Clinical Psychologists
Sydney CBD, Wynyard

Enq:(02) 9262 6156

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Self-esteem and Shame

Self-esteem is made of the opinions, feelings and thoughts you have about yourself. Although childhood experiences play a large role in developing your self-esteem, it can evolve and change in reaction to life events and experiences. Shame often underlies low self-esteem. Shame is the fear that we are not good enough to be loved or experience belonging.

People with poor self esteem often have a strong 'Internal Critic', a voice in their heads that judges and criticises them. Perfectionism is also common to those with low self esteem, where perfectionists try to 'fit in' by putting their efforts into maintaining a public 'mask', performing, perfecting, pleasing others and proving themselves in order to feel worthy.

In contrast to perfectionists, other people will react to low self-esteem by withdrawing and isolating themselves, not engaging in tasks or relationships for fear of failure. Additionally, some people react to low self-esteem and shame by becoming overly competitive, aggressive, critical or blaming of others.

Healthy self-esteem is based on our ability to see ourselves accurately and accept and value ourselves unconditionally. We all have strengths and limitations and people with good self esteem and confidence can acknowledge their strengths and limitations and work towards self improvement for themself, rather then to alter what others views of them.

People with healthy self-esteem still experience shame but they respond differently: accepting their imperfections with humour and self-compassion, and being honest and vulnerable with supportive friends and family around their shame triggers. Psychological therapy can help improve self-esteem; increase feelings of worthiness and belonging; increase self-compassion and self acceptance and reduce unhealthy reactions to shame including perfectionism, withdrawal and counter-attack.