From previous lessons, we have discussed how low self-esteem (LSE) develops and is created. We have also discussed how it can manifest alongside mental health issues, particularly low mood and depression.
How low self-esteem relates to low mood and/or depressive episodes relates strongly to our rules for living, which we learnt about last module. Need a recap?
Rules for living are rules that we try to follow very closely to stop our negative core beliefs from seeming true. Core beliefs are the beliefs we have about ourselves, others or the world. For someone with LSE, this might be: “I am a failure”, or “others are always better than me”. Their rule for living might be “I must always work extremely hard so people cannot see I am a failure.”
With LSE, low mood is triggered when we know we have broken these rules, which confirms that our negative core belief is true. For example, you maybe didn’t work so hard, and did something badly, thus confirming to yourself that you are a failure (even though this may not be entirely true).
This triggers self-critical thoughts, e.g. “I am so rubbish at work” or “everyone must think I’m stupid”. Consistently experiencing self-critical thoughts about oneself can trigger uncomfortable emotions such as feelings of hopelessness. In turn, our motivation and ability to problem-solve is disrupted.
We may then engage in unhelpful (but understandable) behaviours like isolating ourselves or giving up on whatever it is we are finding difficult. All of which can contribute to low mood, or in more severe cases, depression.
When you are in this rut, you are more likely to further believe your core belief, which once again impacts your thoughts, mood and behaviour. In this way, low mood and depression becomes part of this vicious cycle of LSE.
The figure below demonstrates this. Top psychology tip: teaching someone else the material can help you to consolidate your learning, so see if you describe aloud the steps in the model that we just explained.
The cycle starts during a trigger situation whereby your rules of living are consequently broken. This activates the core belief that the self-set rules try to ‘protect’ you from. This in turn leads you to engage in self-critical thinking, leading you to feel low. This low mood then feeds into your core belief, pushing you to continue to engage in self-critical thinking.
Rumination can also be part of low mood
You might find yourself ruminating too – this is where you think over situations from the past (perhaps other difficult work situations) often with a sense of blame towards yourself for doing something wrong.
Focusing on negative thoughts, mistakes and regrets contributes to a negative self-image. Rumination can be considered a form of overthinking rather than constructive problem-solving, and instead fuels low self-esteem and even depression.
For more information regarding rumination, check out our blog by clicking here.