Why Self-Esteem Counseling is More Than Just Feeling Better About Ourselves

Someone asked me just this morning what I do to help clients improve their self-esteem. I thought this was a really great question and it got me thinking beyond the basics of providing tools to make people feel better. I started thinking about the women I work with and what I hear in session. It’s not usually “I have poor self-esteem”, but usually something more like this:

“Why isn’t my career moving fast enough?”

“I work so hard all week, but it never feels like enough”

“I’ve been trying to prove something in my work, but not sure to whom or for what”

“Regardless of weight, I’ve needed to lose 10 pounds my entire life”

I can think of more quotes, but I’ll stop. This question got me thinking that the challenge we really face with self-esteem is that it’s never enough – the fight must go on and we must work harder. As a therapist and a woman I have witnessed and experienced the cultural curse of needing more, weighing less and the expectation to deflect and hide our deficits to others. In a position where shame and fear is enforced, our complaints translate to loneliness, dissatisfaction and self-criticism. We don’t realize it but we are asked to isolate in the pressures to succeed, produce and improve. We are expected to exude positivity and ease in life. I realize my work in therapy has been to confront these social expectations and provide a space to discuss new ideas around how to find peace and acceptance within ourselves. Here are some of the deeper topics that come up when working on self-esteem:

Vulnerability – being able to identify, accept and share (i.e. expose) the real parts of ourselves with people we trust and love. These parts may include uncertainty or even emotional risk. Being able to enter into and foster relationships that accept and invite conversations about fear, shame and failure.

Acceptance of today – fighting against being evaluated based on productivity, results and success. Reveling in our day’s worth of work and play and not jumping into the fear of tomorrow.

Acknowledging our deficits – sitting in peace during expected and typical failure. Managing the tension that there are and will always be people better than us at almost everything. Permitting ourselves to just be us.

I just realized a small, but very relevant example in which I play into the belief that “doing” equates to worth. When my husband and I ask each other how our day was, the response is usually something like “great! I got so much done today!” or even “not very good, I wasn’t able to do…” I’d like to change my idea of what makes a good day and what makes me a valuable person. What would you like to do to fight against the epidemic that you’re not good enough?

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