have had. For example, a child who was constantly
punished and criticised may come to believe “I am
worthless,” or “I am bad.” These thoughts are what we
call negative core beliefs - the firmly held and strongly
ingrained evaluations of our worth and value as a person,
which often take the form of “I am…” statements (e.g. I
am stupid, I am not good enough, etc).
Rules and Assumptions
When we strongly believe these negative core beliefs
about ourselves, it is not surprising that we feel very bad
about ourselves and experience strong negative
emotions. To protect ourselves and ensure we keep on
functioning, we begin to develop rules and assumptions
for how we live our lives. They aim to guard
and defend us from the truth of our negative
core beliefs. For example, the person who
thinks they are “worthless” may develop rules
such as “I must please other people” or “I
must not express my needs” and assumptions
like “Only if I do things perfectly will people
like me.”
Unhelpful Behaviour
The result of having these rules and assumptions is that
they will guide your behaviour and largely determine
what you do on a day-to-day basis. Makes sense, doesn’t
it? So, depending on your rules and assumptions, you
will try very hard to do everything perfectly, do what it
takes to please people, never assert your needs, … and
the list can go on.
Dormant Low Self-Esteem
What this means is that on the surface you can feel fairly
good about yourself if you are able to meet these rules
and live up to the standards you have set for yourself.
However, there are disadvantages to following these
rules and assumptions. Firstly, you are putting yourself
under a lot of pressure so that you manage your self-
esteem and don’t feel bad about yourself. Secondly,
following your rules and assumptions keeps your
negative core beliefs intact because you never challenge
or test them.
So your low self-esteem is just lying dormant, waiting to
be awakened by the slightest bump in the road.
Therefore, changing these negative core beliefs and
unhelpful rules, assumptions and behaviours is important
in developing more healthy self-esteem.
C
entre for
C
linical
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nterventions
•Psychotherapy•Research•Training
Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is having a generally negative
overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating
oneself negatively, and placing a general negative
value on oneself as a person. How do such negative
beliefs start?
Model of Low Self-Esteem: Beginning
Negative Early Life Experiences
Often, the beliefs we have about ourselves are
conclusions we arrive at based on what has happened
early in our lives. This means that our experiences in
our childhood, regarding our family, our peers, the
society we lived in, the schools we went to, etc, have
influenced our thoughts and beliefs about all sorts of
things, including ourselves. If we have arrived at very
negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, it is likely
that we have encountered a variety of negative
experiences that might have contributed to this, such
as:
Punishment, neglect, or abuse
Difficulty in meeting parents’ standards
Not fitting in at home or at school
Difficulty in meeting peer group standards
Being on the receiving end of
other people’s stress or distress
Your family’s place in society
An absence of positives
In addition, negative experiences as
an adult, such as abuse, prolonged stress or traumas,
can also influence our beliefs about ourselves.
Negative Core Beliefs
Why we continue to experience low self-esteem today,
even when our current circumstances are different
from those of our past, is a result of our negative core
beliefs. Negative core beliefs are the conclusions about
ourselves we have arrived at when we were children or
adolescents, as a result of the negative experiences we
beginnings of
low self-esteem
Negative early
life experiences
Negative core
beliefs
Unhelpful rules
& assumptions
Unhelpful
behaviour
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http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au regarding the information from this website before making use of such information.
See website www.cci.health.wa.gov.au for more handouts and resources.
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