Katy nearly drags her husband, Jackson, to the therapist, though he readily admits that he has problems and frequently puts himself down. Married two years and with a baby on the way, the couple argue. At times, it gets nasty as Katy has a harsh tongue. She gets angry that Jackson won’t talk more and won’t open up to her. Jackson, a handsome young man with broad shoulders and a quick smile, doesn’t understand her way of communicating and feels devastated when she raises her voice.

When he quite openly tells the therapist how he feels about himself, she leans forward with a concerned look and nods. “Jackson, I think you have low self-esteem.” Jackson stares at her and then begins to cry. “It’s okay, Jackson, you didn’t cause this. It’s not your fault that you have it, and best of all, you can recover from it,” she says.

Wiping at his tears, Jackson rises from the couch. “I just have to leave now. I’ll be back,” he says, closing the door behind him.

A few minutes later, Jackson returns. He apologizes, and the therapist asks him if he is all right. He nods and says, “Low self-esteem. I just never considered it. It’s so embarrassing.”

Many obstacles stand in the way of peacefulness in our lives: stress at work, family issues, health problems, financial burdens, and relationship demands. The list seems never ending. How can we cope with these weighty concerns when we wake up each morning, let alone strive for contentment and a sense of well-being? The answer comes in being at peace with ourselves, something that can only be achieved if we feel good about who we are. The answer comes in believing that we are significant, of value, adequate to the challenges that face us, and worthy of choosing what’s right for ourselves. The answer comes in possessing healthy self-esteem.

Low self-esteem (LSE), which affects millions of people, is a serious problem that destroys lives and relationships by sentencing those who suffer from it to years of entrapment from fear and anxiety, self-recrimination and misery, emotional turmoil, including depression, devastation, and despair, and endless periods of loneliness.

Men and women suffer from low self-esteem in equal numbers, and people of all ages and economic levels suffer from it. Yet, society and even the mental health community are oblivious to its severity and are often ignorant about what can be done to alleviate it.

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of low self-esteem.

* Feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or incompetence.
* Fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, and an unwillingness to try new things.
* Reluctance to share opinions, ideas, perceptions, or feelings.
* Fear of failure, rejection, criticism, or abandonment.
* Self-doubt about our abilities, worthiness, or lovability.
* Feelings of not fitting in, of being innately flawed.
* Inability to know who and when to trust.
* Frequent episodes of “self-esteem attacks” and depression.
* Underachieving or overachieving.
* Poor boundaries; controlling behavior, people-pleasing.

Once we become aware that we have low self-esteem, there is work to do because we can’t recover from LSE without concerted effort over a period of time. There is no quick fix because once we’ve been conditioned to view ourselves in a particularly negative way, this thinking is difficult to alter and permeates everything we choose to do or not do.

Many people think that a person can easily overcome low self-esteem if he wants to, but this is a sadly ridiculous notion because no one would continue to suffer from LSE if he could merely flip a switch and turn it off. Nearly as ludicrous is the idea that people can overcome their low self-esteem if they practice reading affirmations. Such ideas do more harm than good for those with low self-esteem.
The first step in recovering is to recognize that low self-esteem develops in childhood as the result of negative experiences. Through these experiences the child develops a very negative view of himself. This might be due to excessive criticism, verbal or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, lack of support or affirmation, or negative feedback. In other words, people don’t cause their own low self-esteem. However, once recognized, it then becomes the responsibility of the LSE sufferer to make a decision to recover from it. Otherwise, it will affect everything he does or says or avoids doing or saying for the remainder of his life.

The second step in recovering from LSE is to develop awareness, a skill that is necessary for making any constructive change. The LSE sufferer must become aware of the negative view he has of himself and recognize the numerous ways in which he tells himself stories about the behavior of others, stories that are made up and that distort the truth due to his insecurity. For example, a woman tells herself that her husband doesn’t come straight home from work because he doesn’t love her. A man who sees his wife losing weight and buying new clothes tells himself that she must be interested in someone else. Unless circumstances support these theories, they are just stories—they have no basis in fact, truth, or history—and do not represent reality.

Once a person recognizes how frequently he tells himself these inaccurate tales, he can then begin to evaluate these statements one at a time, asking himself if each one is based on fact, truth, or history. At first, this is very difficult to determine because the habit of distorting the truth due to self-doubt and insecurity is a pattern that accompanies low self-esteem. In time, however—and with help, if necessary—the LSE sufferer will eventually begin to see the extent to which he distorts the truth and thereby comes to inaccurate conclusions.

Developing this awareness is a critical step in understanding the self-defeating ways in which LSE sufferers regularly think and act because once we become aware, we can change the behavior, and because our feelings are the result of this distorted thinking, converting our inaccurate stories into truth will become the basis for altering the vicious cycle of emotional turmoil in LSE sufferers.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways.html

Author's Bio: 

A licensed psychologist in Portland, Oregon, Marilyn J. Sorensen, PhD, has developed a program for recovery from low self-esteem and works with individuals, couples, and families in her Portland office and with people nationally and internationally by phone. Dr. Sorensen is also the author of five books on self-esteem, including the popular Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem, and she is the founder and director of The Self-Esteem Institute. Take the interactive and free Self-Esteem Questionnaire at her Web site to assess your own self-esteem: visit http://www.TheSelfEsteemInstitute.com or http://www.GetEsteem.com. She answers one question per person if e-mailed at mjsorensen@GetEsteem.com.