Silencing the Inner Critic
Patients with low self-esteem will often describe how they have a ‘little voice’ in the back of their head constantly telling them they’re going to fail. Other concepts in CBT are ‘over generalization’, whereby you assume that because you’ve failed at one task you are going to fail at all tasks, and ‘false hypotheses’, where you incorrectly predict that you’re going to fail at your tasks.
We will be employing CBT techniques in order to help overcome this self-doubt.
CBT practitioners then have devised various methods that you can use to combat these problems. One of the most commonly used of these is actually borrowed from meditation and is known as ‘mindfulness’. Here patients are instructed to find a quiet place and to sit down with their eyes closed. Much like in meditation they are then instructed to reflect on their inner thoughts.
This doesn’t mean that they should attempt to clear their minds however, instead, they are instructed to merely ‘watch’ thoughts as they pass by without engaging in them, merely observing the content of their brains as they might watch clouds passing in the sky. This way they can identify the kinds of things they are thinking and in particular any destructive thoughts they might be having.
As patients get better at this they are supposed to be able to do it during the day to day activities and then intervene; spotting the negative and damaging thoughts and seeing them for what they
Most negative ruminations are illogical and even if they aren’t they certainly do more harm than good, so learning to spot them and then put an end to them is a valuable skill. Similarly, to aid in this culture of mindfulness, patients are asked to keep diaries of their thoughts and activities – than to read them back and see how anything they’ve said or done could be disruptive to their self-image.
You can also counter these negative thoughts with positive ones, utilizing ‘positive self-talk’ to reaffirm your worth. Here you should make sure to focus on your good point and to remember compliments you may have received in the past. Instead of telling yourself you’re fat constantly, replace this with reminders about your nice eyes or straight teeth. You’d be surprised by how effective this can be.
Patients are also told to practice ‘hypothesis testing’, where they are encouraged to test their false hypotheses hopefully realizing that they are unfounded. For example, if a patient is scared to speak in public because they are concerned they’ll stutter and fail,
then they are encouraged to actually try speaking in public to find out if this is in fact the case. More often than not they’ll find it isn’t. This also works to prevent over generalization and again as a way to counter any negative associations they’ve developed.
So, if you’re suffering from low self-esteem then you might want to try applying these principles to your life. Make sure you continue to go out and to challenge yourself, even if you genuinely are less
than skilled at what it is you want to achieve this is the only way you are going to improve.
Becoming reclusive will only give you more time to ruminate and send you into a downward spiral. Similarly, surround yourself with positive friends and colleagues and try to focus on the good aspects of what you do. Support yourself with positive self-talk and try to catch yourself having negative thoughts and stamp them out. If this still doesn’t work, then it’s perhaps time to seek help from a professional who can talk you through the process.