Low self-esteem, perhaps best described as the feeling of being fairly worthless, is all too common.
There's no surprise that many studies into the subject focus on childhood and adolescence, as most psychologists agree that this is often where it starts. While risk factors for developing low self-esteem are incredibly varied — from family stress to school violence, and from having health issues to being obese — they all have one thing in common. They are all circumstances under which you may come to feel devalued as an individual, and they are very often circumstances in which someone wronged you.
As long-term consequences of low self-esteem can include financial difficulties, being less likely to complete higher education, and long periods of joblessness, people who enter adulthood with low self-esteem are at risk of constantly having their pre-existing self-view reinforced — both by themselves and others. As low self-esteem becomes part of your very identity, it may be difficult to conceive of a way out.
We all feel down on ourselves sometimes, and some of us can battle temporary low self-esteem changing our social group, getting a job gives us a greater sense of purpose, or even mentally telling ourselves that we're indeed pretty OK people and that inner voice isn't telling the truth.
If your way of viewing yourself has become so ingrained that you'd feel rather silly saying affirmations like "I believe in myself", "I am capable and competent", "I deserve to be loved", and "I have something unique to contribute", I suggest you skip trying to work through your self-esteem issues yourself and go straight to cognitive behavioral therapy. Often used for anything from depression to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it can help you, too.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term form of therapy that focuses on recognizing erroneous thought patterns — in this case, the bit where you think you're not as worthy as you are — and discovering concrete solutions. Having a distorted self-view will inevitably lead to behavioral patterns in which you don't stand up for yourself, after all.
CBT features fairly short, problem-focused sessions where your therapist and you will find out why you feel the way you do, how else you could look at yourself, and how you can move forward. You'll almost always be assigned "homework", which may involve writing a letter to someone who wronged you in the past or speaking your mind at work, or finally telling your sister you don't really want her over for dinner every week, for instance. These assignments will allow you to practice a different way of living, and gradually help you rewrite that narrative immediately, as being more assertive and getting different reactions from others will shape a new self-view.
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