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It’s not uncommon for clients with low self-esteem to come to Hazelwood Counselling looking for help.  In fact, it’s one of the most frequent reasons why people get in touch.

People with low self-esteem rarely live their life to the full and generally don’t make full use of their talents and abilities.  Surprisingly, however, many who struggle with their self‑esteem appear to have it all, achievements, success and the accompanying benefits. Despite their successes these people do not feel as positive about themselves as might be expected.

So, in response to many people needing help, this article looks at what low self‑esteem is and how counselling can help.

What is self-esteem?

It’s easy to get self-esteem and self-confidence mixed up.  There are very similar and inextricably linked, but they are different.  Self‑confidence is the opinion we have come to about our own ability to achieve things and to make good judgments.

Self-esteem is about the beliefs we hold about our personal worth. We all have self-esteem.  For some of us it’s very healthy and for some, less healthy.  At the centre of developing healthy self-esteem is the human need to feel loved and accepted.  When it is healthy, we believe that we are worthy of happiness, love and affection. We feel as though other people value us, that we are deserving of their time and acceptance.  If we make a mistake or we experience failure, although we may feel disappointment, we are still able to view ourselves positively.

So, do you believe that you are worthwhile and have value or, do you believe that you are not good enough as a person and that you don’t deserve good things to happen to you?

If you are more like the former, then you’re probably comfortable with who you are, interact with others in a positive way, and you know that people, in general, respect you.  If so, it’s likely you have a healthy self-esteem.

For people who relate more with the latter, they are more likely to have a poor self-image, have feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and a sense of personal powerlessness.  Low self‑esteem can be a major barrier to overall happiness, personal development and growth.

What causes low self-esteem?

There is still much to be learnt about how self-esteem develops and everybody is different.  Causes of low self-esteem are as unique as those who struggle, but there are some common themes.

Those with low self-esteem have an inner cynic which constantly criticises their achievements and actions.  This criticism eats away at their self-belief and erodes their self‑confidence.  In contrast, people who value their own abilities enjoy having a high self‑esteem.

Low self-esteem is probably always present, to some extent, in those who have been abused or neglected.  That’s probably easy to understand and accept.  It is harder to comprehend when something like abuse does not appear to have been a factor, and there are many people who fit into this category.

Clients that come to Hazelwood Counselling seeking help with low self-esteem frequently have a sense that, in some crucial way, they are inferior to others.  For many, physical appearance is a major source of insecurity and can contribute significantly to low self‑esteem.

Low self-esteem usually starts with some sort of feeling of self-doubt.  This initial seed of self-doubt is often sown in childhood (although it can start later in life) and may come from parents or other significant people – sometimes this happens unwittingly.  If this gets reinforced as the parent or others, repeatedly fail to notice and value the unique qualities and emotions of the child then low self-esteem develops.  It can cause problems for the child, and later the adult, in knowing who they are and in being able to feel good about themselves.  Or it may be that the child is repeatedly criticised, made fun of or treated with disdain, thus affecting self-esteem in a major way.

This growing child more and more takes on the belief that they lack self-worth; that others do not find them valuable and they are not worthy of being loved.  This has a negative influence which holds the person back, erodes their self‑confidence and so causes them to doubt their ability and potential.  This prevents them from progressing and achieving what they may have done if their self-esteem had been healthier.

It can be tempting to associate peer pressure and bullying with younger people, but, they can and do happen to people at any life stage.  Sometimes in our adulthood, the impact can be magnified as we believe we “should be able to deal with such things at our age”.  Things like peer pressure and bullying often contribute to low self-esteem as these negative personal attacks often leave a person feeling rejected and criticised.  This rejection is then internalised and lead people to believe that they are unworthy of others time, attention and effort.

Recognising Low Self-Esteem

Often people instinctively know that something is not right.  People with low self-esteem can often:

  • Be overly self-critical
  • Be easily hurt by feedback from others
  • Have an unrealistically low opinion of their abilities, appearance and personality
  • Find making decisions difficult as they fear making mistakes
  • Lack enjoyment in life
  • Have a constant need to please others, often at the expense of themselves
  • Be reluctant to state their own opinions or assert boundaries
  • Seek validation from others
  • Be pessimistic about everything: life, future, and above all, themselves
  • Tolerate abusive relationships
  • Feel guilty… sometimes for things that aren’t even their fault.

Low self-esteem can make it difficult for people to get on with their lives.  They may find it difficult to interact socially as they view themselves in a negative light.  It is often hard for them to believe that they will be liked and accepted by others.  If they have had experiences with bullying or rejection in the past, they may also struggle to form close relationships because they feel unable to trust other people.

In an attempt to gain acceptance, people with low self-esteem often over conform or find it difficult to assert their own opinions in the hope to gain acceptance from others.  Consequently, they may go along with things that they do not agree with or find uncomfortable.

How counselling can help?

What can Hazelwood Counselling offer to someone with low self-esteem?

During counselling, this belief system will be uncovered, layer by layer.  This could be a simple process, or, more likely, complicated and multi-faceted.  Either way, by uncovering it, it is possible to gradually question the means in which it was built.  This is important as questioning these beliefs and looking at them in different ways leads a person to recognise their invalidity and so become able to develop a healthier belief system and healthier self‑esteem.

That’s not the whole story, however, when working with low self-esteem, there needs to be a focus on the future.  Someone seeking help for low self-esteem will need support as they learn how to gradually take control of their life; learn how to be in charge of it.  Counselling can help the client explore what is currently not working well and enable the client to find ways to change it.

So, a two-pronged approach can be taken, with one prong seeking to understand how the low self-esteem got there in the first place and the other prong seeking to change current manifestations of the low self-esteem. Hazelwood Counselling can help you with this.

When is the right time to seek help?

Generally speaking, if you are concerned about your self-esteem and you have found yourself looking for ways to change things, then it is likely that you will benefit from self‑esteem counselling.

Some people consider counselling to be a ‘last resort’.  While this may be the case, you do not have to wait for you to be in crisis before coming to counselling. In fact, it is not unusual for people to use counselling sessions as a way to keep their self-esteem healthy and to quickly address underlying issues before they grow and have a major impact on their lives.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure – it takes courage, and is the first step to help turn things around.

If you are considering counselling, choose a counsellor that’s properly qualified and accredited. The Counselling Directory ( undergo checks to make sure everyone they list is qualified and belongs to a professional body.

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