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Self Esteem

Everyone knows what is meant by self-esteem. What is less known or understood is what causes low self-esteem or worth, and how to reverse this and grow positive feelings about the self.

It might surprise some to know that low self-esteem is widespread and many who struggle with their self-esteem appear to have it all, achievements, success and the accompanying benefits. Despite their successes these people do not feel as positive about themselves as might be expected.

There is still much to be learnt about how self-esteem develops. Low self-esteem is always present in those who have been abused or neglected, which is perhaps easy to comprehend. It is harder to understand when abuse does not appear to have been a factor, and the number of people who fit into this category is significant.

Self-esteem is affected by the quality of our interactions with others. This occurs throughout our lives, but how we are responded to in our formative years is especially important. At the centre of developing healthy self-esteem is the human need to feel we are loved and an okay person. How we are related to is a crucial part of this. Sometimes this can go awry when a parent or significant other, sometimes unwittingly, repeatedly fails to notice, mirror or value the emerging and unique qualities and emotions of the child in front of them. Sometimes this can be so pervasive it is damaging. It can cause problems for a child, and later an adult, in knowing who they are and in being able to feel good about who they are. Or it may be that the child is repeatedly criticised, made fun of or treated with disdain, thus affecting self-esteem in a major way.

As an adult we know how it feels when we meet someone who is interested in us, who “gets us” and is on the same wavelength. We feel good, kind of whole and lifted. This is not a coincidence; it is an important part of the self-esteem issue.

In therapy the therapist works with the client to grow self-awareness, which is part of the process of gradually increasing self worth. The therapist hears and values the client and what the client brings, which is sometimes complex and time consuming work. To be repeatedly not heard or responded to often results in a hiding away of thoughts and feelings, or put another way, a hiding away of the real self, without sometimes even being aware of doing this. A child or adult may have developed a way of being in the world that is about changing aspects of themselves in order to fit with others. These things are best understood as protective measures, so as not to feel the hurt or humiliation etc that comes with being not heard or understood, or in some cases, to avoid the risk of physical harm. These are all carefully worked on in therapy, to gradually bring to light what may not have been previously known, understood or valued.

The prevailing approach to improving self-esteem is commonly a cognitive one, focusing on identity issues and developing strategies around goals and achievements. This technique may improve feelings about oneself in the short term, but very often this does not last and very soon there is a return to negative feelings. The psychotherapeutic approach to improve self-esteem suggested in this article is more holistic. This may mean it takes a little longer to achieve the changes sought, however, once changes occur they are more likely to be enduring over time.

All the therapists at Talking Therapy are experienced in working with self-esteem issues. Phone 03 3548045 or email info@talkingtherapy.co.nz to make an appointment.

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