We all have days of feeling low about ourselves. It is common and normal to feel disappointed at our own short-comings from time to time. But on-going low self-esteem in adults is a serious issue which can underpin many other problems. It is different from feeling down over a bad job interview – it’s characterized by persistent negative thoughts and feelings about oneself across situations. We all have an “inner dialogue” running through our minds. When we have one that tells us negative things about ourselves, like “I’m stupid” or “I’m not worth it”, the result is feeling dejected, hopeless, insecure and depressed. Enjoying life becomes very difficult.
Low self-esteem can be an issue unto itself, typically stemming from neglect of nurturing support from significant caregivers, or outright belittling, criticism or abuse; or it can be a consequence of other difficulties, such as living through a traumatic event, enduring chronic illness, grief, or stress. Experiencing pain can alienate us from our “self identity”, and our coping mechanisms can be put to the test. Or, if our behaviour changes due to stress or loss, we lose a job, a relationship, we may slip into a habit of negative thinking. Without addressing this core negative relationship with the self, other serious disorders can arise in time: depression, generalized anxiety, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, substance abuse.
Cognitive therapy, which means addressing the thought pattern, is the most common approach to low self-esteem. This is because these techniques show how negative thinking is not based in reality, but is skewed toward the negative. Combined with an appropriately respectful, safe counselling relationship, therapy can alleviate negative thinking and restore or nurture confidence and self-esteem. Through a positive therapeutic rapport, clients can learn to construct a positive vision of themselves, one that is accepting of their human qualities and which is based in reality.
TIP: Imagine your negative “inner dialogue” is outside of yourself. Imagine it as a person sitting next to you, telling you all the things you tell yourself. If you had someone sitting next to you, saying negative, demoralizing things to you, what would you do? Get angry at it? Tell it to shove off? Try to walk away from it? Then do that with your inner negative voice. Remember, it is not a balanced representation of the truth. In order to be balanced, you have to be “good”, “okay” or “great” SOMETIMES!