A lovely intelligent post-grad came to see me whilst he was 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. Valuing and respecting yourself is essential for wellbeing. Yet it is something that is often lacking and for a variety of reasons. It can be extremely painful and result in self-destructive tendencies. 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.
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. However we need to have a balance between what others say and our own internal dialogue. “I’m OK, You’re OK” is 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’.
To get people back in touch with the essence of who they are, we start rebuilding their sense of self. 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. If one does not feel one has a right to be themselves 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 anyone, including myself, I am OK - and 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!”
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.
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 whom you are, growing as your own unique self, whilst adapting to society around you in a healthy and productive way is essential. Ironically it is also more likely to bring you the respect you deserve rather than pleasing others for fear of rejection. Many people secretly agonise that they feel like they are tossed around by life like a piece of wreckage out at sea. Hypnotherapy and counselling can help to get you back in control and society is gradually learning that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health.