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What is Low Self-esteem?

A woman hates to stand in line in the grocery store because she's afraid that everyone is watching her. She knows that it's not really true, but she can't shake the feeling. Now, she has to talk to the person who's checking out her groceries. She tries to smile, but her voice comes out weakly. She's sure she's making a fool of herself. Her self-consciousness and anxiety rise to the roof......

Another person sits in front of the telephone and agonises because she's afraid to pick up the receiver and make a call. She's even afraid to call an unknown person in a business office about the electric bill because she's afraid she'll be "putting someone out" or she will be calling at the wrong time, and they will be upset with her. It's very hard for her to take rejection, even over the phone, even from someone she doesn't know. She feels rejected even before she makes the call. Once the call is made and over, she sits, analyses, and ruminates about what was said, what tone it was said in, and how she was perceived by the other person....her anxiety and racing thoughts concerning the call prove to her that she "messed" this conversation up, too, just like she always does. Sometimes she gets embarrassed just thinking about the call.

A man finds it difficult to walk down the street because he's self-conscious and feels that people are watching him from their windows. Worse, he may run into a person on the sidewalk and be forced to say hello to them. He's not sure he can do that. His voice will catch, his "hello" will sound weak, and the other person will know he's frightened. More than anything else, he doesn't want anyone to know that he's afraid. He keeps his eyes safely away from anyone else's gaze and prays he can make it home without having to talk to anyone.

A man hates to go to work because a meeting is scheduled the next day. He knows that these meetings always involve co-workers talking with each other about their current projects. Just the thought of speaking in front of co-workers raises his anxiety. Sometimes he can't sleep the night before because of the anticipatory anxiety that builds up. he thinks about it, ruminates over it, worry’s about it, over exaggerates it in his mind.......again and again and again..... Finally, the meeting is over. A big wave of relief spills over him as he begins to relax. But the memory of the meeting is still uppermost in his mind. He is convinced he made a fool of himself and that everyone in the room saw how afraid he was when he spoke, and how stupid he acted in their presence.

Another young man wants to go to parties and other social events, indeed, he is very, very lonely, but he never goes anywhere because he's very nervous about meeting new people. Too many people will be there and crowds only make things worse for him. The thought of meeting new people scares him, will he know what to say? Will they stare at him and make him feel even more insignificant? Will they reject him outright? Even if they seem nice, they're sure to notice his frozen look and his inability to fully smile. They'll sense his discomfort and tenseness and they won't like him --- there's just no way to win --- "I'm always going to be an outcast," he predicts. And he spends the night alone, at home, watching television again. He feels comfortable at home. In fact, home is the only place he does feel completely comfortable. He hasn't gone anywhere else in ages.

In public places, such as work, meetings, or shopping, people with low self-esteem, often known as social anxiety, feel that everyone is watching, staring, and judging them (even though rationally they know this isn't true). The socially anxious person can't relax, "take it easy", and enjoy themselves in public. In fact, they can never fully relax when other people are around. It always feels like others are evaluating them, being critical of them, or "judging" them in some way. The person with social anxiety knows that people don't do this openly, of course, but they still feel the self-consciousness and judgment while they are in the other person's presence. It's sometimes impossible to let go, relax, and focus on anything else except the anxiety and fear. Because the anxiety is so very painful, it's much easier just to stay away from social situations and avoid other people altogether.

There are two basic low self esteem responses, some people stay in one of these two positions, others vacillate between the two:

1. Feeling down on yourself

feeling overwhelmed by the pace of life

feeling like a failure relative to everyone else

constantly doubting whether you can achieve anything

staying where it's safe, being afraid to try anything too new

behaving timidly and cannot assert yourself

overly depending on others to look after you

finding ways of escaping unpleasant realities

putting little effort into things because you doubt you can be successful

putting yourself down constantly

2. Feeling angry and getting even

losing your temper at the drop of a hat

being quick to pick a fight

blaming others or circumstances for every setback

constantly finding fault with the world

negative - nothing is good, everything is horrible

taking pleasure in stories about the troubles of others

taking things out on others                                                                                         

constantly arguing about petty issues

How to Treat Low Self-esteem

Self Treatment

How you feel about yourself depends on who you compare yourself with. We make the mistake of comparing how we feel with how others behave. Inevitably, most others will behave more happily than we feel, so we conclude that no one else could feel as bad as we do. This creates a vicious circle and our self esteem then drops even lower.

