What is self-esteem?

Your self-esteem is the way you view yourself as a person. The term self-esteem is used interchangeably with words like self-confidence, self-concept and self-worth.

What is low self-esteem?

We all have times when we feel negatively about ourselves. Times when we think we could have done better at a task, or we feel embarrassed about something we did or unhappy with our appearance. When someone is experiencing low self-esteem the feeling of negativity towards themselves is ongoing and appears in a number of areas of life. Low self-esteem leads people to constantly question themselves, reducing their confidence at school/work, in relationships and in their everyday life.

When you have low self-esteem, your thinking becomes or is biased. You tend to speak to yourself in a negative, harsh and critical way.

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Here are some examples of thinking styles that are common when someone is experiencing low self-esteem:

Discounting or ignoring positive information
For example, when someone compliments you, you say to yourself “they were just being nice because they feel sorry for me” or “I only did well with that project because it was easy”.

Mental filter
You focus all of your attention on one negative detail and ignore the rest of the picture. For example, you arrange a dinner with friends and everybody except two of your friends attend. You feel hurt and offended that two of your friends didn’t come and lose sight of the rest of your friends that did.

You assume that other people’s behaviour relates to you, rather than thinking about other alternatives. For example, if someone seems distracted while you are having a chat, you tell yourself it’s because you are boring. You don’t consider other alternatives like maybe the person seems distracted because they have had a rough day or feels self-conscious themselves.

All or nothing thinking
This involves thinking in all or nothing or black and white ways. For example, “My response to one of the questions during the interview wasn’t quite right. I’m such a failure” or “If I don’t come across perfectly in a conversation the other person will think I am totally awkward”.

Magnifying and minimising
You magnify your perceived flaws or mistakes and minimise your positive attributes and strengths. For example, you discount the positive feedback your boss gives you and spend lots of time worrying about the areas of improvement she suggests.

Low self-esteem and other mental health issues

Low self-esteem can come up in the context of depression, anxiety, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, body image issues, grief and loss. Low self-esteem can also be a consequence of the situation that a person is in, such as an unhealthy relationship or a toxic work environment. Sometimes low self-esteem develops because of earlier experiences such as being bullied, having a critical parent or being raised in abusive or punishing home environment.

How can a psychologist help you to improve your self-esteem?

Psychologists are experts at helping people to improve their self-esteem with treatment. At Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, we integrate a variety of scientifically supported psychological approaches to help you start to relate to yourself in a kinder way. We will help you to shift your self-talk (thoughts) so that you can begin to build a satisfying and rewarding life and start to feel more comfortable and secure in your skin.