Self-Esteem is the opinion you have of yourself, the judgements you make about yourself, and the value you place on yourself as a person.
Low self-esteem means having a poor opinion of yourself, judging yourself harshly and seeing yourself as having little worth or value. At the heart of low self-esteem lie negative beliefs about yourself. These are reflected in how you behave on a day-to-day basis, and can affect many areas of life. Low self-esteem can be a cause or an effect of a whole range of other difficulties.
The extent to which low self-esteem disrupts daily life varies from person to person.
CBT can help in understanding how low self-esteem developed and what experiences contributed to its development. The therapist will work with you in identifying your low self-esteem and in establishing the negative beliefs you hold about yourself. Low self-esteem can affect you in a number of different ways.
Your thoughts: do you tend to be self-critical and self-blaming, or full of self-doubt? You tend to ignore or discount anything good about yourself, and instead focus on your flaws.
Your behaviour: do you find it difficult to speak up for yourself and spend too much time trying to please others? Or you might feel that nothing you do is good enough, which might lead you to avoid challenges. It might also lead you to have high standards. Or perhaps you hide the real you for fear of rejection.
Your feelings: Low self-esteem can make you feel sad, worried, guilty, ashamed or frustrated and angry.
Your body: Low self-esteem can make you feel drained and tired, or tense and ‘uptight’. Avoiding eye contact, speaking very quietly, keeping your head down and shoulders hunched can all reflect low self-esteem.
With the therapist you will identify your general conclusions about yourself, which we call the Bottom Line. The problem with the Bottom Line is that it is generally formed when you are very young, or in stressful situations. It is fair to say that you probably had trouble making fair and reasonable judgements about what was going on.
Once in place, the Bottom Line can be hard to change. This because it is supported and strengthened by biased thinking. Biased thinking emphasises experiences that support the Bottom line, while ignoring the experiences that contradict it. The Bottom Line leads you to develop Rules for Living (guidelines which you think you must obey in order to feel comfortable with yourself). These are designed to help you get through life. But in fact they keep your Bottom Line in place and maintain low self-esteem.
CBT can help in improving low self-esteem by establishing your Bottom Line and by forming a plan to create a New Bottom Line. This might involve challenging your negative predictions; learning to deal with self-criticism and improving self-acceptance.