Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Low Self-Esteem

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is a fundamental part of who we are. It’s how we evaluate ourselves in a broad and over-arching way – our overall opinion of ourselves. It’s more basic than how we’re feeling about ourselves today. Self-esteem is what we know about ourselves to be true despite temporary setbacks or disappointments. Rather than a judgment based on what we’re doing or how we’re feeling in the moment that is right now, or on what we think others believe about us, self-esteem is our own internal sense of worth, the underlying structure you’ve come to recognize as the Real You, your judgment of your worth as a person.

How Do You Get (or not get) Self-Esteem?

This picture has been built up over your lifetime from experiences you’ve taken in one by one from home, school, work, and relationships that come to mean this is who I am. For most people, the sense of self is generally positive and reflects the message “I may have my weak points, but basically I’m ok.” There’s an inner core of well-being, and a resilience that can tolerate the normal ups and downs of life.

Low Self-Esteem

For others, the messages you absorbed were consistently negative, critical and undermining, leading you to form an inaccurate picture of yourself. Deep down, you don’t believe in yourself. You measure yourself against others and inevitably come up short. You feel unworthy of being happy and having a better life. You have a hard time forgiving yourself for mistakes, and somehow, no matter how hard you try, it’s never quite good enough.

In a situation like that, chances are pretty good that you don’t enjoy yourself a whole lot. You wouldn’t say you get much fun out of life. You’re too busy trying to be perfect or “get to the next level”. (And whenever you get there, you raise the bar.) You might look to others to affirm your worth with praise, but when they do, it doesn’t last and you need more. Or, you get the praise but you don’t believe they really mean it, because underneath you know you don’t deserve it, so you dismiss it and you’re back to square one, hoping this time you’ll get what you need and feel ok.

Feeling Like a Failure

People with low self-esteem battle a relentless inner critic that says “you’re a failure.” It’s harsh, punishing and demanding. You’re unable to feel proud of achievements (“my presentation to the head of the company was ok but it should’ve been better”). Perhaps for the most part you’re able to hide it, but you feel like a fraud and are sure that sooner or later you’re going to be found out.

Building Self-Worth

We can’t go back in time to make people retract all the unfair criticism you might have gotten along the way, or to have them give you the attention, love and praise you didn’t get back then. What we can do is begin to nurture a different way of looking at yourself, so you can recognize and acknowledge your strengths while accepting your limitations. (We all have them.) You can learn to give, to stop punishing yourself and start rewarding yourself. You can begin to nurture your competent side, to see yourself as worthy of love and respect.

In therapy we talk about ways for you to experience a side of yourself that you didn’t know you had and to develop the confidence to set your own realistic standards of achievement rather than assuming what other people told you (and what you came to believe) is correct. As you do that, life gets a lot more fun. To change a lifetime of negative feedback and thinking which became your own way of seeing yourself won’t necessarily be quick or easy, but it can happen. With commitment to the process, therapy can help build self-esteem.

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