We use the term low self esteem to mean low levels of confidence, self worth, importance and visibility.
The level of your self esteem affects how you approach just about every decision you make in life, dramatically impacting on your choice of partners, work and lifestyle. It plays out on a daily basis as we can end up, for example taking an apologetic or aggressive stance.
How does this play out?
1. Withdrawal: Avoiding social situations in which you will feel embarrassed. I can’t overstate this, as missing out because of low self esteem, comes up all the time in therapy. If you don’t feel that you are lovable, of real worth or your needs are important, your life will be depleted accordingly, in everything you do.
2. Dependance: If you stumble across a good personal trait or quality (eg running, being kind to others or playing an instrument) then you might practice intensely to ensure this new approved identity is where you spend all your time.You can become dependent on this quality for your sense of worth so letting go of this identity, while you still have low self esteem, can prove very difficult. You may not feel uber confident in your personal relationships, so become pre-occupied with your valued identity, while not noticing your relationships suffer.
Imagine where your identity has been bound up with your obsessive success at work and you need to retire ! You may become highly praised for your talent and yet still believe you will retire to face the part of you that is not a good person, so the low self esteem continues untroubled. These very challenging and confusing issues arise all the time for many of us in relation to self esteem. This is like an actor, full of self doubt, who needs the applause every night to keep them feeling OK.
Richard Parkes, a passionate Welsh rugby international had to stop playing through injury. Having lost that identity he stayed in his room for two months feeling very depressed. He only left his room when he decided to conquer high mountains, having found another successful `extreme sports` identity.
Where Does it Come from?
If a child lives with encouragement they learn how to be confident. If a child lives with ridicule, they can become anxious and shy. If you have been criticised or ignored in your formative years, you can easily end up feeling shy and unimportant, with low self esteem. Equally you can develop a facade or pretence of confidence, when underneath you may feel constantly fragile.
As parents we do the best we can, but if we weren’t dealt the cards such as value, praise, love, worth and patience, it’s hard to pass them on. If your parents, who will have done/be doing their best, were brought up in a limited, low self esteem environment, they will pass on what they learnt. They may not realise the damage they suffered or the damage they are passing on.
Can I change it? Yes, but you need to be able to ask for help. (This can be quite a challenge in itself with low self esteem but it is an important and courageous first step.)
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
I experience client after client in whom I see lovely qualities which they can’t see themselves, because they were never told – and now they don’t believe it. Maybe they started drinking to drown their embarrassment, swallowing down the pain of living with low self esteem by trying to drum up some false confidence. Because of the drink they actually do become a pain to be with, pushing people away and thus proving their own point. `See, people don’t like me.` However it’s the drink- influenced behaviour (trying to hide the low self esteem) that irritates, not the lovely human being, shy or not. Similarly when you anticipate being criticised, you might get angry and lash out before it happens, thus driving people away or attracting criticism back, when that was not initially on the cards at all. (see article on anger).
How can Counselling help?
It can be an opportunity for you to
- work in your confidential session with an experienced professional who is there just for you – to support you.
- understand why low self esteem can make you react to situations in a more intense way than seems `usual` and how in doing so YOU ensure that you fulfil your worst fears.
- build up a safe, honest and trusting relationship with the counsellor, where you can share your concerns and fears. This is an opportunity to test them out, & get some honest non-judgemental, feedback in a safe environment.
- understand why you feel `not good enough` when you actually are `good enough`. ( OK just stay with that possibility..)
- Find the cards that you need but weren’t dealt first time round, so you can make changes.
- Stop whenever you decide.
- A place to risk being the lovely human being the counsellor is looking forward to meeting, without the need for any enhancements ! (One way of being closer to people is to risk showing your vulnerability to people you trust)
The counsellor will help you to develop awareness of what is stopping you accessing your full potential. This might sound like an ad from the get-rich-quick papers but this process does not usually happen overnight. It is a journey, hopefully a very worthwhile one, that can put you back in charge of your life..
Examples of behaviour patterns that could be caused by low self esteem.
Thank you to those who have supported their own and others peoples’ processes by submitting their identified patterns. Please submit patterns of behaviour you have identified that you are happy for us to include here. No names will be included
Always doing things that I think will make people like me
Feeling the need to be in control of everything
Talking too loud on the phone & unaware of the effect on other people.
Told by partners that I don’t seem to able to express my emotions.
Bob Smith UKCP reg’d Integrative Gestalt Psychotherapist