Healthy self esteem means thinking as highly of yourself as you think of your peers          

Excessive self esteem = grandiosity, like too much organization = obsessiveness.

High self esteem is compatible with humility   

Humility is not the same as self effacement          

The right balance should place you mid way between grandiosity and self effacement

Talking to yourself

What names do you call yourself?

When you make a mistake, do you say...

What an idiot! How can you be so stupid!                                                                         

Can't you get anything right! What a loser!                                                                        

There you go again! You're not really up to it, are you?!!

Who else has talked to you this way in the past?

Why are you still listening to them?

You can't change your past, but you can change the way you talk to yourself today.

Start by making a LONG list of all the good things you have ever done

Catch yourself saying nasty things to yourself

Exclaim: Stop it!!

Say the opposite to yourself, that you have achieved a lot of good things

Recite your list of achievements to yourself

Regularly review your list of Should's and tell yourself it is OK to be less than perfect

Convince yourself to be proud of what you have done and of what you are working on

Your Strengths

Why do you think you have so few strengths worth celebrating?

Because everyone has always pointed out your shortcomings - as you do yourself.        

Because you rarely get any positive feedback for a job well done

Because the things you do well are so familiar to you that you take them for granted

Because you have learned to focus only on your mistakes

Audit your strengths

This is not as easy as it seems because you will have discounted your strengths                    

Find a good listener to help you review everything you have done                                   

Anyone who hasn't done what you've done will be more objective about what you can do

Discuss every work and non-work project you have been involved in over the last 5 years

Strive to avoid discounting the other person's attempts to name your strengths

Celebrate your strengths

Make a list of your strengths and read it to yourself regularly, adding to it as you go

Praise yourself for what you have achieved

Compare yourself favourably with peers who have not done what you have done

Review your strengths whenever you are feeling particularly defeated

Self-esteem Affirmations

The following affirmations by Virginia Satir are helpful to copy and hang on a wall where you will constantly see them, and repeat them to yourself.

  1. I do not have to feel guilty just because someone else does not like what I do, say, think, or feel.
  2. It is O. K. for me to feel angry and to express it in responsible ways.
  3. I do not have to assume full responsibility for making decisions, particularly where others share responsibility for making the decision.
  4. I have the right to say, "I don't know."
  5. I have the right to say "No," without feeling guilty.                                                              
  6. I have the right to say "I don't understand," without feeling stupid.                                      
  7. I do not have to apologise or give reasons when I say "No."                                              
  8. I have the right to ask others to do things for me.                                                                
  9. I have the right to refuse requests which others make of me.                                             
  10. I have the right to tell others when I think they are manipulating, conning or treating me unfairly.           
  11. I have the right to refuse additional responsibilities without feeling guilty.                           
  12. I have the right to tell others when their behaviour annoys me.                                            
  13. I do not have to compromise my personal integrity.                                                          
  14. I have the right to make mistakes and to be responsible for them; I have the right to be wrong.                         
  15. I do not have to be liked, admired, or respected by everyone for everything I do.

Letting Go of Perfectionism

Perfectionism has two aspects. First, you have a tendency to have expectations about yourself, others, and life that are unrealistically high. When anything falls short, you become disappointed and/or critical.

Secondly, you tend to be over concerned with small flaws and mistakes in yourself or your accomplishments. In focusing on what's wrong, you tend to discount and ignore what's right.

Perfectionism is a common cause of low self-esteem. It is critical of every effort and convinces you that nothing is ever good enough. It can also cause you to drive yourself to the point of chronic stress, exhaustion, and burnout. Every time perfectionism counsels you that you "should," "have to," or "must," you tend to push yourself forward because you feel anxiety, rather than from natural desire and inclination. The more perfectionistic you are, the more often you're likely to feel anxious.

Overcoming perfectionism requires a fundamental shift in your attitude toward yourself and how you approach life in general. The following seven guidelines are intended as a starting point for making such a shift.

Occasionally, almost everyone will experience a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem. Some people experience this much of the time. It's important to understand the reasons for your insecurity and to know some easy techniques to increase your confidence and to make you feel better.


Assertiveness training is one of the very effective ways to deal with those situations, both in and out of work, where you feel you lack confidence. It is a way of un-hooking yourself from the learned behaviours of the past, and re-programming yourself to be more assertive.

