Would you agree that low self-esteem underpins many mental health issues today?
When I hear about the rising cases of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bipolar disorders in the modern world, I wonder how many people suffer form those because they don’t like themselves very much. In my practice I’ve assessed hundreds of clients who tell their stories of emotional difficulties and numerous attempts to find treatment for those, while in the end it seems that before addressing PTSD or other diagnosis, we must turn our attention to the fact that they simply have poor self-esteem. And that is a problem that needs to be dealt with. More often than not, as I judge from my professional experience, focusing on improving self-esteem seems to resolve many other symptoms of a mental disorder.
Now you may be asking yourself: “How is my self-esteem going?”
Here are just a few short and clear indicators of poor self-esteem that I came up with. Check below and see if any of them sound familiar.
1. You are overly concerned about others’ opinion of you.
Of course it is only human to care how we present to others and it is even human to want to be liked and, perhaps, be seen as a likable person. Those of us, who say that they completely “could not care less” are probably even more sensitive to the opinion of others and are likely to hide behind a thick skin of indifference. So let us say that it is good to care, but it is certainly not good when it matters too much. Simply because there will always be people who think you are this or that, and people who misjudge and misunderstand you, and it is virtually impossible to try and make the right impression and present in the same way to all. It would be like trying to change the weather to make it all sunny, every day. Impossible? Yes. And so is stressing over something that you are unable to control. If you are, it is a sign that you constantly need prove your own goodness, intelligence, to someone (and yourself?).
2. You are afraid to express an opinion that may be different from what others say.
No one likes to be judged. However, unless you are about to utter a horrid statement that would terrify the listeners, you hardly need to hide your opinions. The fear of judgement can make many people mute. Those who are on the quiet side of the conversation are frequently those scared to express themselves for fear of what others might think of them. What people are really scared of is again not to be liked and labeled in a certain way. It is directly linked to low self-esteem, because it stems from fear of not being good enough.
3. After a meeting, you think of the conversations over and over again, remembering what was said or not said.
People who often experience this will nod in recognition. Have you ever relived that Friday night dinner with a friend agonizing with questions “what did she mean when she said that?” Fearful to ask the friend directly but placing utmost importance on what a friend must think of you, you agonize in a circle of self-doubt, questioning and worries. Worries that you are not much of this and not enough of that. Letting go is very hard too. It feels like, if you know the answers, it will all become clear. But it never does as further questions pile up. Relationships with people are never a finished project and without self-confidence that you matter and you are a valuable person, they present as a constant challenge and sometimes even agony.
Why is poor self-esteem important and how to improve it?
First of all, as you probably already understood, having poor self-esteem doesn’t feel nice. It is a root of many mental health problems and relationship breakdowns.
First of all it creates barriers to you being you, then it feels like you can never make anything right.
Depression and anxiety, social withdrawal and isolation are not unrealistic outcomes of long standing problems with self-esteem. In particularly severe and prolonged cases it can lead to personality disorders, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which are very difficult and costly to treat.
It is advisable to attend to the issue and work on improving your self-esteem as soon as possible if you noticed all of the three indicators I mentioned in this post. Sometimes confiding to a trusted friend or spending time on a few conversations with a loving partner, who supports you, are very beneficial. These conversations send a message to our psyche that we are valuable, loved and respected, and our self-esteem tends to get a boost. Another way that worked for people is embarking on some projects at work or finding a hobby that makes them feel creative, smart, and literally, fantastic about themselves, and that helps a lot too.
However, if you are feeling rather lonely and unmotivated to pursue a hobby, or you’ve tried these methods but keep returning to the same points of self-doubt, I would recommend a more thorough work with a psychotherapist.
Many roots to the problems with self-esteem exist in our childhoods. It is probably not a surprise to you that eventually I have to mention this. Some of people with low self-esteem might say:
“But I had a good childhood, loving parents and there was no trauma or anything, why am I still experiencing this?”
Here is where therapy might be of help. Just as there is no blanket rule to what shapes our complex personalities and how we evolve in our adult lives, there will be no blanket recipe of what makes a self-confident person. Analyzing your own childhood story in particular will open doors towards understanding what went wrong or what was right particularly for you. Apart from abuse or neglect there are many other things that may have gone wrong with your childhood. Did your parents enjoy you or did they evaluate you based on how smart/well behaved you were? Did your parents want to just spend time with you laughing and playing or did they need you to busy yourself all the time? Did you grow up in a healthy home or a household filled with tension and grudges?
Now you might think…
Yes, my childhood wasn’t the best experience, I know that, now what?
If the childhood has been thought of and understood, it is now time to explore the present in detail. Here therapy might be helpful by guiding you to explore how you relate to others and how others relate to you. Being brave and taking risks to really look at yourself and face real you in a safe and trusted environment is a powerful agent towards change. With each session by being honest with yourself and the therapist you will accelerate the process of learning about and accepting yourself.
There will be inevitable something that you will discover about yourself and will not necessarily like, but the established therapeutic alliance and safety of counselling room will allow you to proceed with self-exploration without shame. Less shame will bring more confidence. More confidence will bring more determination and courage to change what you don’t like and become more authentic self. It is a daunting task, but a rewarding one!