Self Esteem Enhancement

"You need to build up your self-esteem."

How often have you heard this? It sounds like self-esteem is a complicated, grandiose structure that you must create from the ground up. It sounds like a lot of work.

But maybe not. Most housecats seem to have perfectly good self-esteem, and they haven't read any books on the subject, they haven't done a lot of intense therapy, and they don't have a pile of possessions to point to as evidence of their worth. How do they do it?

What does a person with good self-esteem say to herself as she walks down the street? Maybe it's something like "I'm brilliant and I look great. Everyone around me is admiring me. And where I'm headed next they're going to love me too." You think?

Well, probably not. We've asked. They tend to be focused on the task at hand. "Let's see, I want to get to the bank before it closes." They're not building themselves up.

What about someone with low self-esteem? What do they think about? Well, we've asked them too. It tends to be something along the lines of "Boy, I really humiliated myself back there. All these people can probably tell what a loser I am. And where I'm headed next? They'll probably hate me too."

The negative script varies from person to person, but you get the point.

It's not the people with good self-esteem doing all the work. It's the people with low self-esteem.

So what? So self-esteem is not an enormous artificial structure you have to create for yourself. You don't have to achieve great things, win Nobel prizes, accumulate millions, or constantly tell yourself how great you are. In fact, you don't have to do much at all.

You just have to stop doing what you are doing already. If you could learn to stop tearing the structure of your self-esteem apart, you'd discover that your self-esteem was fine.

How do you enhance your self-esteem by working with a counselor?

First, we identify exactly when you experience low self-esteem. It's tempting to say "All the time!" But you don't experience it when you're asleep, and we can just about guarantee you don't feel it to the same degree every moment that you are awake. Certain situations make it worse. These are your triggers.

Then, working together, we try to identify the tools you use to tear down your existing self-esteem. What do you tell yourself? What makes you so bad, so inferior?

Then we examine the logic of these ideas using the principles of cognitive therapy. The intent is not to artificially build you up, but to develop a more fair and balanced perception of yourself. We identify more realistic things to tell yourself when the negative voice is ranting about your inadequacy.

In some cases we investigate the origins of the negative self-perception. This doesn't take it away, but it can help you to re-attribute it when it occurs. "I'm not really an idiot, but I think that way sometimes because Uncle Frank told me that so often when I was young and I didn't know any better so I believed him."

Usually low self-esteem causes people to avoid situations in which they feel inadequate. This works in the short term, but allowing your anxiety to control your behaviour makes the anxiety stronger. Ultimately the task may be to enter some situations in which you don't feel competent - and survive.

And you'll learn what you already know. You really are incompetent at some things. So is everyone. And it doesn't really matter all that much.