The Concealed Cause of Low Self Esteem and How to Treat it
Although low self esteem manifests as words and behaviors, the real cause runs much deeper. This course will show you how to undo negative emotional conditioning and so free clients to be their authentic selves.
Milly made my heart hurt. She had VERY low self-esteem.
She was so, so young. So bright and so full of potential.
And she had self esteem so low a worm couldn’t wriggle under it. (Which is pretty much how she saw herself)
I took a deep breath (carefully, so she didn’t see). What was I going to do? Where was I going to start?
Milly, now in her mid twenties, had not had an idyllic childhood. Her father was remote and cold, and rarely around. And when he was at home he spent most of his time telling her what she was doing wrong, and the terrible things that would happen to her if she carried on that way.
Her mother was angry and dismissive most of the time, too bitter about her failing marriage to notice her failing daughter.
Milly didn’t know how to get love, or where to get it from.
And as she matured, she started to get it in all the wrong places.
Now, after a string of failed and occasionally abusive relationships, she had come to me. She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. She had a pervading sense of being ‘not good enough’, but didn’t know what to do about it.
She had been told over and over by well-meaning friends that she was a lovely person and deserved so much better, and it seemed to me, they were right.
But none of this had made any difference.
So as I sat there, listening, my mind raced. She needed help, desperately. I desperately wanted to help her.
But what to do?
So how should we help people with low self esteem?
Milly was a client many years ago, before I really understood low self esteem. I laboured for a long time, wondering how to get around the problem that words alone didn’t seem to help.
I encouraged her when she doubted herself. I told her she was clever and attractive when she told me she was stupid and ugly. But she seemed to not hear me. Or worse. She seemed to not trust me. Was I lying to make her feel better? That was, I think, what she felt about my positivity.
Thanks to Milly, and others like her, over the years I developed an approach to low self esteem that let me reach even the most ardent of self haters. After years of refining it with clients, and many in-depth discussions with colleagues, I knew what to do, and almost as importantly, why the usual approaches didn’t work.
But I wanted to get my approach out to the wider world. This was before the internet – it wasn’t as easy as popping something on social media!
The self esteem seminar that came to my aid
Happily, I was rescued by a major opportunity where I was asked to collaborate with a counselling psychologist and other practitioners to create a day-long seminar on treating low self esteem.
I presented this course to more than 20,000 health professionals over the next two years and later co-authored a book on the topic.
And now finally, with the help of the Uncommon Knowledge team, I’ve created this comprehensive course called How to Lift Low Self Esteem in Your Clients.
Over the 15+ years since my national lecture series, I’ve been able to further polish my approach to treating low self esteem with hundreds of clients so that now, when I see the self-searing signs of low self esteem, the way forward is almost always clear.
The clients who have taught me range from those whose self esteem has been all but destroyed by years of childhood abuse, to those whose poor self image is more situation-specific, like the businessman who had retrained as a therapist but thought he couldn’t tell stories, or the woman who had brought up 3 children but now felt she couldn’t hold her own in a boardroom.
The single most important learning I made
And at the root of my approach to any of these clients is one understanding:
Low self esteem is not a cognitive issue. It is an emotional one.
And more specifically, low self esteem is driven by emotional conditioning.
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, and especially when young, we are susceptible to being conditioned. A lot of this is useful (a red light = “stop”), but some is not (a mistake = “I am worthless”). Due to a child’s restricted ability to put things into context, they are much, much more at risk of being negatively conditioned by painful emotional experiences. And conditioning lasts.
Which is why, of course, giving compliments to a person with low self esteem doesn’t help. And, much worse, it makes them feel you don’t understand.
Just like in the volcano picture above, the things that people with low self esteem say are just the steam, smoke and rocks thrown out of the top of the volcano. The real driving force lies beneath – the chamber of molten magma – the emotional conditioning that just doesn’t fade.
Unless the problem is treated at source, then even if you succeed in stopping the rocks being thrown out for a while, it will only be temporary. Meanwhile, the pressure below builds.
A gentle, careful approach is essential
So my approach to low self esteem is to get rid of the emotional conditioning, and to do this in a respectful, careful and gentle way.
Not only is this more comfortable for the client, it has to be this way. Low self esteem makes people incredibly defensive, because their very self is sore and inflamed. Like a broken arm, their instincts tell them to keep people away from it at all costs.
So we need to be artful and gentle in our approach, but we also need to be purposeful. We need to know what we’re trying to achieve, and how to achieve it.
And the wonderful thing I’ve found about this approach is that it makes things simple. Because beneath all the beautiful intricate differences that make up a human being we’re all very similar.
And that’s where the problem lies.
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