low self esteem

Self-esteem is how you think and feel about yourself; the worth you place on your strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. Your self-esteem plays a huge part in dictating how you live your life, the decisions you make, and how you view others. You can have negative or positive self-esteem, but self-esteem is a fluid notion, that fluctuates between the two points.

It’s a very common characteristic for people to continuously compare themselves with those around them (or a polished version of those people seen through social media). This unhealthy but often uncontrollable act highlights our own insecurities leading to a negative view of ourselves, our life choices and ultimately a negative view of the world we live in. It’s easy to lose sight of the value of our own individuality and feel inadequate and unsatisfied, a very exhausting personality trait.

Symptoms of low self-esteem

  • feeling worthless

  • feeling incompetent and unrealistic about our abilities

  • feeling unloved

  • being overwhelmed with fear and negative thoughts

  • being unrealistic about goals

  • being drawn into destructive relationships

  • fear of change

  • distorted views of self and others

What causes low self-esteem?

The development of self-esteem can lend itself to a number of external contributing factors and relationships, deep-rooted in ourselves from birth. Negative experiences and troubled relationships lower it, and good experiences and strong bonds raise it.

There isn’t a single event or person that will determine your level of self-esteem; it will continue to develop throughout our lives, changing with different events and time.

Understanding where these feelings have come from is the first step in moving on. This is not easy because we tend to bury painful memories deep in the unconscious - one way of coping with early put-downs and criticisms. But it can be hugely rewarding to recall, and re-evaluate, an early memory of being told that we have failed or are not good enough.

Healthy experiences

The foundations for self-esteem are laid in childhood. The feeling that we are valued and understood - that our worries can be soothed and rectified - gives us an internal picture of our own worth and value.

Positive experiences allow people to be realistic about goal setting, accept criticism, learn from mistakes and be adventurous but not reckless. We develop an internal, default position which allows us to understand what we can manage, without damaging ourselves. We can recognise stress and destructive relationships as being uncomfortable and seek to put things right. We can learn to trust our instincts, that they will help us protect ourselves. Early nurturing teaches us to nurture ourselves and develop a resilience to deal with life’s knocks and blows.

Negative experiences

Negative experiences and troubled relationships can develop low self-esteem, causing fearful, delicate children who are unable to reach unrealistic goals, thus further denting their self-image. Children with low self-esteem are likely to develop into adults who constantly compare themselves unfavourably towards others, have little natural ability to protect themselves and are less resilient to change.

How could counselling help?

Working to improve your self-esteem takes time, requiring honesty, strength and courage to confront the things in yourself you don’t like and change them. Long-term, it’s a very worthy task which should help you feel better about yourself and your life. Counselling establishes a secure, safe haven from which to explore these memories; an external source of strength to help process change.

Self-esteem is central to who we are and central to the process of counselling. A supportive therapist can be a great help on this journey. They’ll encourage you to take a new, objective view of your personal history, allowing you to reflect clearly on your present situation without feeling blame.

Therapy can offer an opportunity to see if early patterns and habits are repeated in your current relationships, both at home and in the wider world. Finding a counsellor you feel comfortable with, someone who can help you settle into a healthier way of feeling about yourself is essential.

Types of therapy

‘Person-centred’ therapy, a humanistic approach, can help you focus on how you perceive yourself in the conscious state, rather than analysing your unconscious thoughts.

Transactional analysis, a concrete model of talking therapy, looks at three key life stages and might be more suited if you need a ‘practical set of tools’ model.

Cognitive behavioural therapists will work with you to monitor negative self-beliefs, destructive thoughts and damaging assumptions that keep you trapped in a cycle.

Positive self-esteem goals

Raising your own self-esteem means you’ll learn to feel good about your real self, and others around you. Although this doesn’t guarantee success in the world, it does allow for more positive thinking ensuring you value your own uniqueness and recognise abilities; you praise yourself, trust yourself and like yourself. When you become more tolerant of the real you, your relationships can improve as you become more realistic about others too.