Dr melanie fennell


Variations in the impact of low self-esteem



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Variations in the impact of low self-esteem
Whether low self-esteem is an aspect or consequence of other difficulties, or a vulnerability factor for them, the extent to which it impinges on life will vary from person to person. This point is illustrated on the following scale:
Low self-esteem: Variations in impact
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OVERCOMING LOW SELF
-
ESTEEM
Self-doubt and self-criticism are triggered by a wide range of situations. Highly distressing and disabling. Negative perspective on the self seen as a fact – no more positive view available. Problems in daily living seen as integral part of self. Difficult to envisage any possibility of change.
Self-doubt only triggered in particularly challenging situations and generally managed without serious distress or difficulty. More positive perspectives on the self otherwise available. Problems seem potentially solvable – not rooted in the person’s identity.
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A person with low self-esteem might fall anywhere on this scale. At the left-hand end would be found people who experience occasional moments of self-doubt, usually under very specific conditions (for example, a job interview, or asking someone out fora first date. Such doubts interfere only minimally with people’s lives. They might feel mildly apprehensive in a challenging situation, but would have no real trouble managing the apprehension, would give it little weight, would find it easy to reassure themselves, and would not beheld back from meeting the challenge successfully.
When people like this have difficulties in life, they tend to see them straightforwardly as problems to be solved, rather than as a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with them as a person. In addition to the negative perspective on the self triggered by challenges, they probably have other more positive and constructive alternative views, which influence how they feel about themselves most of the time.
They may well find it easy overall to relate to other people,
and feel comfortable about asking for help. Such people should find it relatively easy to isolate the situations in which they experienced self-doubt, consolidating and strengthening positive perspectives on the self which are already in place and learning quite rapidly to challenge anxious predictions about performance and to answer self-critical thoughts.
At the other end of the scale would fall people whose self-doubt and self-condemnation were more or less constant. For them, no more positive alternative perspective on the self is available. This is simply the way things are. The slightest thing is enough to spark off a torrent of self-critical thoughts. They find it hard to believe in their
What is low self-esteem? CR – overcoming low self-esteem text:Layout 1 19/3/09 10:26 Page 17

capacity to deal with any of life’s challenges, or to achieve lasting closeness to other people. Their fears and their negative beliefs about themselves maybe powerful enough to cause widespread disruption in how they go about their lives – opportunities missed, challenges avoided, relationships spoiled, pleasures and achievements sabotaged, and self-defeating and self-destructive patterns of behavior in many areas. When people at this end of the scale have difficulties, rather than seeing these as problems to be solved,
they tend to view them as central to their true selves (This is me, This is how I am. So it is hard to step back far enough to see things clearly, or to work systematically to change things for the better without outside help. Even then, making progress can be tough, because it is difficult to have confidence in the possibility of change or to persist if improvement is slow in coming.
Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes.
This book may have limited relevance for people falling right at the left-hand end, though it could still be a useful source of handy tips for fine-tuning an already robust sense of self-confidence and self-worth. For those who fall at the far right-hand end of the scale, using the book on its own may not be enough. It could, however, be helpful as part of a program of therapy with a cognitive behavioral therapist. Its main use will be for the people who fall in the broad middle area of the continuum – people whose low self-esteem is problematic enough for them to wish to do something about it, but who have enough freedom of movement to be able to stand back from how they habitually see themselves and search for alternative perspectives. OVERCOMING LOW SELF
-
ESTEEM
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