Individuals commonly present in therapy for issues directly related to self-esteem or for symptoms that eventually are tied to and lead back to the exploration of one’s self-esteem. There is a wealth of information and research devoted to this topic and self-help books abound with ways to improve one’s self-esteem.
The shortcoming of the books available is that they speak to the left brain, which is the seat of language, logic, problem solving, motivation, willpower, etc. In essence, we can tell ourselves that we are a good person, a worthy person, etc., but that does not necessarily make us feel any of those things. It is like trying to tell ourselves that we are happy when we are really feeling depressed. Hence our left brains provide the intellectual experience, but we also need the felt experience, processed in the right brain, largely via interactions with others whom we share an attachment and connection. This makes a trusted therapeutic experience a vital avenue to repairing and enhancing self esteem.
In therapy, self-esteem is improved not by the therapist’s attempts at over inflating one’s ego through flattery and praise of accomplishments. This would, in fact, likely have the opposite result and may lead the individual to feel that he/she is being pitied. Rather, self esteem begins to improve as the individual reveals shameful and loathed aspects of the self to a trusted other (therapist), who has not shrunk back or rejected the individual for these parts of the self. As the therapist accepts the client for all of his/her good and bad parts, so too, can the client begin to accept them as well.
The collaboration of an honest and connected relationship, where one can reveal their true self helps the client to reframe weaknesses as ordinary, which, in turn enhances acceptance and positive feelings about the self. As the client learns to function more authentically through the therapeutic relationship, he/she can begin to function this way in the world. The shedding of the “false self’ allows individuals to confidently engage in and walk away from interactions without fear that if their real self were revealed, then they would surely be rejected.