What happens when we have not had caring relationships that would allow us to feel a secure bond with the world?
Self-esteem problems, accompanied or not by self-image issues, are a theme that cuts across most of our psychological difficulties.
As Dr. Sue Gerhardt shows us in her book Why Love Matters, a large number of people do not experience the kind of childhood that provides the foundation for basic confidence in dealing with the world and relating to others. Their first relational experiences were with parents who found it hard to attune and respond adequately to their babies and unwillingly contributed to insecure attachments.
Most often this was due to the intergenerational transmission of their own difficulties in regulating their own feelings, which in the most extreme cases is linked to transgenerational trauma and leads us to experience the lack of self-worth. Without effective and well-resourced emotional systems, we tend to find it very difficult to relate flexibly to other people and sometimes go from the extreme of trying not to need them at all to needing them too much.
The paradox is that we need to have a satisfying experience of dependency before we can self-regulate and become independent or rather interdependent. Yet this feels counter-intuitive to many adults, who respond to the insecure with a punitive attitude, as if becoming more mature and self-regulating were a matter of will-power. In the words of Laura Perls, the key for a healthy (therapeutic) relationship would be to “give as much support as necessary and as little as possible”.
Therapeutic focus in the face of this type of suffering will demand a work of reconstruction of the pathways that led to the current lack of self-esteem, to facilitate the co-construction of new relational experiences in the therapeutic context and later in the broader environment.
Throughout this process, we will often encounter shame as a companion. The steps proposed by NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) can help us to face it with self-compassion:
Understand the nature of shame:
Shame is normal since it is our brain’s way of dealing with the threat of disconnection (abandonment or isolation).
Label it for what it is, that is, an emotion. Giving it a name helps us get some distance between us and the emotion.
Replace judgment with curiosity:
Try to hold your experience of shame with curiosity rather than judgment. Curiosity about our emotions can help us shift into a more caring and understanding perspective.
Acknowledge your inner critic.
It’s helpful to be aware that our inner critic often likes to amplify our shame. Remind your inner critic that you are a work in progress, trying to navigate life the best you can.
Practice what is helpful, not harmful:
Try to speak to yourself like you would a friend. Can you ask yourself what actions would be helpful for recovering from this experience, rather than actions that might perpetuate it? If you are working on correcting an action, can you offer yourself constructive correction rather than shaming self-attack?
Getting to value ourselves for who we are and not for what we do or what today’s society tells us is valuable is a challenge at times exhausting, but it is a necessary task if we want to create a real change in the way we love and relate to ourselves and the world.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
I invite you to get to know me and decide if I could be a good companion on the road.
About me and how my practice offers mental health care to bring a sense of home to nationals and internationals.
Before we meet
Practical information before you start your therapeutic process so we can establish the boundaries of our relationship.
The bridge between the different forms of human suffering we face and the therapeutic support to alleviate it.
Once your need for support has been addressed, you can decide which setting seems most appropriate for you to begin your journey to feeling better.
Psychology within Reach
3544 DB Utrecht
Phone +31 30 636 8981
Mon. – Fri.– 9 am – 6:30 pm