Causes of Low Self-Esteem
I’ll just give a brief overview of the many possible causes of low self-esteem.
- Childhood experiences of neglect; emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Ongoing criticism in childhood when you expressed thoughts, feelings or opinions
- Bullying of any form in childhood or adulthood
- A strongly developed inner critic. This is where you find fault with aspects of your personality or your interactions with others
- A tendency to blame yourself and over-own your responsibility for failures in relationships, work-settings etc
Effects of Low Self-Esteem
- High levels of self-doubt leading to difficulty in making decisions and trusting your own opinions.
- A lot of fear of being judged by others or rejected by them leading to over compliance and over reliance on the opinions of others.
- High levels of worry: What if I make a mistake? Something awful may happen.
- Remaining in situations and relationships that are toxic for you.
- Feelings of emptiness and low-mood.
- Feeling stuck in your life.
How to Raise Your Self-Esteem
You need to be very patient with yourself as you try to work on raising your self-esteem. Your sense of yourself has got deeply wired into your brain over many years and to change these negative thoughts about yourself involves creating a whole new neural network. This is very doable but will take time, focus and effort. It’s something you need to commit yourself to on a daily basis.
- Become aware of the types of negative thoughts you’re having about yourself on a regular basis. Write these down and notice the effects the thoughts are having at a feeling level and in body sensations (eg. tightening in your chest or throat).
- Try to be neutral about the thoughts rather than judgemental. When we reject our thoughts, they often get stronger. This is easier said than done and will take quite a bit of determination!
- Decide to feel compassion for the part of you that has had to suffer from the effects of these thoughts for so many years. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is very effective. You didn’t deliberately set out to have these negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and accepting where you are at right now is an important step in the process.
- Challenge the thoughts in a gentle, but firm way. Eg. Is it really true that I’m worthless? Am I really of less value than X? Do I actually deserve to be spoken to abusively? Is my contribution less important than X’s? Pick a question that is relevant to your specific thoughts. Let the question float in your mind while you really think deeply about it.
- When you notice more positive thoughts about yourself emerging, write these down and then ponder them. Go over them again and again in your mind. Notice the feelings and body sensations you experience as you think about them. Enjoy the positive sensations in particular. Savour them. Your brain will be releasing dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) and this will help you remember the new thought, anchor it in and make it part of your neural network.
- You will very probably experience competing negative thoughts as you try this exercise. This is very normal. Just find a phrase to help you dis-identify from those thoughts such as: These are old, unhelpful thoughts that I no longer need, I let them go. I am now creating new, more helpful thoughts that will make me feel so much better.
- Return to the positive thoughts, feelings and sensations. Continue to savour any pleasure you are experiencing, including tiny sensations of warmth, expansion, relaxation.
- As you do the exercise, whenever any more positive thoughts about yourself emerge, write them down and follow the same process.
- Repeat this exercise every day for at least 90 days to wire in your new, positive sense of self. Repetition is what helps us to change negative states of mind into positive ones.
- Be creative. If it occurs to you to draw a picture of your new sense of self or write a poem or story, do it! All of your focus and effort on this transformation will reap rewards.
If you feel you need help to work through this process because you are finding it difficult to do it on your own, feel free to contact me for a counselling session.
If you try this process, let me know how you get on in the comments below.
If you have had success using other approaches, I’d be delighted to hear about what has worked for you.