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  • Tony Georgiadis

Therapy as a means to understand and address low self-esteem issues

Updated: Feb 2

Low self-esteem By definition, self-esteem is the "belief and confidence" in one's own "ability and value". This belief, when strong enough, can facilitate and drive decision-making that serves the achievement of our goals, meeting our needs, and avoiding situations that undermine our worth and potential for growth.

If belief in our own abilities, worth, and value is consistently low, we might tend to think and act in ways that hinder living a life where our potential is utilised to its fullest extent.

We might tend to always think that others are more knowledgeable and skillful than us, failing to recognize our own skills, achievements, and uniqueness. We might perceive praise received by others as ingenuine, thinking that it can't really be directed at us. We might believe that we are not worthy of a promotion at work, as we feel our work is never good enough. We won't make the decision to leave a toxic relationship, as we fear there won't be anyone else who will choose us. Unconsciously, we might undermine our ambitious and aspiring side by postponing life plans and goals, maintaining aspects of our lives that we are unhappy about, simply because we don't believe in ourselves enough. Such a perspective may often lead to looking down on ourselves, considering others superior to us. This, in turn, may lead to mental health issues such as depression and/or difficulty regulating and productively utilising our anger, or displacing it.

One might wonder, "How did I develop such a perspective of myself? Why do I fail to recognise and appreciate my unique qualities and value?". Over the years as a therapist, I have come to appreciate that the answer lies within us. Neglect and Infantile Narcissism The moment we are born, we immediately seek gratification, attention, and comfort; our survival depends entirely on our primary caregivers. Their care places us at the center of their world, enabling us to also perceive ourselves at the core of our own existence. In infancy, being the focal point of our caregivers' world can give rise to a self-perception that Sigmund Freud (1914) termed "infantile narcissism". While the term "narcissism" often carries a negative connotation, during infancy, it represents a healthy and necessary developmental stage. It forms the basis for a robust sense of self, deserving of care and attention as the focal point in another's life. During our early days in life, when care from our caregivers is not good enough and/or when we are neglected, emotional trauma may occur, creating a self-perception of low self-worth. We may be 'programmed' to perceive ourselves as not worthy of our caregivers' love and attention. If neglect becomes a recurring pattern in childhood, this self-perception may become even stronger, leading to difficulty in connecting with our own needs, desires, achievements, and recognising our self-worth and unique qualities as we grow up. How can Psychodynamic Therapy help Psychodynamic Therapy can be instrumental in addressing low self-esteem issues by providing a space for exploration and discussion of one's upbringing. It delves into questions like: What did it mean to experience neglect from early childhood? How did it feel back then, and how does it impact one's feelings and the way they experience the world today? Understanding the impact of neglect is crucial. However, exploring these experiences and feelings can be emotionally painful, underscoring the importance of a safe and reliable environment. Psychodynamic therapists are trained to proceed at the right pace, gradually helping clients to uncover the underlying causes of low self-esteem. Through trust, attentive listening and emotional attunement, therapists aim to facilitate a reparative process, allowing for the discovery of one’s unique qualities, talents, and life aspirations.

As this therapeutic process unfolds, individuals can develop a heightened sense of agency and self-worth. Over time, this experience may contribute to a 're-programming' of self-perception, allowing individuals to learn how to be the 'centre of their own universe'. This can lead to a restoration of self-confidence, where personal needs and aspirations hold great significance. One may then feel empowered to pursue their dreams, connect with their creative selves, and use this ‘new’ self-perception as a driving force for positive life change.


Tony Georgiadis - Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor (MBACP)


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