The major thought process that goes through the mind of people with low self-esteem is one of inadequacy. It comes in many guises: I am boring, I am weird, I am an odd-ball, people do not like me, I am unattractive, I am stupid, I am not good enough, I can’t do anything right, I am useless, I have nothing interesting to say, I have done nothing important or interesting in life, and probably a hundred more but the basic idea is the same, we are not worthy people in one way or another.
Reading through Melanie Fennell’s book Overcoming Low Self Esteem which I am working through at present, early on she gets the reader to think about how these beliefs are confirmed, not just through negative experiences and our failures but through our successes. Yes, you heard that right: our successes confirm our Bottom Line negative feelings. (The Bottom Line – as I mentioned on the other blog – are negative statements about the self that are clearly opinions but are perceived as incontrovertible fact.).
How exactly does that work? Let’s take a hypothetical negative Bottom Line for the premise: I am not good at my job for example and let’s say that you are a qualified vet. A dog is brought to you with a serious injury – it has been mauled by another dog and time is critical if you are to save the life of this animal. Nevertheless through astute diagnosis of internal injuries, you prioritise the work you must do, put it into action and save the animal’s life. The owners go away happy, nurse their animal back to a full recovery. Two weeks later your Practice gets a letter from the family thanking you for your help, complimenting you on your professionalism and care, stating that you had remained calm and had put them at ease. They finish by saying that you had worked a miracle in saving their dog’s life. The senior vet points this out and shows you the letter. Your response?
‘Anybody could have done that. It was basic first-year stuff. The dog was not on the brink of death, most of the injuries were superficial.’ And you go away still remaining convinced that you are not good at your job because a first-year student could have done it blindfolded. Besides which you were not calm, you were shitting yourself the whole time!
I’ve done it myself. I have discounted my successes (no matter how small or large) with answers such as the following:
– I got through by the skin of my teeth
– I could have done better
– I just wasn’t good enough there
– Anybody could have done it
– It’s easy, nothing special. Why are you making such a big deal of something so straightforward?
– I got lucky
– I didn’t figure that out by myself. Somebody else showed me how to do it
And so the cycle continues. Bottom Line is proven because we go to such lengths to discount the successes.