A lovely young man came to see me a few years ago. He was an intelligent graduate looking for work and was feeling very low. He had come out as gay a few years beforehand and seemed to have good friendships. Yet he would stand at a zebra crossing and avoid walking when the traffic lights went red because he would see the expressions on drivers’ faces and automatically assume that they were angry with him. He would internalise this imagined criticism and cowered, stay on the pavement. As we went through our counselling and hypnotherapy sessions, his sense of self worth grew and he finally found a good job that used his valuable skills. I bumped into him a year later and he had even been given a promotion and had a smile beaming across his face. This is why I Love therapy!
I see many clients with low self-esteem and it is something that I feel passionately about helping. Valuing and respecting yourself is essential for people’s well being. Yet it is something that is often lacking. It can be extremely painful and result in self-destructive tendencies. People, who have healthy self-esteems, are confident and self-assured often cannot understand others who do not feel good about themselves. Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror and immediately rejecting yourself. Then going out in public and feeling as though you don’t have a natural layer of self-protection so that you internalise all real and, more often, imagined criticisms and judgments. Always assuming you are wrong and everyone else is right. It is a painful and empty place to be. It is something that often starts in childhood and even within the most supportive homes can develop with the onset of puberty, when other’s opinions seem to become more important, especially nowadays with social media. I see a lot of teenage girls and despite decades of feminism they are more bombarding than ever with social media about how they ‘ought to be’. Add to this the larger exposure to social groups on line and its a recipe for disaster for some sensitive souls, dealing with hormone changes, trying to find their grown up identities as well as deal with the pressure of exams. If these issues are not addressed in their teens it often continues into adulthood. Naturally certain knocks in life can result in the same wearing down of self-esteem in adults.
We are all brought up having to learn how to cooperate and participate in society otherwise we would still be toddlers screaming out for our own needs for survival. We are taught to listen to others from then on, through school, family and friends. However we need to have a balance between what others say and our own internal dialogue. As soon as we learn language we start this internal voice and even before that we have a good sense of what we like and don’t like! But this can get watered down, merged with others’ perhaps louder voices and sometimes apparently lost all together. There is a famous book title – “I’m OK You’re OK” – and it sums up the healthy balance we should all be aiming for. However people with low self-esteem tend to say to themselves, “You’re OK and I’m Not!” It’s a terrible place to be and often goes unnoticed in people whom we assume to be ‘just fine’. It is more obvious when we hear teenagers (particularly girls) criticising themselves and their bodies. I sometimes meet clients who have such a low opinion of themselves (for no good reason) that they only relay what they think others say or think. They seem to have lost touch with themselves and have turned themselves inside out. Very often they do not even realise that they have stopped their own inner voice, or never developed one. They also loose self trust and need to be helped to not only listen to themselves and Their opinions on things but also to trust that their own views, feelings and tendencies are OK and valid.
Sometimes it is strikingly obvious, for example if someone is struggling with their sexual identity and rejecting themselves as they seem to be leaning towards a minority. Sometimes it is simply because someone is sensitive and wants to fit it, or because they have certain physical issues, or have received a lot of external authority. Naturally there are people who have suffered some sort of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
To get people back in touch with the essence of who they are, I often remind them that there are times in the day when they probably do know who they are when they make simple choices, when they are not under pressure, for example when choosing what to eat from a menu. “What flavour of ice cream do you prefer?” We start a sort of rebuilding of their sense of self, getting back in touch with who they are. I usually suggest some visualisation regarding an imaginary protective shield around them when they are in company, and practise conjuring up their own opinions on others whenever they feel slighted in anyway, pointing out how they don’t need to be on the defensive. Everything in one’s psyche needs to start with a sense of self worth. Society talks a lot about human rights. But if one does not feel one has a right to be themselves in the first place then it can lead to all sorts of self abuse. This can show itself in a variety of ways, not just the obvious cutting, drugs, alcohol and other highs, self soothers, self medications and crutches, but also to a general tendency to discount oneself and to withdraw.
I want people to be able to feel that they are standing in their own skins and saying “I am Me, I am unique, I am worthwhile, I am of value – I know what I like and what I don’t like, and as long as I am not hurting any one, including myself, I am OK – and I have a right to exist!”, “I am not perfect, no-one is and that is OK because I am a diamond in the rough and I am working on myself” and eventually “I Like Myself!” Believe it or not there are some people who cannot say this to themselves and that is a tragedy. Loving oneself can be rather dismissed these days as a rather hippy dippy view, yet it is at the heart of mental health. It is not about being selfish or dreamy. One looks at a baby giggling to itself whilst simply playing with its toes and discovering its own body. We all need that internal smile. If one cannot love oneself, value oneself and stand up and be counted then not only can one be crushed but one cannot love others in a healthy balanced way. We are all better and more productive members of society when we take care of ourselves first. Care for the carer. Put the oxygen mask on oneself before our children. It makes sense!
Hypnotherapy works at a subconscious level so it helps to rebuild that inner voice and sense of self. It is a relaxing, subtle and yet powerful way to acknowledge yourself and create inner confidence and self worth. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis and it is wonderful to help people to feel empowered again. Watching someone blossom from this therapeutic process, to walk out of the therapy room with their head held high, learning to look after themselves, finding themselves again, is a wonderful privilege. Unless someone has tragically had abuse or neglect from the moment they are born, they have had a time in their lives when they were simply themselves. Being allowed to be who you are, growing as your own unique self, whilst adapting to society around you in a healthy and productive way (I will leave sociopaths to another time!) is essential. It sounds corny – but just imagine if you felt the opposite, tossed around by life like a piece of wreckage out at sea. Many more supposedly functioning members of society feel like that and often do not share their internal agony. Hypnotherapy and counselling can help and society is gradually learning that mental well-being is just as important as physical health!
WANT IT TO HAPPEN – EXPECT IT TO HAPPEN – WATCH IT HAPPEN!