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Low Self Esteem

What is low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is a lack of belief in your personal value and worth and is accompanied by self-criticism, negative self-evaluation and negative comparison with others e.g. “I’m not good enough”; “not interesting enough”; and/or “I am not attractive enough.” These are not just transient negative automatic thoughts that we all might have from time to time in a particular difficult situations, but in low self-esteem, these are global ideas about the self that keep on reoccurring in most situations.

If you suffer from low self-esteem you may feel that you are not worthy of consideration, love or respect, and you are likely to underestimate your own capacities and skills. Your default position will be to blame yourself when something goes wrong and attribute good fortune to external influences (i.e. not to yourself). You will expect others to dislike and criticise you and you will hear this in what is said even if this is not the message that is being conveyed.

How common is Low Self Esteem?

Low self-esteem is a key feature of many mental health problems including depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Its pervasiveness in society makes it hard to accurately estimate its prevalence.

What is the treatment for low self-esteem?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for low self-esteem involves:

  • Testing out beliefs to see if they stand up to evidence and if not to identify alternative balanced interpretation about how things are

  • Developing a new set of helpful behaviours

  • Social skills training

  • Assertiveness training

  • Role play

  • Mindfulness training

Extended versions of CBT (e.g. Schema Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [SFCBT]) explicitly restructures the beliefs developed in early childhood and replaces them with balanced and helpful alternatives.

Unsurprisingly, low self-esteem can have considerable repercussions in every area of your life, from work to relationships. If you have low self-esteem, there may be some level at which you feel yourself unworthy of promotion or of being loved. You may find it hard to ask for help when you need it, feeling that an admission of need is just another sign of failure. You might find it difficult to make decisions, always worrying that you will make a mistake. You may also be drawn to people who mistreat you, as this is what you have come to expect for yourself.

For many, problems with self-esteem are very literally stopping them from being as happy as they could or should be. This is why most psychologists recognise self-esteem as a basic human need; without healthy levels of self-esteem, it is very difficult for anyone to have a fulfilling life.

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