What is Low Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem can be described as the value or worth you place on yourself. This self-evaluation can include how you think about or see yourself as a person. When you perceive yourself negatively it can affect your self-esteem. Someone with low self-esteem can see themselves as ‘worthless’ or a ‘failure’ and get stuck in negative self-judgements such as ‘I am stupid’ or ‘I am a bad person’.
Early childhood experiences that form our sense of self-worth can become the lens through which we see ourselves in current life situations. If we believe that we are ‘worthless’ then we will tend to focus on situations or information that confirms this belief, and discount other information that might lead us to see ourselves differently.
How can CBT help?
‘Negative core beliefs’ about what kind of person you are often deep-rooted and strongly held within us. Early life experiences such as trauma, bullying, neglect, experiencing abuse, being held to a high standard, not fitting in, or believing we are not good enough can lead to a sense that there is something inherently bad or wrong with us. Getting stuck in cycles of harsh self-criticism and self-judgement can keep you feeling ashamed, guilty, depressed, or anxious.
In CBT psychotherapy we address the vicious cycle that maintains these negative self-beliefs, difficult emotions, and what we do to cope with these difficulties. For example, someone experiencing low self-esteem, will often develop ‘rules for living’ or ‘assumptions’ to compensate for deep-rooted negative core beliefs. These rules for living can involve ‘If…..then’ statements such as ‘if I act perfectly….then I will be good enough’ or ‘If I can please everyone all the time….then I must be a good person’.
CBT also challenges the lens of negative bias associated with low self-esteem by finding new more flexible ways to see a situation or relate to your own inner experience. This is instead of seeing things in an all or nothing way, or discounting the positive experiences in a situation, or always assuming we know exactly what someone else is thinking about us.
Compassion-Focused Therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy developed by Paul Gilbert to reduce self-criticism and alleviate distressing feelings of shame. By developing skills in compassion towards ourselves and others we can learn to acknowledge and ease suffering, and finds ways to experience safety, warmth, ease, and contentment. Cultivating a friendly relationship towards ourselves and our inner experience is a foundation of wellbeing and a happy, healthy life.
To experience suffering is part of our common humanity. Across our lifetimes we all experience problems such as loss, poor health, difficulties in relationships, uncertainty about the future and so forth. We also all have minds that tend to overthink. This ‘tricky brain’ our ours is a problem-solving machine which has evolved to focus on problems or threat to keep us safe from harm. As a result, we may find that we are constantly going over problems in our head, worrying about the future, reliving past scenarios, or the mind is busy making plans. This can be a source of stress and distress for many people.
Compassion-Focused Therapy is an amalgamation of several fields of thought such as social and evolutionary psychology, Buddhist philosophy, cognitive behavioural psychotherapy and neuroscience. It focuses on three emotional regulation systems, which have evolved to help us survive and thrive in our environments. These three systems include: threat (self-protection and survival), drive (motivation, achievement, and excitement) and soothing (contentment, warmth, feeling safe). Compassion-focused therapy works to bring these systems into balance. For example, someone who is prone harsh self-criticism and feelings of shame will spend a lot time in their threat system. They may have difficulty experiencing moments of safety and contentment. The aim of compassion-focused therapy is to help someone to access their soothing system, to be able experience safety, ease, and contentment. These are linked to experiences of happiness.
Mindfulness, compassion, and self-compassion skills techniques are used to help someone balance their emotional regulation systems, and in particular gain access to their soothing system. There are a variety of skills involved, such as becoming aware of the inner critic or bully, developing a compassionate voice towards ourselves, soothing rhythm breathing technique, bodyscan meditation, compassionate imagery, developing a compassionate-self, and flow of compassion inwards and outwards. These are all designed to bring the ‘soothing system’ online. It also regulates and balances the other two systems (threat and drive) in ways that are helpful to our happiness and wellbeing.
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