Could Low Self Esteem be Holding You Back?

By on May 1, 2012

By Sandy Abell, MS, LPC, ACC –

When I was a new therapist in a social service agency, I had the degree and license to help people, but I struggled with the image of myself in this daunting role. I knew my job was to support people as they worked through old issues and solved current challenges, but I didn’t believe in myself or trust my ability to do this well.

I thought I was okay, but my self-esteem, which is my reputation with myself, was surprisingly low. The truth is, I didn’t particularly like myself. Even though I was smart, capable, and had a lot of knowledge about psychological theories and counseling techniques, I didn’t see myself as functioning well enough to properly assist my clients. My clients liked me personally, but had picked up on my insecurity and low self-esteem. As a result, they didn’t trust me to help them as they moved forward in their lives.

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Today, I am well able to work with clients because I have a good reputation with myself. I have learned that healthy relationships and leadership roles require trust, respect and belief in myself.

Self-Confidence versus Self-Esteem

Self-confidence and self-esteem are not the same. Self-confidence is how you feel about your ability to effectively function at any given moment. It can be affected by everything, from your current health to the weather. There are some days when you feel strong and in control of your life, and other days when you’d rather stay in bed and let someone else take care of everything.

Since self-confidence might fluctuate daily and even hourly, it’s much like a tiny boat on the ocean that can be tossed about or sail smoothly, depending on surface conditions

Self-esteem is a constant, and is not affected much by everyday events. Self-esteem is the unwavering acceptance, compassion and non-judgmental love you feel for the person you are. Self-esteem can be compared to the depths of the ocean, which remain calm and unchanged, even during violent storms.

In order to have positive self-esteem, you must know, accept, and love every part of yourself. To accept hour “humanness,” you need to take honest pride in your many talents, strengths and unique qualities. You also need to have compassion for the part of yourself that is not always perfect or positive. True self-love is nonjudgmental.

Nonjudgmental self-love and acceptance does not mean you believe you’re perfect or have no need for personal growth or improvement. It simply means that you are aware of all aspects of yourself: the ones you’re satisfied with and the ones you may want to change. It means that you accept, rather than reject, your total self.

The Roots of Low Self-Esteem

I wondered why my self-esteem was low during my early years as a therapist, so I looked at where it might have come from. I realized that my concept of self – who I am – began when I was a baby, and grew into how I felt about myself as an adult. It was a composite of all the input that I received throughout my lifetime, the positive and negative, the verbal and nonverbal.

As I pondered this, I remembered a childhood filled with negativity. My parents were loving, but often expressed anger and bitterness in our home, which I believed was my fault. I later discovered it wasn’t about me at all, but by then my self-image had already been damaged. The few positive messages I was given weren’t enough to counteract the negativity of my home life, or that of my peers, teachers and others.

You may have come to believe that you were defective, annoying, stupid, unlovable and rejectable. If so, this negative self-image evolved into poor self-esteem. And yet, the way others respond to you doesn’t define who you are. Their responses only reflect who they are at a particular point in time.

Simple Steps to Increasing Self-Esteem

The following are a few ways you can begin to change incorrect perceptions of yourself:

  • Evaluate the values of your parents and authority figures, then decide if they fit the adult you are today. If they fit, keep them. If they don’t, let them go and create new values more suitable to the person you are now.
  • Assess the validity of the negative messages you received and continually play in your head. Understand that these were a reflection of the people saying them, and weren’t true about you.
  • Allow yourself to let the negative message go and create new, positive messages to take their place.
  • Begin to take responsibility for how you feel about yourself, your abilities and your life. Don’t allow others to define you.
  • Focus on appreciating your accomplishments rather than berating yourself for not achieving perfection.
  • View your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of failures.
  • Identify the negative people in your life, and begin to spend less time with them. Spend more time with positive people who value and support you.

Take whatever time is necessary to answer the question, “Is it possible that poor self-esteem may be holding you back from being as effective and successful as you can be?”

It’s something to think about.


Sandy is a business and life coach, an author, educator, speaker, a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of Inside Jobs Coaching Company. She specializes in working with executives, business owners, professionals, entrepreneurs and people in transition, to help them define and achieve their goals. She can be reached through her website at

About Sandy Abell

Sandy Abell is a business and life coach, author, educator, speaker and Licensed Professional Counselor. She specializes in working with executives, business owners, professionals, entrepreneurs and people in transition. Sandy is the author of Self-Esteem: An Inside Job and Moving Up To Management: Leadership and Management Skills for New Supervisors, both available at and for your NOOK. She also publishes a free monthly newsletter entitled Focusing On Your Success. Please visit Sandy on her website at

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Could Low Self Esteem be Holding You Back?