Since starting my practice in 2016, I’ve talked to over 250 clients over some 4000 hours. And one subject that keeps coming up is how good self-esteem is connected to success in therapy sessions.
So how does that work?
People go to therapy sessions for various reasons. If you’re caring for someone who’s sick or starting your own company, a therapy session is the perfect safe space to have an open chat about your thoughts and emotions.
Or perhaps you have identified an issue and want to make changes. Like you want to manage your anxiety better. Or you’re bulimic and want to stop binging and purging. Or you want to stop falling into toxic relationships.
All of these are perfectly common issues but here’s where it gets tricky: if you want to figure out what’s going on, you have to look into yourself and figure out how you think and behave.
And this is where self-esteem comes in.
Self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves. If you have good self-esteem, you know you’re human, which means you’re nicely flawed, just like everyone else, good bits and less good bits, all mixed up.
With good self-esteem, you dig inside yourself and say, “this bit of me I like and keep”, “this bit of me I don’t like so much, but I’ll keep it and call it a feature” and “that bit of me I’m not keen on so I’m going to change it.”
And the thing is, with good self-esteem, you can be as loving about the bits of you that you don’t like very much as you can about the rest of you.
If you have low self-esteem, you don’t believe in yourself, and you have that nagging feeling that you’re unworthy, a failure, or not quite right. And that leads to self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage refers to behaviour or thinking that stops you from doing what you want to do.
Like, if you’re caring for someone who’s sick and you know you’re burning out and feeling angry, hopeless and helpless, talking it through will help. But self-sabotage will whisper, “You should be an angel of mercy! What if they think you’re selfish or wicked?” And then those fears stop you from reaching out.
Of if you’re bulimic, self-sabotage will have you thinking, “If I can’t change immediately and without backsliding in three sessions, it proves I’m beyond hope.” And as changing habits and mindsets isn’t a 1-2-3, you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure.
What is particularly nasty about low self-esteem and self-sabotage is that after they’ve made sure you fail, they combine to whisper, “told you so; you suck” and then you’re afraid to try again.
So, how can you help yourself?
First, know three truths:
#1 You’re human, imperfect and that’s okay
#2 Be as kind to yourself as you are to others
#3 When your inner critic starts up, recognise it as stress talking and distract yourself. Make tea, pet the cat, walk the dog, clean a drawer, sing a song, whatever
And for a nice self-esteem boost, try this positive qualities exercise:
#1 Pick four of your positive qualities (here are some ideas)
Adventurous Ambitious Appreciative Artistic Brave Calm Charming Clean Clever Considerate Courageous Curious Decisive Easygoing Empathetic Enthusiastic Ethical Fashionable Forgiving Frank Friendly Grateful Helpful Honest Humble Humorous Imaginative Independent Individualistic Interesting Kind Leader Logical Loyal Mature Neat Open-minded Optimistic Patient Reasonable Resilient Responsible Romantic Self-confident Self-disciplined Thoughtful
#2 Two or three times a week, look back over the last 48 hours and see where you displayed your four positive qualities.
So if you picked humorous, you might say, “Yesterday I cheered up my friend by telling her my rabbit joke.” Talk to yourself, or journal, it doesn’t matter how you do it – as long as you do it.
It may feel a bit weird, especially if you’re used to being mean to yourself, but keep at it. This exercise will focus your mind on your good points in a regular, constructive manner and that will give you a bit of a boost.
Remember: the more accepting you are of yourself, the easier it will be to make the changes you want.
I hope you found this interesting.