What is Low Self-esteem?
Low self-esteem is a person’s belief that they are not good enough; not attractive; not worthy of attention; not lovable; not good at their job or that they are ‘damaged goods’.
It is a destructive feeling that may have come from a long time in the past, maybe childhood or more recently, and it is hard to get rid of.
No matter how positively someone with low self-esteem tries to think, their feelings tell them they are inadequate.
Where does low self-esteem come from?
Low self-esteem develops mainly in childhood, but can develop throughout life – here are some examples:
Comparison with siblings – a child with low academic success may compare themselves unfavourably with siblings who have high academic achievements. This feeling of inadequacy can continue into adult life and, however successful they may be in their own sphere of work, they will always consider themselves to be a fraud or a fake.
Parental abandonment – a child feeling abandoned by parents due to them leaving home, or detaching emotionally, can leave them as an adult feeling not good enough and unlovable. This can produce relationship problems in adult life.
Abuse – physical, mental, sexual abuse can leave a child or adolescent feeling as though they are ‘damaged goods’ and not worthy of a happy life. They become used to feeling helpless or powerless.
Bullying – shyness or physical differences can lead to a child (or adult) being bullied. In adult life, this also can lead to feelings of inadequacy, despite any successes they may have.
Relationship breakdown – being left by a partner as an adult can lead to feelings of uselessness or feeling like a loser and can lead to ‘needy’ behaviour in subsequent relationships.
How does Low Self-esteem develop?
Low self-esteem comes from Emotional Conditioning, which is a learning process. When two things take place at the same time, they automatically become associated in our minds. This association means that we react emotionally and not logically, and we react quickly so we don’t gather all the relevant information before we make a judgement or decision.
Some emotionally conditioned responses are positive and pleasant. For example, we may associate Christmas music on the radio with happy family gatherings; or the smell of baking with memories of Grandparents’ house or the sound of a bell with the end of school and that feeling of freedom. We get a good feeling before our brain has recognised the trigger stimulus and made an association with a positive emotion.
On the other hand, emotionally conditioned responses to unpleasant actions or feelings will become associated with the fear response. This comes from a primitive emotional part of the brain which is responsible for our survival – hence it is very powerful. When a stimulus causes a fear response, we automatically go into fight or flight mode. The heart rate increases, we sweat, we breath quickly, perhaps our stomach churns and our body is prepared to fight or run away. Over time, an association is made between the stimulus and the fear response, and this becomes an emotionally conditioned response. This becomes a means of defence from the external stimulus and an aid to survival, with emotion overpowering logic. With repetition, feelings become hard-wired into the brain, and we can carry them, along with associated negative beliefs, throughout life.
Overcoming Low Self-Esteem
Often people with low self-esteem feel more comfortable with people who treat them badly, because they share the same belief – they reinforce the idea that the person is not worthy of being treated well. Someone helpfully telling them that they are attractive, intelligent, worthy may not be trusted as they obviously do not understand them at all. The problem does not lie with their logic – but only their own negative self-belief feels real and authentic to them. Healing therefore involves working with the underlying feelings and breaking the emotional conditioning.
Low Self-esteem will always be worse in times of stress and anxiety – when the primitive emotional brain is on particularly high alert. We refer to this as having a ‘full stress bucket’. Relaxation helps to reduce anxiety and empty the stress bucket. With general Solution Focused Hypnotherapy sessions, change happens such that the client’s self-esteem and confidence can be encouraged to grow as stress and anxiety reduces and the logical mind comes to the fore.
We have techniques in Hypnotherapy that can help to remove the associations between the past events that triggered the original emotional conditioned response. Interestingly, the mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is imaginary. We can use this to our advantage when planning a different way of behaving in the future.
The technique of ‘Rewind’ is a process whereby the hypnotherapist, using trance, takes the client to a place of safety and calm, where they re-run the trigger event(s) over and over until the brain becomes bored of the story such that the emotional response is extinguished. This technique can help with de-conditioning individual memories and past traumas.
The ‘Reframe’ technique can be used to replace that old trigger memory with new patterns, indicating how the client would like things to be in the future. The client can imagine dealing with a work colleague in an assertive manner; driving confidently on the motorway; giving a presentation without stammering; presenting themselves well at interview or perhaps standing up to a difficult family member. The brain takes on board these new associations and the feelings of self-doubt and fear diminish, and self-esteem improves.