Low self-esteem

Do you ever think you are are weak, stupid, not good enough, a failure, ugly, useless, worthless, unattractive, weird, unlovable, not likeable, inferior to others or a loser? All of us have these thoughts about ourselves sometimes. However, if you have these thoughts repeatedly, you probably have low self esteem.

Self esteem is how we think about ourselves and the value we place on ourselves as a person. Low self esteem or lack of confidence, acts like a bias against ourselves that only allows us to see the evidence that we are not good enough. This leads to us being much better at noticing our own weaknesses and flaws rather than our qualities and strengths. This can lead to anxiety and low mood and keeps us stuck in negative patterns of behaviour that reinforce the low self esteem.

For example, the more we put others first, the more we reinforce the idea that our needs are less important than other peoples. The more we dress and act like we are not attractive, the more we believe we are not attractive. If we think we are not good enough, or a failure, or ugly, we tend to act like this is true.

If our standards or expectations get too high, we can get very stressed and anxious whilst struggling to meet them. This often the ends up with us feeling like we are failing, or at best, just about ‘getting away with it’.

Self esteem makes us block out or twist the evidence of our positive qualities and strengths and we cannot recognise that actually we may be doing well.

Sometimes, we might not recognise that we have low self esteem, but these negative beliefs can still be driving how we think and how we behave.

I can help you understand your self esteem and be aware of and change any unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving. This will allow you to improve your self esteem and stop it from holding you back from being happy, confident and successful.

All CBT sessions are 50 minutes and charged at £70.

Signs and Symptoms of low self esteem

  • Self critical thinking and putting self down
  • Questioning self and doubting decisions
  • Difficulty saying no to people
  • Being ‘a people pleaser’
  • Often putting other people first
  • Compare self to others
  • Don’t feel like you fit in
  • Always seeking praise or reassurance from others
  • Poor body image
  • Rarely putting self first
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Expecting much more of ourselves than we expect of other people
  • Overthinking
  • Anxiety and low mood
  • Guilt and shame
  • Low self worth and low opinions of ourselves
  • Not looking after self
  • Physical symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Thoughts that you might be better off dead


Examples of low self esteem

Emma is 36 a new mother with a 9 month old baby. She is working part time and lives with her partner. Her partner is working full time and gets back from work quite late. Emma, finds it very difficult at work as she is constantly tired due to often being up in the night. Her husband doesn’t get up in the night as he is working full time and needs the sleep. Emma feels that other mums she knows are not struggling as much as she is. She has thoughts that she is not a good mum. She feels she is letting her partner down as he occasionally has to help her with the baby or with the housework. Emma feels guilty about this. She has stopped seeing people as much as she is ashamed of how she is coping and doesn’t want anyone to know.

Unrealistic Thoughts: “I am a bad mother” “I am letting people down” “my husband deserves better” “I can’t cope” “I am pathetic”
Emotions: sad, anxious, guilty
Unhelpful Behaviours: Put other people first, avoid asking partner for help, avoid talking to friends or seeking support, ruminate, avoid seeking to work about how she is feeling.

Rose is 27 and works full time and has a very active social life. She was bullied at school when she was younger, but enjoyed college and university. Rose has a group of friends and they talk it in turns to go to each others place for dinner and drinks. Rose always goes to a lot of effort and cooks everything from scratch. She will spend a long time agonising over what to cook. She also ways makes everything from scratch and bakes a cake. She also spends a lot of money on other people at Christmas and birthdays. She enjoys conversations but will often not express her opinions in case she upsets someone. Rose finds it difficult to say no to people and will often go out of her way to do things. She very rarely asks for help from other people herself.

Unrealistic Thoughts: “if I disagree with people they won’t like me”, “I am not likeable”, “They only stay friends because of the effort I make”
Emotions: anxious and low
Unhelpful Behaviours: hold back on opinions, spend a lot of time making effort for others, never say no to people, don’t ask for help, spend time and money on others, avoid putting self first.

George is 42 and works full time in an advertising agency. He has worked his way up since he started the job when he was 22. Being successful is very important to him. George will often stay at work late and will usually work through his lunch break. George has a strong eye for detail and will often check his work and his emails for mistakes before sending them. He will go over what he is going to say in meetings the night before also. George often compares himself to how others in his company are doing and will feel bad about himself if he feels someone else is doing better or has a better reputation. George can find it difficult to sleep at night and is often worried about his performance at work. He has stopped playing golf a the weekends with friends and is less active than he used to be. He has started to drink more in the evenings. He is snappy with his family and this is starting to impact his relationship.

