The Brutal Consequences of Low Self EsteemOne of the issues that I encounter a lot in my work as a therapist is the issue of “low self esteem.” This is a topic that is talked about a lot in our culture. As the mother of small children I have heard a lot from the time they were born about how to “build” their self esteem. The suggestions are to praise them for their effort rather than the result of their work, be loving no matter what, tell them good things about themselves frequently… The list could go on, but all of the things on the list are suggested in order to create one thing: a positive opinion about oneself. If children feel confident, loved, secure in taking risks, and generally good about themselves, they are more likely to be adults who feels the same. As parents we are training our children how to think from the time they are very small. If we are conscious and loving parents we can do our best to train our children to be conscious and loving people. However, many of the people I work with were not raised with such a philosophy or with such consciousness. And even though I consider myself to be a conscious and loving parent, I can still get triggered and act in ways that could be damaging to my children’s self esteem if those actions were repeated frequently. I don’t think any of us are immune from receiving negative messages about ourselves or our behavior at some point in our childhoods. But if we have learned to think in a positive way we can self-soothe and survive these negative experiences. If we have not learned to think in a positive way, we begin to believe the negative messages and that negativity seeps into how we see ourselves and our world. Those negative messages slowly become “low self esteem” and depending on someone’s personality and predisposition, that can manifest as anxiety or depression.
I believe that anxiety is a symptom that is related to energy being trapped in an eternal spiral. For example, if I believe that I will fail at anything I try, I’ll have a lot of energy trapped in that belief if I’m faced with a new activity. So as I enter my first college class, I have a panic attack because I’m trying to force myself to enter the class even though so much of my energy is trapped in the belief that I’ll fail. The two energies clash and there is no way out except for a big explosion of energy in the form of panic. This panic further solidifies the belief that I always fail and makes it even more likely that I’ll have a panic attack next time I try something new, unless I somehow challenge this old belief.

Low self esteem can also manifest as depression. I believe that depression is a symptom that is related to a continuous drain of energy. For example, if I believe that no one likes me, I will probably feel really bad around people. When I see someone look at me from across the room I might be convinced that that person is thinking negative thoughts about me. When I’m surrounded by people, maybe in that same college class where the other guy left with a panic attack, I’m inundated by negative opinions of others, which are really negative messages about myself. I will leave the class exhausted, as all of my energy has been drained in this negative self evaluation. I might go back to my dorm room, climb into bed, and not have the energy to talk to anyone or do any work. Since I have no energy to do anything positive, my opinion of myself suffers even more. I might start to think that death is the only way to end my suffering. I could fall into a deep depression and I may even be suicidal.

The other hard thing about low self esteem, in addition to it being at the root of some people’s anxiety and depression, is that it’s impossible to reason with it. Before working with hypnosis, Shamanic Journeying, and meditation I worked with traditional talk therapy. Talk therapy engages the analytical part of the brain and tries to hunt for the missing puzzle piece. I might say to the person with anxiety, “You just need to believe that you won’t fail and your life will change!” I can even list off all of the times in their life that they have not failed, but most of the time no change is achieved. This is because this message of positivity is equivalent to one drop of positive energy in an ocean of negative energy. Even though it’s in the mix, it gets lost almost instantly. It’s the same with saying to the depressed person that no one is thinking bad thoughts about them and listing off all of the people that like them in their lives. It won’t make an impact because that positive message is one minute out of their day, but the other 1,439 minutes of the day they spend feeling bad about themselves. How someone thinks can only be changed forever by something with a repeated impact or a very big impact.

In my first year as a therapist I became very disillusioned with traditional talk therapy. I felt that each week as I worked in the community counseling center I watched my clients walk into therapy with the same issues they had been struggling with the previous week. As time passed I realized that the issues were the same over months and then a year. I talked to my supervisor about my concerns but she kept reassuring me that I was doing it! This was therapy! I was so disappointed. After all of the years of schooling and training I was coming to realize that I wasn’t helping anybody! My clients felt slightly better when they left our 50 minute session because I had helped them talk about their issue and I had shown them compassion, but not because anything had changed. I was determined to find other ways to help. This is when I found hypnotherapy, meditation, and Shamanic Journeying. All of these ways of working are ways that I can help my clients focus internally rather than externally. And I can help them not only think with their analytical minds, but also “feel” with their bodies and their intuition. This is the strongest distinction that has happened in my work…I want my clients to feel the changes on a deep level. I’m also very clear that these changes in thinking, beliefs, ways of seeing themselves, etc. all need to be seen repeatedly in a new way or the old ways will engulf the new and all hope is lost.

Although the consequences of anxiety and depression can be brutal, I have seen many clients shift away from their previous reality of low self esteem so they can live with an increased feeling of peace with themselves and their lives. Please let me know if anything in this article resonates for you as I might be able to help you, too.

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