We often read or hear that we should have self-esteem, or more self-esteem than we currently have, but what exactly is self-esteem, how does a lack of it affect our lives and how do we go about getting more of it?
Is Self-Esteem the Same as Self-Confidence?
First of all, we should note that there is a difference between self-confidence and self-esteem. The former relates to our abilities in ourselves, knowing, for example, we have an ability to learn languages well or we’re good at passing exams or baking bread.
Self-esteem, on the other hand, goes deeper than this. It’s about how we actually value our core self, deep down. So you could, for example, have a person who is very ‘successful’ in life, has graduated from a good university, is working in a high-status job and has the big house and expensive car. This person may have lots of self-confidence in their abilities. However, at the same time, they may have very low value in themselves as a person.
What is Self-Esteem?
So, self-esteem is who we truly are once everything external to us has been stripped away. It is about that person deep down inside of us; who therapists often refer to as our authentic self. It is our core self. And valuing this core self is self-esteem.
Valuing our core self means that we still hold ourselves in positive regard when things go wrong in our lives, which they do, for all of us. Going through difficult times such as a divorce or being made redundant will still be challenging, but for those with self-esteem, they will continue to value themselves and feel a person of worth. They will not blame themselves unduly for these things, or beat themselves up that they did something wrong. They will accept their mistakes as being something that everyone makes at one time or another but they will not experience it as a sign that they are inherently bad or broken.
What comes from this, is that they also expect other people to also value them– they send out signals to others that they expect to be treated well, with respect, with regard and in close relationships, with love.
For those with low self-esteem, the story is quite different. For a start, we know that people with low self-esteem have low worth and because they do not value themselves, they view others as having more worth than themselves. This means they think others are better than them, are more attractive, with better jobs, better partners and generally nicer lives all around. This is a ‘less-than’ belief which can permeate all aspects of their lives. And this belief may not even be at the conscious level so a person is not fully aware of the impact it has on them but it’s always there, lurking in the background.
How Low Self-Esteem Affects People
Having a core belief that you’re not worthy or valued will taint many aspects of your life, the relationship you have with yourself and the relationships you have with others.
Beliefs that we are ‘less than’ are called limiting beliefs because they limit what we think we can do. If you have a belief about yourself that you are stupid, for example, you will probably find that it shapes the type of job you have, the activities you do, the way you interact with others (who you believe are more intelligent than you), how you deal with conflicts and how you handle criticism. It may even colour how you relate to your children who are naturally inquisitive about the world and ask lots of questions which you feel inadequate to answer.
Some people with dyslexia or the types of brains which are not catered for in mainstream education may relate to this as they have often soaked up negative ideas from others around them (parents and teachers) which have shaped their core worth. People who were educated in a punitive environment where mistakes were not accepted as something natural may also feel the effects – the education system in the UK until recently springs to mind.
Here are some other ways which low self-esteem may be blighting your life:
- When a relationship ends you may disproportionally blame yourself even if it was an abusive or unhealthy relationship.
- You may stay in relationships that are not good for you because you feel you would not survive alone. The very thought of being alone can be terrifying as you feel you’ll never be able to cope alone or attract another partner.
- You may hide your true self from your partner because you cannot face them knowing who you really are. You may put your partner’s needs before your own because you believe, deep down, that they are more important than you. You may also stay in a relationship with someone who abuses you.
- Being criticised can feel like a personal attack on your very being – and therefore the effects can be devastating. You may replay the criticism over and over.
- We may feel so bad about ourselves that we stay away from intimate relationships altogether because we (unconsciously) don’t want people to know who we are. We may also believe we are unworthy of love. At the same time however, we will hide this reality from ourselves, believing that we are independent with no need for relationships.
- We may have difficulty making and maintaining friendships which can lead to isolation and loneliness. Our (conscious) beliefs such as nobody really understands me becomes a self-fulfilling vicious cycle as we put up walls to keep others out which leads to even more self-sabotage and isolation.
- Your job is affected as you may not dare to dream about the job you would love to do (I’m not very ambitious or I’m too stupid) and instead stay in jobs you hate or which bore you. Doing this reinforces your low self-esteem even further.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem
We learn ideas about ourselves through our earliest relationships with the people around us, our parents. Whilst reading the points below, bear in mind that we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have at the time. Your parents may not have had the skills or the self-esteem themselves to be able to give you what you needed.
We need to be consistently valued as a child and if this is not the case the child may learn that there is something wrong with them or they are not worthy.
All children make mistakes and no-one is perfect. If a child’s natural imperfection is not accepted and they are overly-criticised or punished, it could lead to problems. Children need to learn that they can mess up and still be loved by mum and dad. If a child starts to tell small lies, for example, the parents should see this as a behaviour which many children engage in. They will teach the child that this is not acceptable but that this is only a behaviour, not some inherent error of their character. They will also continue to love them and to show that they love them so they learn that they can make mistakes but they remain worthy and valued.
On the other hand, if parents are overly-critical and punitive, the child will absorb the message that they themselves are the problem – not the behaviour. Some parents may also withdraw love or attention at a time like this, which may also reinforce the idea in the child’s mind that there must be something ‘wrong’ with them. Remember we are dealing with a child’s mind here. Being punished or heavily criticised for doing something which is entirely normal for a young person may lead to feelings of shame and it is shame in particular, which can cause low self-esteem.
What Can I do if I have Low Self-Esteem?
Get some therapy. This is because few people can change this alone as we are often unaware of the full extent of our limiting belief and our ideas about ourselves can be quite warped. They have become normalised as well, so you often need someone trained to help you notice and unpick them. I don’t believe that people have to have therapy for years however, because you can get to the root of your limiting beliefs quite quickly and also re-frame them.
Cognitive Hypnotherapy can do both, by working with the unconscious to identify where the lack of self-esteem stems from (this will be different for every client) and then using some powerful techniques to change your beliefs. You will start to experience small changes to begin with, these will lead onto bigger ones as your whole world starts to look, feel and sound different. You will also learn how to start parenting yourself – basically doing the job your parents were unable to do for you. Once you have these skills – and believe me, these are attainable for anyone – you will be able to do this yourself, without the help of a therapist. And that, my friend, is where the possibilities spread out before you as you start to experience life as a person who actually values themselves.
This article was first published in Hypnotherapy Directory on 14/03/23 and can be found here: https://www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk/