In Therapy: Working through low self-esteem issues (part 2)

In Therapy- Working Through...

Welcome to part 2 of the Self-Esteem series-in-a-series!

This week I want to briefly touch on some of the causes and consequences of self-esteem. More information can be found by visiting this NHS link as well as The Self-Esteem Institute website.

1.pngSome of the causes of low self-esteem might be internal to the child or individual, such as thoughts and beliefs they might have of themselves. Others might be related to their family or social environment and other life circumstances.

  • Internal thoughts and beliefs
    • Feeling like their feelings or thoughts don’t matter and aren’t valuable

    • Feeling like others don’t value their feelings or thoughts

    • Negative self-messages like “you’re not good enough”

    • Unrealistic expectations the child puts on him/herself

  • Family environment
    • Parents might be distracted by other things going on in their lives, inadvertently neglecting their child’s needs. This could be due to a parent’s preoccupation with their career, with relationship issues, mental health or substance misuse issues.

    • Unrealistic expectations are put on the child

  • Social environment
    • Being bullied at school

    • Being disrespected by their peers

    • Feeling pressured to do things that they don’t really want to do

    • School stress and anxiety

  • Life circumstances
    • Bereavement

    • Illness – their own or a loved one’s

    • Disability

    • Learning difficulties like dyslexia

    • Suffering trauma or abuse and the shame and guilt that comes with it

  • Struggling with daily life-Need someone to talk to-I can help you.Click here to find out more. (1)A child’s personality might also influence their self-esteem as they might be more prone to
    • negative thinking

    • setting unrealistic goals and expectations

    • having a negative body image


There are cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences of having low self-esteem.

Cognitive consequences might include

  • a feeling of being unlovable, unworthy of anything positive or good in life. The person might feel incompetent and inadequate.

  • The child might be unable to know whether they can trust themselves or others’ thoughts and actions.

  • They might have internal dialogues that are mainly made up of negative statements, as well as thinking that everyone is looking and talking about them in a negative way.

  • Their confidence might be very low and be very critical of themselves.

  • They might develop unreasonable expectations of themselves that will lead them to the vicious cycle of being critical and putting themselves down.

  • They might also develop obsessive-compulsive and/or addictive behaviours to numb down their feelings of inadequacy and to try and control negative thoughts.

Emotional consequences might include

  • Feeling discouraged and fearful of making mistakes.

  • Feeling anxious in social situations or when performing tasks.

  • Feeling fearful of rejection and of making mistakes.

  • Shutting down their emotions altogether, and having “self-esteem” attacks.

Lastly, low self-esteem might show up as behavioural issues such as

  • Defensiveness or aggressiveness

  • Eating disorders

  • Hypervigilance

  • Perfectionism

  • Being a harsh judge of him/herself

  • Self-sabotaging

  • Not being him/herself – putting on a persona or a mask to hide away their feeling of inadequacy and unworthiness.

All of the above can be worked through, and with the right interventions, the child or adult with low self-esteem will learn to be more assertive with themselves and others, and have a more positive outlook on life and on their abilities. This will be the topic of next week’s blog post: how therapy can help and how different modalities might help someone work through their self-esteem issues.

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For now, I leave you with a few more tips on how to help your child overcome their low self-esteem.

  • Accept the things you can’t change, and play to your strengths!

    • Model this for your child.

    • Sometimes we might want to do something that is outside of our range – for example, I would love to be able to play tennis professionally, but after attempting it a few times, I know that’s an unrealistic expectation of myself. I look like I’m hitting piñata and it is a bit embarrassing to say the least! I am happy to no be a professional tennis player though, and will find something else I am good at – professional bowling was something I did in the past, and would love to do that again. I enjoyed it and was really good at it!

  • Focus on the positives

    • As in my example above, focusing on what I can do – play bowling well – helps me build a positive self-image of myself and not put myself down for being awful at Tennis! I am allowed to be awful at some things and that is absolutely fine by me!

  • Help your child function in the real world

    • Teach your child that their actions have consequences, whether positive or negative.

      • They have a responsibility for their actions, whether good or bad ones.
    • Allow space for your child to think about their actions, and maybe even model your thinking about a decision or choice you made recently and how that affected you and others around you.

  • Challenge negative thoughts and behaviours

    • Your child might be telling you how they feel about themselves either verbally or through things they are doing.

    • Talking to your child about what you are seeing, in a caring and empathetic manner, will help them think differently about their negative views of themselves and slowly begin to see that if you don’t believe that about them, it might not actually be true.

    • Help your child change their behaviours by pointing out alternatives, for example, when learning to ride a bike, your child might have an unrealistic expectation that they will master this skill on the first try. They will most likely fall without training wheels or help, won’t they? You can tell your child about putting training wheels and asking for help to start with, like you did when you were a kid. Asking for help is a good thing! But they need to believe that it’s Ok to ask for help and not be perfect all the time. Small steps, more realistic expectations, will lead to success and increased self-esteem.

Until next week….

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