People learn to feel bad about themselves through damaging events or relationships in childhood or even in adulthood. That is, because of something that happens or how they are treated they come to believe they have little or no worth or value, and believe this is a fact.

When this is caused by relationships these can be family relationships, primary relationships, or even school or work relationships. The person comes to believe that everything they say, think or do is somehow wrong or unworthy, and they are often full of self-blame. People with a sense of low self-worth feel they have nothing to contribute, they do not belong, and are not wanted.

They believe these are facts, and this causes a great deal of pain. They often become extremely self-conscious and self-critical and may put everything they say, do or think under the microscope, believing this will help, when instead it becomes even more paralysing, and makes them feel worse.

Therapy can help you understand the basis of your low self-esteem and how you learnt these beliefs. This will help you understand it as just a belief and not based on fact, which will, in turn, enable you to transform and change how you feel and think about yourself and to develop a more constructive belief system.

1. Pay attention to the way you treat yourself.
Start simply listening to the way you think about yourself and the way you talk to yourself. This may be difficult at first as it is probably so automatic that you barely notice. Think about how a friend would feel if you said these things about them. Notice and make the connection between the way you treat yourself and how you are feeling about yourself.

2. Practice noticing and stopping self-criticism.
While developing a healthy self esteem is more complex than this, you can begin by trying to stop punishing yourself. Whenever you find that you are judging or criticising yourself, putting yourself down, or making yourself feel worse in some way, see an iron door clang shut on that thought. Such thoughts are learned, internalised beliefs, and they are never going to help you feel better about yourself.

3. Practice kindness and compassion towards yourself.
Whether or not you believe it or think you deserve it is irrelevant. Try practicing kindness and understanding in the way you treat yourself and notice how it feels. Treat yourself, your mistakes, your struggles, with the same attitude you would have to one of your friends. If you suffer from low self esteem there is no doubt that you have been hurt by others. But you can stop hurting yourself.

Talking to Yourself: The Language of Self Support. Pamela Butler. If you are tired of hearing that you should talk to yourself differently but don’t know how, this is another excellent book that helps you challenge critical self-talk and replace it with encouraging self-support.
Healing the Shame that Binds you. John Bradshaw. Excellent book, one of the first to explore the damaging nature of shame in childhood and how to heal from it.
Celebrate Yourself. By Dorothy Corkille Briggs. An excellent book looking at how to develop healthy self esteem through understanding how your adaptive thinking is hurting you and maintaining your low self esteem and impacting on your ability to form positive relationships with others. Uses very accessible idea of transactional analysis and ideas of self-parenting.
The Reality Slap. By Russ Harris. Learn how to cope effectively when life hurts or causes anxiety. You can also download an MP3[link] of the exercises in the book, very useful for developing self-compassion and learning to address anxiety.

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