Self-esteem is defined as a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect. Having good self-esteem is so helpful in moving through the world and your life because it gives you confidence in being yourself and this confidence is sensed and appreciated by others. But many people don’t hold a good impression of themselves and would like to change that impression.
Usually your self esteem is based on unconscious beliefs that formed when you were a child from messages, verbal or non-verbal, you received from those close to you or from experiences you’ve had. Some of the more intense, impactful experiences you have had can color the way you view at the world and yourself. Like looking through the lens of colored sunglasses, everything you see is now colored by this lens of the meaning you made from this experience. These beliefs can be expansive and build your self esteem or can be limiting and lower self esteem. Here are some examples of some limiting core beliefs: If you get the unconscious message and belief that you are only good if you behave in a certain way, then you might feel you have to continually work hard to prove you are good. Or if you get the message that you are not accepted as you are, then you may become shy and not willing to take a risk and reach out to others.
What makes these limiting core beliefs limiting is that wearing these belief lenses you see only the things that support these negative beliefs and not the things that don’t. If I think I am not accepted, I start to interpret what others say or do as fitting into that schema, even if it doesn’t. Such as, if someone compliments me, I might not take the compliment in or notice it nearly as much as noticing something that I hear as criticism. Or if working hard is my way to feel good about myself, I may miss noticing the opportunities in my life for rest and joy.
The way I would work with you as a client around negative self-esteem issues is I would help you to start to see if and how limiting beliefs show up and get in the way in your current daily life. I would do this by teaching mindful awareness techniques that help you notice and tune into many levels of your internal experience. Since core experiences are strongly imprinted in your nervous system, they show up as sign posts on all the different levels of experience: sensations, gestures, postures, impulses, emotions, thoughts, memories, images, voice. I help you follow these sign posts to notice earlier experiences and the meanings and beliefs that you made from them and then to question if these meanings are still current and work for you in your life. If there are influences you no longer want to be so affected by, we work together to create we new experiences to expand the possibilities of change. We do this by having an experience in session of something completely different and beyond the range of the old belief. Our nervous system learns by experiences, so these new experiences can then update the old limiting perspective. An example of this would be if the old belief is ‘I am not OK the way I am’, then working with it by having an experience that is fully outside this old pattern, you can lay down a pathway for a new network of possibility. By having a fully felt, embodied experience of ‘I am fine, loved and accepted just the way I am’ you trail blaze this as a new neuro-pathway and you now have this as a new choice moment by moment. Often this is accomplished in a series of gradual steps toward taking in this level of change. Having this experience, step by step, within the therapeutic relationship, you can then take this new choice for change out into daily life. As it gets practiced and strengthened it can become a new empowered way of being in your life.