Unrealistic Thoughts: “I am not good enough”, “I must not make a mistake” “everyone else is better than me” “I will lose my job if i am not the best” “I will be found out” “I will get something wrong and will look stupid”
Emotions: anxious, stressed, low mood
Unhelpful Behaviours: stay late at work, work through such break, over prepare, ruminate outside of work, don’t ask for help, repetitive checking, avoid socialising and activity, excessive drinking.

 Sophie is 30 and lives with her partner of 4 years. Sophie has some long terms relationships in the past and is aware she wasn’t always treated well. She felt like this was because she wasn’t “enough” for them. Sophie was praised for being pretty when she was growing up and has placed a to of value on looks. Sophie found it more difficult to maintain her usual weight as she got older. She found this very distressing and would often be on a diet. Sophie doesn’t like going out without make up on and will avoid this if possible. Sophie will wear black or baggy clothes when she feels she is looking “ugly” or “disgusting”. Sophie often worries that her partner is going to leave her and she finds it difficult to trust him. She will often let him make decisions about things and doesn’t express her own needs often.

Unrealistic Thoughts: “I am not good enough for him” “He will leave me” “He will find someone better” “I am ugly and disgusting” “I am worthless” “I should be able to maintain a specific weight at all times”
Emotions: low mood and anxiety
Unhelpful Behaviours: always wear makeup, wearing baggy or black clothes, avoiding usual style, becoming clingy, avoid socialising, don’t express needs to partner.

How low self esteem develops

Negative beliefs about ourselves is at the heart of low self esteem. Often, the beliefs we have about ourselves are conclusions we come to based on the things that have happened to us in our life. Our experiences when we were younger, including school, family, friendships and the society and cultures we live in have an impact on our thoughts and beliefs about many things, including ourselves.

Lots of possible negative experiences can lead to low self esteem such as:

  • Being bullied
  • Abuse or neglect in childhood
  • Difficulty meeting parents standards or expectations
  • Lack of praise, warmth or affection
  • Abusive teenage or adult relationships
  • Not fitting in at home or at school
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Having a high achieving brother or sister
  • Parents or family members have mental health problems
  • Parents or other family members having greater needs
  • Our families perceived place (or status) in society
  • Parents away or absent often

At times people who have generally had healthy self-esteem can find that their self confidence can be knocked or can totally be shifted by events in later life. This can be relatively gradual or can be quite quickly. Having experiences such as being bullied, intimated at work, abusive relationships and friendships, losing a job, financial hardship, traumatic events, becoming a parent, continuous stressful life events, or illness and injury.

The idea in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is that these past experiences have an impact on our core beliefs. These are the beliefs we arrived at about ourselves or other people based on our past experiences. Common core beliefs are:

“I am stupid or incompetent”

“I am not good enough”

“I am a failure”

“I am worthless”

“I am unloveable”

“I am bad”

“I am unlikeable”

“I am a burden”

“Other people are more importer than me”

“I am unattractive”


Because we strongly believe these core beliefs, they have a strong impact on emotion and can be very distressing. We therefore develop some rules, standards or guidelines for how we live our life. These rules guard or protect us from the truth of our negative core beliefs.

Some examples of rules could be:

“I must be the best at everything”

”I must always put others first”

“I must never upset anyone”

“I must never make a mistake”

“I must never display an emotion”

How we behave in day to day life is strongly guided by these rules that we have for ourselves. So depending on what your rules are, you might try and do everything perfectly all of the time, or try and put others first all of the time. You may then feel OK about yourself if you are able to meet these rules.

The problem is, that often is it difficult to always meet these rules. In these situations, we are going to start to feel anxious. It also can very exhausting and stressful trying to always live up to these rules.  All of this effort is to try and avoid feeling bad about yourself.

However, the negative core beliefs are still there under the surface. These rules have just kept these core beliefs from ever changing. This is because it stops us from finding out that the core beliefs are not true. We don’t find out it’s OK to make a mistake, or to put ourselves first or to say no to someone. So the rules just reinforce the negative core beliefs and keep us stuck in a negative cycle.

CBT can help us break this cycle by finding more realistic and balanced core beliefs, thoughts, rules and behaviours

How can CBT help?

CBT can help develop your awareness of your mental health and your self esteem and give you the tools to build healthy self worth, confidence and self esteem.

I will help you to identify and challenge unhelpful and unrealistic thinking and try and understand where these patterns developed.

We can then work towards holding more helpful beliefs about yourself and developing the behaviours that go with these beliefs. This will involve making changes and trying out new behaviours. For example, putting yourself fist more, or saying no to people. We will aim to do this in a stepped away as these can be difficult changes at times.

I will also help you be able to be better at identifying your won strengths and qualities and identify and build evidence for some more helpful beliefs about yourself. This will then help you stop automatically noticing all the faults and perceived weakness. This will help you maintain health self esteem of the future.