Low Self-EsteemSelf-esteem is a basic element of happiness. We all have our good days and bad days. Sometimes, though, we can get stuck in a pattern of feeling inadequate. We begin to doubt our competence, whether or not other people like us, the way we look, and/or our intelligence.

Low self-esteem can be triggered by a series of disappointing events or “failures”, but more often, we seem to be wired for low self-esteem from a very early age. For instance, a child who is sensitive to criticism may be more profoundly affected by the judgments of his parents and siblings than one of his brothers or sisters. He may even be labeled (either innocently or maliciously) by his family as “messy”, “a baby”, “accident prone” or “math-challenged”, etc.

S/he may then internalize these labels and begin to act accordingly. Perhaps, because s/he was told s/he can’t do math, s/he lacks confidence in class and subsequently does poorly. This reinforces the label and creates an area of low self-esteem.

If enough areas of our lives are captured in a net of low self-esteem, we can feel that we are “not enough”. If this feeling is strong enough, it is easy to see how it can lead to depression and anxiety. I have often heard people who are caught in this self-defeating thought pattern say, “I can’t do anything and I don’t even want to keep trying and failing. I just wish I wasn’t here!”

What’s the good news? If low self-esteem is the issue, there are myriad ways to turn this around! One of the most successful techniques is to look at the thoughts we have about ourselves by writing them down. Then we can decide if this thought is our own belief or that of someone else.

We can then evaluate the usefulness of those beliefs. Let’s say a young woman, for example, writes, “I am ugly because I don’t look like a celebrity.” She can then re-evaluate this belief and decide that the comparison is unfair and unrealistic. She may alter the belief to, “I don’t like certain aspects of my looks, but I am attractive.” Or, one may initially think, “I am not smart enough for college,” and then change the thought to, “I may need some help with study habits, but I know I can do well once I have the tools!” In her blog ordinarycourage.com, Dr. Brene Brown writes, “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect!” Her recent TEDx talk on the power of vulnerability went viral.

I have found that working with small challenges in areas where I feel fear and doubt can greatly impact my general outlook and my feelings about myself in positive ways. The world can open up and offer so much to those who challenge their own negative thoughts with a little bravery, and a little bit of help getting started. One practice that has been very helpful to me — when I’m starting to feel inferior, I try to compliment someone on their uniqueness instead of envying them. This usually helps break the ice and lower defenses which, in turn, can lead to a much happier and more productive interchange.

Kim McIntosh, MS

At Solutions Treatment Center, we understand that low self-esteem can be a primary factor in many process addictions, with difficulty in money matters, and more. It can also be the result of untreated underlying emotional trauma. Let us help you find your way again –
call today for a free consultation 877-499-1354 or 505-424-3170.