Counselling for confidence and low self esteem in Berkhamsted
When we think about problems with confidence and low self esteem we often think about them as problems of deficiency. We think of confidence and esteem as commodities that we’re running low on and we’d be ok if we could just get more of it. If the problem is one of lack then it seems like the solution is to accumulate more, and this paves the way for the innumerable promises which abound of all sorts of ways of inflating or ‘boosting’ self esteem. The problem with this quantitative conception of self esteem is that it doesn’t account for the deeper roots that are the ‘cause’ of a lack of confidence, namely the deeply held beliefs, conclusions and self concepts a person has about the fundamental nature of who they are. Take for example the following small section of limited beliefs that somebody might have about themselves:
I’m not good enough
I’m a failure
I should be more
I’m less than everybody else
If these beliefs or any similar ones are felt to be true at a deep and fundamental level, ‘boosting’ self esteem becomes somewhat meaningless. It would be like trying to lay some kind of positive affirmation on top of the fundamental idea that there’s something wrong with you. If we work from the idea that self esteem is a product of the conclusions we’ve come to about ourselves as a result of the experiences we’ve been through, working with self esteem becomes less about trying to boost or supplement anything but rather uncovering, discovering and exploring the beliefs that we’ve arrived at about who we are. Sometimes being wrong about ourselves is the most liberating thing in the world and a very valuable discovery to make.
The problem with beliefs is they replace accurate knowledge of reality. A belief is not true, but is felt to be so, and the core beliefs we have about ourselves are like deep hypnotic programming. It’s possible however for false beliefs to be discovered as false, it’s possible for false beliefs to be discovered as the mistaken conclusions we came to unconsciously when we assumed something about the worth of ourselves in moments of trauma. Paradoxically people often find a growing sense of self esteem and self value when they begin to perceive and lose the limiting and inaccurate beliefs they came to about themselves. Acquiring self esteem might not be about gaining or boosting anything, but much more about losing the conviction that there is something wrong with you in the first place. This is an instance in which something profound is gained through loss - the loss of the idea that produced a sense of failure and shame in the first place.
As part of my training a story was told that helped to illustrate something of this. There was once a small boy who was due to perform a song, solo and on stage at his school Christmas play. The spotlights shone on the empty stage and he stood behind the curtain waiting for his cue to walk on. When he got the cue, he walked on, tripped over his own feet and landed flat on his face. Lying horizontal on the floor he looked up into the spotlights and saw rows and rows of adults pointing and laughing at him. The embarrassment was overwhelming. In that moment he concluded (unconsciously) ‘People are cruel, I’m an idiot, and I will never reveal myself to them again’. Years of shyness and hiding himself away ensue.
There was once another small boy who was due to perform a song, solo and on stage at his school Christmas play. The spotlights shone on the empty stage and he stood behind the curtain waiting for his cue to walk on. When he got the cue, he walked on, tripped over his own feet and landed flat on his face. Lying horizontal on the floor he looked up into the spotlights and saw rows and rows of adults pointing and laughing at him. He looked up amazed and realised ‘I can make them laugh'. He stood up, did a little dance, the adults laughter grew louder and louder and they began to applaud. 'They love me!' he concludes to himself. Years of training to become an entertainer ensue.
I always liked the story for illustrating the power of interpretation that we all bring to what happens to us. The brain is a predicting and concluding machine, and it's all the time asking ‘What does this mean about me?’ of the experiences that we’re exposed to. How we answer that question has huge implication for who we become as a result, and how we feel about ourselves. Such interpretations are key components of whether we end up okay or not okay with who we are. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy once said 'If you feel comfortable in yourself, you don't love yourself and you don't hate yourself you just live'.
If you’re struggling with confidence or low self esteem and you would like help exploring these issues in therapy, I’m both a Gestalt counsellor and a Cognitive hypnotherapist based in Berkhamsted. Please feel free to get in touch with any questions you might have.