To read about Self -esteem and self confidence along with helpful ways to deal with those problems, please click the link below:

Low Self -esteem and Low Self Confidence

To read about Assertiveness including Assertiveness training and techniques, please click the link below:


One of the worst circumstances, though, is meeting people who are "authority figures". Especially people such as bosses and supervisors at work, but including almost anyone who is seen as being "better" than they are in some respect. People with low self-esteem may get a lump in their throat and their facial muscles may freeze up when they meet this person. The anxiety level is very high and they're so focused on "not failing" and "giving themselves away" that they don't even remember what was said in the conversation. But later on, they're sure they must have said the wrong thing.....because they think they always do.

How is it ever possible to feel "comfortable" or "natural" under these circumstances?

Pointers to Low Self-esteem

To maintain healthy self esteem:

Forgive yourself for your mistakes

Celebrate your strengths and achievements

We are so used to negative feedback that we are more aware of our weaknesses

Set achievable targets and get regular feedback

Change the way you talk to yourself - stop putting yourself down

Be sure that you are not judging yourself against unreasonable standards

Beating yourself for your weaknesses is self defeating

Whose standards?

Some questions to ponder:

What are you really trying to achieve?

Why is it so important?

What about your other values? Are you in a rut or a tunnel?

Who are you trying to prove yourself to: your boss, father, mother, spouse?

“Beware the Tyranny of The Should's”

I should...

...be earning much more money

...be the best provider for my family in the world

...be at the very top of my profession

...get all my work done on time always

...never make any mistakes...ever

...always make the right decisions

...always know exactly what to do

...always feel enthusiastic and energetic

...always win all my arguments with everyone

...always be on top of everything

You no doubt have other Should's to beat yourself with -

But who says you have to be perfect? Or inhumanly invulnerable?

Can you live up to your Should's AND maintain perspective?

Having excessively high standards is a no-win situation with you as the number one loser

Unachievable standards = low self esteem = pushing yourself even harder

Exerting even more effort and still failing = even lower self esteem

Hence you are caught in a self-defeating vicious circle

Let Go of the Idea That Your Worth Is Determined by Your Achievements and Accomplishments

Outer accomplishment may be how society measures a person's "worth" or social status. Work on reinforcing the idea that your worth is a given. People ascribe inherent worth to pets for instance, just by virtue of their existence. You as a human being have the same inherent worth just because you're here. Be willing to recognise and affirm that you're lovable and acceptable as you are, apart from your outer accomplishments.

When self-reflective people are near death, there are usually only two things that seem to have been important to them about their lives; learning how to love others and growing in wisdom. If you need to measure yourself against any standard, try these rather than society's definitions of value.

Stop Magnifying the Importance of Small Errors

One of the most problematic aspects of perfectionism is its directive to focus on small flaws or errors. Perfectionists are prone to come down very hard on themselves for a single, minute mistake that has few or no immediate consequences, let alone any long term effects. When you really think about it, how important is a mistake you make today going to be one month from now? Or one year from now? In 99.9 percent of cases, the mistake will be forgotten within a short period of time. There is no real learning without mistakes or setbacks. No great success was ever attained without many failures and mistakes along the way.

Focus on Positives

In dwelling on small errors or mistakes, perfectionists tend to discount their positive accomplishments. They selectively ignore anything positive they’ve done. A way to counter this tendency is to take inventory near the end of each day of positive things you've accomplished. Think about what ways, small or large, you've been helpful or pleasant to people during the day. Think of any small steps you've taken toward achieving your goals. What other things got done? What insights did you have?

Pay attention to whether you disqualify something positive with a "but”. For example, "I had a good practice session, but I became anxious near the end." Learn to leave off the "but" in the assessments of your attitudes and behaviour.

Work on Goals That Are Realistic

Are your goals realistically attainable, or have you set them too high? Would you expect of anyone else the goals you set for yourself? Sometimes it's difficult to recognise the overly lofty nature of certain goals. It can be helpful to do a "reality check" with a friend or counsellor to determine whether any given goal is realistically attainable or even reasonable to strive for. Are you expecting too much of yourself and the world? You may need to adjust some of your goals a bit in line with the limiting factors of time, energy, and resources. If your determination of self-worth truly comes from within, rather than from what you achieve, you will be able to do this. Acceptance of personal limitations is the ultimate act of self-love.

Cultivate More Pleasure and Recreation in Your Life

Perfectionism has a tendency to make people rigid and self-denying. Your own human needs get sacrificed in favour of the pursuit of external goals. Ultimately this tendency can lead to a stifling of vitality and creativity. Pleasure, finding the enjoyment in life, reverses this trend.

The Sioux Indians have a wise saying: "The first thing people say after their death is, “Why was I so serious?” Are you taking yourself too seriously and not allowing yourself time for fun, recreation, play, and rest? How can you make more time for leisure and pleasure? You can change by taking time every day to do at least one thing you enjoy.

Develop a Process Orientation

If you engage in sports, do you play to win or just to enjoy the activity of playing? In your life in general, are you "playing to win," chanelling your energies into excelling at all costs, or are you enjoying the process of living day by day as you go along? Most people find, especially as they get older, that to get the most enjoyment out of life, it works best to place value on the process of doing things, not just on the product or accomplishment. Popular expressions of this idea include "The journey is more important than the destination" and "Stop and smell the roses."

The Excessive Need for Approval

All human beings need approval. Yet for many people struggling with low self-esteem, the need for approval can be excessive. Being overly concerned with approval often arises from an inner sense of being flawed or unworthy. This leads to the mistaken belief that you are unacceptable just the way you are ("If people really saw who I am, they wouldn't accept me"). Individuals with an excessive need for approval are always looking for validation from other people.

In trying to be generally pleasing, they may conform so well to others' expectations that they often ignore their own needs and feelings. Frequently they have a difficult time setting boundaries or saying no.

The long-term consequence of always accommodating and pleasing others at the expense yourself is that you end up with a lot of withheld frustration and resentment over not having taken care of your own basic needs. Withheld frustration and resentment form the unconscious foundation for a lot of chronic anxiety and tension.

There are many ways to get over being excessively needy for approval. The following guide lines can help you start:

Develop a Realistic View of Other People's Approval

When people don't express approval toward you, or even act rude or critically, how do you receive it? Do you tend to take it personally, to see it as further evidence of your own ineptness or lack of worth? Below are some common attitudes characteristic of people who place excessive emphasis on always being liked. These might be called "people-pleasing" attitudes. Following each is an alternative view which represents, in most cases, a more realistic outlook.

Common Attitude: "If someone isn't friendly to me, it's because I did something wrong."

Alternative View: "People may be unable to express warmth or acceptance toward me for reasons having nothing to do with me. For example, their own problems, frustrations, or fatigue may get in the way of their being friendly and accepting."

Common Attitude: "Others' criticism only serves to underscore the fact that I really am unworthy."

Alternative View: "People who find fault with me may be projecting their own faults, which they can't admit to having, onto me. It's a human tendency to project unconscious flaws onto others."

Common Attitude: "I think I'm a nice person. Shouldn't everyone like me?"

Alternative View: "There will always be some people who just won't like me, no matter what I do. The process by which people are attracted to or repelled by others is often irrational."

Common Attitude: "Others' approval and acceptance of me is very important."

Alternative View: "It's not necessary to receive the approval of everyone I meet in order to live a happy and meaningful life, especially if I believe in and respect myself."

The next time you feel put off or rejected, take a moment to calm down and think about whether the person acting negatively is reacting to something you did, or might simply be upset about something that has little or nothing to do with you. Ask yourself whether you might be taking the other person's inconsiderate remarks or behaviour too personally.

Deal with Criticism in an Objective Fashion

An excessive need for approval is often accompanied by an inability to handle criticism. You can learn to change your attitude toward criticism, ignoring those critical remarks that are unfounded and accepting constructive criticism as a positive learning experience.

The following three guidelines may be helpful:

Evaluate the source of the criticism. If you find yourself criticised, it's important to ask who is making the criticism. Is this person qualified to criticise you? Does he or she know enough about you, your skills, or the subject involved to make a reasonable assessment? Does this person have a bias that would make it impossible for him or her to be objective? (The more emotionally charged the relationship, the more likely this is to be true.) Is this person speaking emotionally or rationally? You can often soothe the sting of criticism by exploring the answers to these questions.

Ask for details. This is especially important if you receive a blanket criticism, such as, "That was a lousy job" or "I don't think you know what you're doing." Don't accept a global judgment. Ask the person offering the criticism to indicate specific behaviours or issues that seem to fall short. Ask that person's point of view about what actions you can take to improve your performance or correct the situation.

Decide whether the criticism has some validity. You've evaluated the source of criticism and also, in the case of a global criticism, asked for details. The next question to ask is whether the criticism has some merit. Usually when a criticism has some truth to it, it has a little more sting, you may feel somewhat pained or disturbed by it. If a criticism has no validity, you're likely to have little emotional reaction to it at all; you may dismiss it as irrelevant, absurd, or uninformed.

The best way to handle criticism that rings true is to view it as important feedback that can help you learn something about yourself. Also be sure to remind yourself that the criticism is, or should be, directed toward only one aspect of your behaviour, not to you as a total person. Here are some good affirmations to help cultivate a positive response:

This criticism is a good opportunity to learn something.

This criticism concerns only a few of my actions, not my entire being.

Although this criticism feels uncomfortable, it doesn't mean that I'm totally rejected or disapproved of.

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Treatment of low self-esteem by Counsellors

Treatment of low self-esteem through Cognitive-Behavioral, EMDR, Energy psychotherapies and  NLP methods has the capacity to produce long-lasting, permanent relief from the anxiety-laden world of low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem responds to relatively short-term therapy, depending on the severity of the condition. I have seen significant progress in just ten individual sessions. What socially anxious people do not need is years and years of therapy or counselling.

There Is a Better Life for All People with Low Self-esteem.

Without treatment, low self-esteem is a torturous and horrible emotional problem; with treatment, its bark is worse than its bite. Add to this that current research is clear that cognitive-behavioural and other therapy is highly successful in the treatment of low self-esteem and social anxiety. In fact, the people who are unsuccessful are the ones who are not persistent in their practice and who won't stick with simple methods and techniques at home. They are the ones who give up. If a person is motivated to end the years and years of crippling anxiety, then counselling treatments provide the methods, techniques, and strategies that come together to lessen the anxiety and make the world a much more enjoyable place.

Many people have been through the crippling fears and constant anxiety that low self-esteem produces, and have come out healthier and happier on the other side. You can too.

Treatment of Low Self-esteem by Medication

For social anxieties or phobias, medications can help to reduce the tensions associated with entering the fearful situation, to bring a racing heart and sweaty palms under control, and to reduce some shyness.

Doctors use several classes of medications that are beneficial, individually or in combination. The drugs with the longest history of use with social phobias are the beta adrenergic blocking agents, also known as beta blockers. The most commonly used are propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin). The patient can take propranolol as needed or in dosages of 10 to 20 mg three to four times a day, or atenolol in dosages of 25 to 100 mg once daily. Surprisingly, controlled research studies have not supported the widespread anecdotal reports of success with beta blockers. It's possible that their best use is for occasional mild social anxieties.

The high potency benzodiazepines clonazepam (1-4 mg per day) and alprazolam (1.5 to 6 mg per day) may also be effective. A combination of a beta blocker and low dosages of clonazepam or alprazolam could be best for some individuals.

Current research suggests that the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), especially phenelzine, are most highly effective medications for treating social phobias. In studies, about 70% of subjects improve significantly within four weeks. Occasionally, however, a social phobic can experience an exaggerated response to an MAOI and become too talkative, outgoing or socially uninhibited. In that case the prescribing physician will lower the medication dosage or stop it altogether.

One approach to drug treatment that experts recommend for social fears is to begin by taking a medication only as needed. If patients are anxious only about specific events and if they experience primarily physical symptoms (sweating, racing heart, etc.), then about one hour before the event, they can take propranolol or atenolol. Propranolol seems to work better for occasional problems, while atenolol may work better for continued problems. If their symptoms are more cognitive (they worry about their performance or the judgment of others), then they can take alprazolam one hour before the event. If they have a mix of these symptoms then a combination of these medications may be more helpful. Benefits of these drugs should last about four hours.

If the social anxiety is more general, unpredictable and widespread, then patients may need to take one of these medications on a daily basis. If it is not helpful within two to three weeks, they can taper off the drug and switch to an MAOI such as phenelzine, at 45-90 mg per day. Keep in mind that an MAOI can take from four to six weeks to work.

A number of medications are currently under investigation and may prove to also be helpful. These include fluoxetine (Prozac) and other serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

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