A major part of my journey back to mental health is “self care” which includes dragging myself to the hospital every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to attend/participate in Day Treatment. Wednesday’s tend to be the most draining, as we cover self-esteem, depression and anxiety. One thing I now know to be true is that you can be depressed and not have low self- esteem, however people who suffer from low self-esteem almost always suffer from depression. I happen to be one of the unfortunate ones to have low self-esteem, depression and severe anxiety.
Honestly, if you were to meet me or ask anyone who knows me, to describe me, they would not use the words “low self-esteem“; which makes me feel all the more like an”impostor”, which, it turns out is one of the many aspects or types of anxiety that I suffer from. Needless to say, I am learning a great deal about myself.
At the heart of self-esteem lies the central bottom line or core beliefs that we have about ourselves. These are almost always deep-seated, basic, negative beliefs about ourselves and the kind of person we are. These beliefs are the result of experiences in our lives, particularly those that occurred in early life. Rarely do these beliefs reflect the real truth about us, in fact, most are nothing more than opinions (versus facts) that are inaccurate and biased.
If these negative beliefs are based on experiences we had as children, as most are, then how or why are they negatively impacting our self-esteem now? Simply put, our experiences have led us to make judgments about ourselves as people (core beliefs); these judgments are what lie at the heart of low self-esteem. Some examples of negative core beliefs include:
- I’m no good
- I am not lovable
- I don’t matter
- I don’t belong
- I am worthless
- I am no good
- I am weak
- I’m crazy
- I’m fat
Someone with low self-esteem, such as myself, rarely recognizes anything positive about themselves. In fact, what happens is that we learn to develop “rules for living” which dictate how we should act or behave because we believe our core belief or bottom line. These rules actually work to maintain the negative core beliefs we have about ourselves. It is likely that we are not even consciously aware that these rules exist, however, they consistently influence how we behave. Unhelpful rules or assumptions are unrealistic, unreasonable, excessive, rigid and not adaptable. The good news is that not all of our rules for living are unhelpful; some of our rules are realistic, flexible and adaptable and serve to help us function in healthy and safe ways. Below is an example of one of my own bottom line core beliefs and how it manifests.
I am not good enough
Rule for Living
I must always do everything perfectly
Go for perfection all the time; avoid criticism at all costs
I do a lot of great work
No matter how hard I try, it is impossible to be perfect and to expect that I will never be criticized. when I break my rule for living it causes me to feel stressed, anxious and depressed; in addition, I feel like a fraud and know that when something goes wrong, or people are less than positive about me I feel terrible
I’m not good enough
I will do the best I am capable of and recognize that my best may be different each day
Understanding even just this one bottom line/core beliefs and identifying new, more reasonable rules for living has taken me a long way on my journey back to mental health. I recognize I have much work to do, and that is o.k., I finally recognize and understand that I am worthy of the time and investment that I am making to become well, that, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment.