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Navigating the Depths of Low Self-Esteem

How do you perceive yourself? Are you often wrestling with self-doubt? Do you struggle to accept compliments? Are you frequently comparing yourself to others? Does your internal commentary often skew to the negative?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be dealing with low self-esteem. Self- esteem reflects the degree to which we judge our qualities and characteristics as positive. Some of the most common areas where our self-judgement manifests include: physical appearance, accomplishments, capabilities, values, and social skills.

Someone who struggles with issues of self-esteem may experience:

  • Extremely critical of self

  • Downplays and ignores their positive qualities and achievements.

  • Feels inferior to their peers.

  • Self-disparaging remarks 

  • Negative self-talk

  • Difficulty saying no to others.

  • Excessive guilt or self-blame in situations outside their control

  • Anxiety or discomfort in social settings.

  • Doesn’t believe a person who compliments them.

As part of the typical human experience, it’s natural to experience these things or lack confidence from time to time. However, constant feelings of uncertainty and dissatisfaction could indicate that you are experiencing low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem often stems from negative beliefs and opinions individuals hold about themselves, which develop over time because of life experiences. External factors like how others treat us, particularly in childhood, work to shape our self-perception. Experiencing punishment, abuse, neglect, alienation, failing to meet expectations, or lack of affection/praise can contribute to overall self-worth.

Why do these moments impact us so strongly?

The more frequently we receive negative messages from the environment, it becomes a pattern we internalize as core beliefs. Core beliefs serve as a foundational framework through which we interpret and navigate nearly every situation and encounter, shaping our perceptions and influencing our responses.

This diagram shows how core beliefs manifest through our self-talk, rules for living, and behaviors….all perpetuating this cycle of low self-esteem.

How can therapy help with low self-esteem?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is evidence-based and one of the most effective treatment modalities for low self-esteem. CBT focuses on the connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Treatment aims to identify and modify client’s maladaptive thought process through cognitive restructuring and behavioral techniques.

Goals of CBT include:

·         Identifying your core beliefs and rules of living

·         Developing healthier and more flexible beliefs

·         Testing your negative predictions using behavioral experiments

·         Challenging and replacing unhelpful thoughts

·         Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion

·         Living in line with your new core beliefs

For those who are interested in doing additional work outside of therapy to address low self-esteem, here are some activities that can be incorporated into your daily routine.

·         Challenge negative self-talk.

·         Avoid comparing self to others.

·         List things that you’re grateful for.

·         Appreciate your special qualities. 

·         Use positive affirmations.

·         Increase enjoyable activities.

·         Read self-help books.

·         Journaling

·         Mindfulness meditations

Remember, the more you practice, the easier it becomes to replace your self-critical thinking with more flexible and realistic beliefs about yourself.  

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