‘Self-esteem’ is a psychological term referring to how we evaluate our worth in the context of our relationships and society as a whole. Therefore, when we describe ourselves as having low self-esteem, we believe that we have very little value, or worth, as people. That we are unlovable.
There are multiple contributing factors of low self-esteem such as bullying and abuse, inequality in socio-economic status as well as it arising from other mental health conditions such as addiction and depression. It is important to understand what is driving our low self-esteem, so that we can in turn understand where our negative beliefs about ourselves have come from.
It is very normal for us all to doubt ourselves at times or to feel less positive about choices we may be making or how we may be living our life. However, the difference between a healthy emotional response to such situations and low self-esteem is profound. Low self-esteem is less about how we experience our actions – ‘I feel bad I made that choice’ – and more about how we experience ourselves – ‘I am worthless and that choice/decision/behaviour proves it’. Low self-esteem can be utterly debilitating as it clouds how we see, experience and express ourselves in the world and creates a toxic feedback loop whereby our thoughts, feelings and behaviours continue to reinforce who we (incorrectly) believe ourselves to be.
Low self-esteem, whilst certainly influenced by varying factors, is nearly always rooted in our experience of growing up in our families of origin. This does not necessarily mean that our family was physically, sexually, psychologically or emotionally abusive (though these will undeniably contribute to low self-esteem), but it does mean that somehow our emotional needs were not met to the degree we needed them to be by our caregivers.
All children have a remarkable psychological defence (known as ‘the moral defence’). This is when, for a multitude of reasons, their experience from their primary caregiver was that they were not emotionally attended or attuned to, to the degree they needed to be. In such instances, children make it about themselves – literally blame themselves for how they are being treated. This defence serves a very important purpose: it psychologically protects that child from recognising that their parent is failing them – the unthinkable thought – because that child is utterly dependent on that parent for safety and security. If the child is the problem, rather than her parent, she can ‘do better’, be more’, ‘be perfect’ and a whole host of other debilitating expectations that become internalised, that may mean she can then be loved.
Clients often say to us ‘I am 20, 30, 40, 50… years old now and should have grown out of these beliefs’, after all they have long left home and or their parents may even no longer be alive. However, our emotional system and unconscious mind does not operate in this way and we remain profoundly loyal to our internalised parents (the felt experience of our parents that we carry with us – irrespective of our age). That is, until we start to process the feelings, experiences and traumas that left us with such a low opinion of ourselves, or low self-esteem.
How we can help
Low self-esteem can feel debilitating and can hold us back not only from achieving in our lives but also from even feeling entitled to be content, happy or have healthy meaningful relationships. It is in essence a strongly rooted faulty belief system born out of long-term reinforcement of negative beliefs or trauma.
Our psychotherapists will work with you to uncover the root cause of your low self-esteem and to process the emotions relating to this, in order to start to weaken the roots of your faulty belief system and build up healthy self-esteem.
To find out more about getting help with low self esteem contact Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy today.