Low self-esteem refers to persistent feelings of inadequacy and a sense of not being good enough whatever the situation or circumstances. Tara Brach, a psychologist and Buddhist teacher, refers to low self-esteem as “the trance of unworthiness” (Brach, 2003). She goes on to explain that “our feelings of unworthiness and alienation from others give rise to various forms of suffering. For some, the most glaring expression is addiction. It may be to alcohol, food or drugs. Others feel addicted to a relationship, dependent on a particular person or people in order to feel they are complete and that life is worth living. Some try to feel important through long hours of grueling work—an addiction that our culture often applauds. Some create outer enemies and are always at war with the world.” (Brach, 2003). Persistent low self-esteem can lead to hopelessness, depression, and anxiety.
When someone feels inadequate and unworthy, they are unlikely to reach out to others or to reach for the things they really want to bring into their lives related to education, work, career, or activities they enjoy like sports or the arts. They are unlikely to reach for the stars which is where personal growth comes into the picture. Personal growth is about aspiring to be your very best self. It is reaching out for the things you want in your life and feeling confident doing so.
Individual psychotherapy can help you build self-esteem and grow by uncovering deeply held beliefs and thought patterns that undermine inherent worthiness. Once exposed, these beliefs can be dealt with—sometimes modified, sometimes thrown out completely. Psychotherapy can also help you become aware of self-talk—the voice inside your head that either nurtures you or judges you harshly. Self-talk is a good indicator of your self-esteem. Someone with high self-esteem routinely tells themselves that they are good enough, whereas someone with low self-esteem tells themselves that they are deficient. Becoming aware of self-talk and building self-esteem will naturally lead to understanding yourself better, to seeing yourself more clearly, and to positive personal growth.
For more information about the trance of unworthiness, see Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance.