Self-esteem is a common phrase in clinical psychology as well as everyday life. Oxford defines it as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities” or “self-respect”. Wikipedia defines it as “an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth.” Subjective is an important modifier here; self-esteem is based on valuing oneself, which can shift with an individual’s definition of what makes a person valuable, as well as their desire or ability to compare themselves to the standard they have created. It exists in the mind of the individual; it is their construct.
A person with low self-esteem tends to feel badly about himself or herself. Through their own life experiences they have (for better or worse) decided upon a standard for what makes them valuable or relevant, and they see themselves as falling short of that standard. In short, they lack confidence in their worth. If a person wants to improve their self-esteem, they must do one of two things: They can be more generous when comparing themselves to their standard, or they can change their standard.
Often it involves learning Self-Compassion, a concept which is foreign to many people. It is possible however to develop compassion for one’s self, a starting place in healing from low self-esteem.
Self-Image differs from self-esteem in that it concerns how an individual sees himself or herself. It concerns how they evaluate their physical appearance, but also how they see their abilities, or roles. If a person does not like the way they look, or does not like the way they perform at certain tasks, those things could affect their self-image. Mannerisms, behavior, work ethic, personal style, and hygiene are all examples of elements that can affect self-image.
Although an individual’s self-esteem and self-image are often related, they do not have to be. For example, a person can be very beautiful and confident in their looks and abilities, but still feel worthless as a person. Similarly, a person can have a low opinion of their looks and abilities, and still feel valued and loved. If a person has a limited opinion of oneself in one or both of these areas, it helps to have a capable professional who can draw them out and get them to look carefully at how they feel about themselves and why.
Low self-esteem can be caused by a variety of different things. One cause is when a strong negative influence appears in an individual’s life at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable. Parents can negatively impact a child’s developing self-esteem if their words or actions are harmful. Younger children can be damaged by anyone who behaves in a similar manner, as they have not yet developed mental filters. Adults, and especially children can be harmed by such negativity if they have recently experienced a traumatic event, or are experiencing anxiety or stress. Bullying, interpersonal problems and abuse can decimate a person’s self-esteem.
Any kind of ongoing negative situation can result in a person developing low self-esteem if it persists for long enough. A family member, a friend, a teacher, a coach, or anyone else can be a negative influence if they are too critical for too long. A persons self-esteem can be damaged by imposing unrealistic expectations on them by self or others.
It can also be the result of a chemical imbalance.
When an individual suffers from low self-esteem, their judgment can become impaired. They tend to have a greater risk of depression and anxiety. They may withdraw and hence feel disconnected or lonely, as they cannot see the value they have to others. As a consequence of this, they may perform poorly at job tasks or in school, or in friendships or relationships. They can develop beliefs that they are not worthy or enough, and that their needs are not important.
People who have such ongoing negative thoughts can be prone to see life as an ongoing dirge. They may look for joy in temporary pleasures and can be prone to addictions. Having been hurt in the past, they can become guarded to protect themselves, because they see people as potential rejectors of their love and value. For low self-esteem individuals, rather than being exciting or invigorating, taking emotional risks can be truly frightening, or even traumatic.
People who suffer from low self-esteem can absolutely change and lead happy, fulfilling, and productive lives. The first step in treating the condition is an accurate assessment from an experienced professional. The right expert would have the necessary experience and training to explore the subject’s past and identify areas in which a low self-esteem or limiting belief might have developed. Such exploration would also enable that professional to differentiate between conditions with similar symptoms.
The right professional will carefully analyze the patient’s responses to come up with an approach that works for him or her. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) is one approach that offers considerable help for many people suffering from low self-esteem. It works by training the person to identify their limiting beliefs as they arise and deal with them in real-time. Often the person may be suffering from depression or other mental health issues that compound and complicate treatment and those issues need to be addressed as well. Trauma especially can negatively impact self-esteem and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be recommended.
Jim Brillon has experience helping Southlanders overcome low self-esteem and similar problems as a clinically-trained professional. A Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Jim’s extensive training and experience have enabled him to work with diverse clients and to meet each person where they are at. Jim’s approach is holistic and person-centered, aimed at enabling his clients to integrate their difficult memories and challenges with their present circumstances while aiding them in feeling at home and comfortable in their bodies.
Eventually, a greater lightness of being can translate into a person being able to face challenges with courage, with greater presence, self-compassion and acceptance.