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Why therapy is so effective at helping with low self-esteem?

What is low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is when someone feels that they are not good enough, or not as good as other people.

It is common for people with low self-esteem to have a negative view of themselves and their abilities and to have a hard time accepting compliments. They may also avoid social situations because they don't feel confident enough.

I believe self-confidence is the key to a more pleasurable life. It allows you to feel positive about yourself and your future, and it helps you achieve your goals. Low self-esteem can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

If we think that we are not good enough it can be quite difficult to see things positively at all. Often, we are unable to accept compliments, acknowledge our achievements, find pleasure in anything we do. In fact, contrary to finding the good in anything we tend to see everything through a very narrow perspective which seeks to confirm how we feel about ourselves!

What does low self-esteem look like?

Low self-esteem or self-worth can lead to a vicious cycle in which any good we do achieve can get overlooked whilst anything negative becomes focused upon, often leading us to feel worse about ourselves.

Below are some characteristics of low-self esteem:

  • Constantly comparing oneself to others

    • Usually seeing ourselves as ‘less than them’

    • Believing that others have it easier than ourselves.

    • A sense of unfairness, they have something I do not!

    • Negative self-image.

  • Unable to accept compliments from others or yourself

    • When you are given a compliment, it cannot be believed

    • You are rarely, if ever, positive about yourself or what you do?

    • If another compliments you, it is met with suspicion – ‘They must be after something!’

  • Paranoia

    • A sense that everyone else is judging us.

    • Feels like everyone is waiting for us to ‘get it wrong'.

  • Self Blaming

    • When things do go wrong, you blame yourself and tend to therefore think more negatively about yourself.

    • Unable to separate yourself from other factors that may have accounted for things not working out

    • Believing things are not worth doing or starting as you blame yourself for it going wrong even before you start something.

  • Dismissing of any positive you do bring

    • If things go well, you attribute it to luck, not any work you may have put in.

    • Say things such as ‘...Well, anyone could have done that!”

  • A Sense of self-doubt

    • Find it very difficult to make choices

  • You are overly apologetic

    • Even when things happen you have no control over, you still apologise for it as if you did something wrong.

  • Fear of failure

    • So much so that you do not wish to take responsibility.

  • Destructive Habits

    • Self-soothing anxiety using destructive actions, such as drinking, drug-taking, self-harm, scratching etc.

  • Strive for perfectionism

    • Provides a belief of being in control to soothe anxiety.

If you find you do any of the above, the chances are you have low-self esteem!

When you have low self-esteem very little contentment or joy can be experienced as any ‘good’ can simply not be believed or accepted. Over time, this can lead to anxiety and depression and can be debilitating. People with low self-esteem generally find life a chore, perhaps even pointless.

In a sense it can rob you of your real identity, replacing it with a believed negative sense of self, a lesser than others, a not good enough version of you which, over time, is adopted as a believed identity. A real sense of ‘this is all I am!’

It is easy to see how low self-esteem can lead to depression and anxiety!

What causes low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is a problem that affects many people in the world. Some of the causes are early trauma, anxiety, bullying, and inadequate parenting.

Statue of a person with their head in their arms giving the sense of sadness.
Feeling anxious, low isolated?

As we develop from childhood, our development is largely based on two factors. The first is genetics, the cellular up of us as a biological organism. The second factor is the environment we are raised in. The latter has a powerful effect upon our development and particularly our sense of self.

If we are raised in an environment in which we do not feel wholly loved or safe, it becomes difficult for us to believe that we have worth or that we can be loved. We may come to see ourselves as unlovable. After all, if we did not get the love we needed from our caregivers (parents/carers) then how could we believe we are lovable at all?

Even if we did have a loving environment as we journeyed through our childhood, there may have been other factors that may have impacted us negatively, such as (but not limited to)

  • Parents separating.

  • Bullying

  • Loss of loved ones

  • Moving house/location

  • Changing Schools

  • Cyberbullying

  • Societal Pressures and Conformity (or perceived lack of from peers)

Low self-esteem can be caused by many things in our environment and can lead to a cycle that can feel impossible to break out of. The cycle looks like this:

Image showing a cycle of low-self esteem.
Low Self-Esteem Cycle

When we have low self-esteem it can be extremely difficult to believe that we have any good or worth in us at all!

When we experience difficult things as we develop, we tend to repress thoughts and feelings making them unconscious. This is a psychological survival mechanism and keeps difficult thoughts and feelings out of our conscious awareness. This is often because such thoughts and feelings are often conflictual and may even have threatened our survival when we were young. An example of this is if a parent or carer is punishing or critical when we are small. We may well have many angry destructive feelings towards them but they cannot be expressed because we need a parent carer for our survival. Often, as a result, we turn these negative thoughts and feelings onto ourselves as it is far ‘safer’ to attack us than them!

Why therapy is so effective at helping with low self-esteem?

Therapy is so effective at helping with low self-esteem as it provides a safe and confidential space to explore how you view yourself and think others view you as well as the experiences that lead to this without judgement or criticism. Therapy wants to explore who you truly are as opposed to what you think you are!

This provides a unique opportunity to explore how your past experiences may have led to you feeling the way you do about yourself and therapy provides an opportunity to change your view of yourself. When we have low self-esteem we often relate to ourselves and others in unconscious ways which may be unhelpful to ourselves and to those we relate to.

Therapy seeks to understand the unconscious ways you may relate to yourself and others which may no longer be useful to you. In exploring these with an experienced therapist, they can then be changed positively. This positive change can lead to feeling more connected with life where hopefully more joy and pleasure can be found!

If you are living with low self-esteem, please feel free to contact me for a confidential, no-obligation chat about how we might work together toward a more positive fulfilling life for you!


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