What is low self-esteem and how can we manage it?

Self esteem is how we view our worth. If we have low self-esteem, we believe we are not worthy. Read on to learn how low self-esteem develops and sticks around, and how we can manage it using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Where does low self-esteem come from?

Low self-esteem can come from a number of difficult life experiences, such as bullying, mental health problems, rejection from others and a lack of positive experiences. These tend to occur in childhood but can also occur later in life.

How does low self-esteem affect our beliefs about ourself?

When we feel low in our self worth, we can start to experience negative core beliefs. Core beliefs are short statements we have about ourselves, the world and others around us. For example, we might have a core belief that ‘I am lazy’.

This in turn then leads us to follow strict ‘rules for living’ in our life to stop the core belief disrupting our lives too much. For example, to mitigate the fact ‘I am lazy’, I might follow the rule to ‘work at 100% effort every day’. This way, no one knows that I am really lazy.

However, these rules for living just keep us believing our negative core beliefs and setting too difficult and rigid standards for ourselves.

What keeps low self-esteem going?

If we are certain that we have broken the rules for living we have, we end up confirming the core belief. For example, ‘I didn’t work at 100% effort, which proves that I am lazy.’ This can lead us to self-critical thinking. We might engage in unhelpful behaviours such as avoidance, rumination and isolation. We can then become trapped in low mood and feel depressed. This only strengthens our core beliefs e.g. that we are lazy. This keeps our low self-esteem going.

Alternatively, if we think, but don’t know, that our rules are broken, we may not sit well with this uncertainty. This can lead us to worry and make anxious predictions. When we make anxious predictions, we might engage in unhelpful behaviours such as avoidance and being over cautious. This only serves to fuel our anxiety and not prove that we can do a good job, thus keeping that low self-esteem going. 

How can I overcome low self-esteem?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has a variety of techniques that can help to manage the anxious predictions, self critical thinking, difficult rules and negative core beliefs.

A lot of techniques, particularly looking at the anxious predictions and self-critical thoughts, are covered in our Boosting Self-Esteem workshop. You can read about it and sign up here. It’s a 90 minute workshop delivered via zoom to think about what started and maintained your low self-esteem, and four strategies to overcome it. If you’re quick, you might even make the early bird offer!

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