Muslim suffering from some self-esteem issues. I am not sure i understood what u meant in “#2” step where u mentioned removing yourself from the company of those who you have done wrong with. Are you suggesting ending the relatioship with the person u have done wrong with, although they have forgiven you, before you can repent?
    Thanks again for your post.. 🙂


  14. Isn’t their any dua or specific verses in the Holy Quran that one may read to get out of this miserable state of insecurities and low self esteem? Because every time I find a new friend, i get really attached to them and its sort of like a dependency but as soon as they get busy in their life, after their “lows” or down period, they don’t give me the attention they used to and that really feels pathetic, its like i’m some sort of leech who just demands attention.
    I know i’m really insecure since the very beginning, but i really really want to get rid of my insecurities, its driving me crazy!


  15. author Amy Waterman has all the methods necessary to assist in
    resolving conflicts, increase self esteem, advantages forgiveness, and restart the enthusiasm that you
    both once felt. With Amy’s assist you can save your marriage and avoid being a divorce


  16. As someone who is under-going feelings of depression and suffering from social anxiety, I’m now in a position where slowly but surely I want to become better spiritiually so that I can tackle my issues and move on. Is there a practical guide that I could follow?


  17. Read this blog entry and it makes sense whether you are Muslin, Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic, whatever. It made me realize that I am wasting precious days of my life beating myself up. Time to seek help and stop the madness… and start living!


  18. Masha Allah dia jazaka Allah, u r da rare type of conservative ideological muslim ( wald thot based on truth ) going philosophical on self dev’t in this century where many muslim r brainwashed n leaving in infiriority complex status MAY ALLAH HELP US AMEEN ….


  19. Assalam-o- Alekum
    I would like to thank you for writing such a helpful and and well written piece on insecurity and low-self esteem. Many people aren’t aware what a low self-esteem can do to your Iman and how it can lead to social problems. I too suffer from the same problem but I feel helpless as my parents don’t take me seriously and will feel ashamed to send me for counselling. What should I do?


  20. While I think you post is well intended, I strongly disagree that Muslims need more Western psychological approaches to “diseases” of the heart. If anything, the recent blending of Islamic values and Western psychology is dangerous.

    If you knew the history and the critiques of Western psychology and the medicalization/taxonomy of human phenomena, then perhaps you would reconsider what you wrote. The categorization of human emotions into “diseases” and “pathologies” by Western medical officials from the 19th century is a discourse (it is not a universal truth). In fact, these discourses of pathologies (such as”bipolar disorder”) is dangerous, as it treats them as purely biological entities that can be “fixed” by medicines or therapy (in reality, these “disorders” are socially created –an economically unequal system that marginalizes vast populations can creates mental health issues. I suggest reading the iconic anti-colonialist writer Franz Fenon, a Black psychiatrist who began to critique his own profession and colonialism as a whole. He wrote “The Wretched of the Earth,” and “Black Faces, White Masks” and argued that colonial oppression on marginalized groups caused mental “conditions” –in other words, these conditions were not biological, and moreover, medical treatment for these “disorders” were essentially a continuation of oppression (the “treatment” is essentially a way to numb people by virtue of medicine or quarantine — and thus the oppressive social conditions continue on).

    I suggest you look into this critique, as there is a wealth of academic critique on Western medical discourses


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