Self-esteem describes a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. As human beings, we are meaning-makers. Terms like “self-worth”, “self-image”, and “self-esteem” are used to describe the way we might make meaningful the relationship we have with ourselves.
I often encounter people who feel that they don’t measure up or generally have a low or negative overall opinion of themselves. “I’m not tall enough, strong enough, smart, pretty, popular, rich, successful and/or skinny enough…” For some, it can be a lonely and debilitating song, ultimately becoming an obstacle to experiencing other life-expanding feelings such as joy and contentment.
Everyone lacks confidence occasionally, but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time. This in itself is not surprising to me. We live in a world saturated by symbols, messages, and language. Our culture, the media and society inform how we consume, experience, and construct our past narratives and future lives.
Within this relational context, I sometimes collaborate with clients to bring into focus the very stories about themselves that reinforce these feelings of low self-worth—gently untangling the code, meaning and myths to bring lightness to the true nature of their feelings.
This narrative approach focuses on the client as separate from the problem. You are not the problem; the problem is the problem!
Externalising the problem in this way often creates space for people to imagine themselves in new and powerful ways. It also gives voice to the many stories within. The therapist and the client get to explore and reconsider these tales from a different point of view.
As people, we are not only in relationships with each other but also in relationships with situations or “problems”. If we can change our relationship to the problem, the problem will shift and change.
Many people experience low self-esteem; for some, it’s harder to work through and re-frame. Working collaboratively with your therapist does facilitate meaningful change. Also, keeping in mind some of the following points will assist in building a more balanced and healthy sense of self:
Stop comparing yourself to others – a good friend once told me, “It would be a pretty boring world if we were all the same”.
Accent the positive – if someone compliments you – take it! You’re worth it, and you deserve to have your uniqueness acknowledged.
Let it go – concentrate on living in the here-and-now rather than the there-and-then. Reliving old hurts and disappointments reinforces that sense of feeling stuck.
Get active – it does make a huge difference. Start small and build up to regular activity.
Practice, repeat, reflect – replacing unhelpful thoughts and behaviour takes effort and vigilance. Give yourself time to establish new habits.
Working with clients as they build resilience and self-compassion is rewarding and meaningful. I feel gratitude for the many narratives people bring to therapy, and I recognise a healthy symbiosis in our relationship. As I witness their change, I, too, change, develop and grow. As they look at themselves, I, too, look at myself and wonder if this or that is genuinely working for me… or can it, should it be different?
We all have work to do when it comes to self-esteem. For many people, it’s a daily practice and something worthy of attention and care. Please let me know if the above words resonate with you in light of your situation.