Do you often feel inadequate or unworthy? Do you have trouble experiencing yourself as competent or successful, or find it hard to feel satisfied with your accomplishments? Have you ever had the persistent feeling that you are an imposter who does not belong among your peers or coworkers? All of these suggest low self-esteem. Psychotherapy can be useful for those who have trouble with an inadequate level of self-esteem or have received a diagnosis such as depressive disorder or obsessive or compulsive disorder, where negative self-perceptions can be a prominent part of your difficulties1.

Definition: The Psychotherapeutic Conception of Self-Esteem

Self-esteem reflects your evaluation of your own worth. It is a judgment as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem includes a set of beliefs such as “I am good (or valuable, or deserving),” and it is closely related to emotions such as pride and shame. How you value yourself includes both the positive and negative beliefs you have about who you are.

Self-esteem is highly subjective and personal—what you esteem (or cannot esteem) in yourself may be completely different from how other people evaluate their own talents, capacities, or flaws, or from how they see you. Low self-esteem often involves the need to get approval from other people in order to feel good. It can also show up as an inability to tolerate any criticism or vulnerability, and as a tendency towards perfectionism. Some people who have grown up with very high expectations end up feeling that they are always falling short of who they should be.
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Treatment for Low Self-Esteem

How Therapists Work with Low Self-Esteem
A therapist will work with your low self-esteem by helping you to come to a fuller and more realistic sense of yourself. This means appreciating the whole range of your characteristics, including strengths and weaknesses; what makes you unique and what about you is ordinary. Seeing a therapist to deal with a lack of confidence and lack of self-esteem will involve some or all of the following:

  • Identifying core negative beliefs about yourself (e.g., “I am lazy”)
  • Exploring possible origins of your lack of self-esteem in your personal history
  • Identifying factors in the present that trigger your negative self-concept
  • Learning how to manage emotions related to self-attack, such as fear, anger, envy
  • Building up your internal strengths and resources to counter bad habits or rigid self-perceptions

Other Psychological Experiences Associated with Low Self-Esteem

Many mental health professionals have defined and classified other kinds of experiences related to poor self-confidence, low self-esteem or “self disorders.” They include anxiety, denial, envy, a sense that things are easier for others, and excessive self-preoccupation.

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1Reference material for this entry is drawn from PDM Task Force. (2006). Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual. Silver Spring, MD: Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organizations.