Secrets of Self-Esteem, Part 1

* ©2013 by David D. Burns, MD

Do not copy, publish or reproduce without the written permission of Dr. Burns.

I’m going to start out with a few postings on the popular subject of how to boost your self-esteem and overcome feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, or inadequacy. These feelings are among the most important symptoms of depression, and most people fall into black holes from time to time when you begin to feel that you’re not as good as you should be.

Therapists are not immune from these feelings, either. In fact, when I give workshops for mental health professionals around the US and Canada, it seems that the vast majority of the therapists who attend have struggled with feelings of depression and anxiety. Cartoons often focus on the theme of therapists who are nuttier than their patients. There’s a lot of truth in that. Many people pursue a career as a psychotherapist primarily because of their own suffering, in the hopes of finding personal healing along the way. And there’s certainly no shame in that. In fact, therapists who have experience profound personal healing have much more to offer their patients than simply tools and techniques. They can say, “I know how painful your suffering is, because I’ve been there myself. And I also know how to show you the way out of the woods, so you can regain joy and self-esteem again.”

To get the ball rolling, I’m providing some information from a short interview I did on this topic for a Toronto newspaper recently. I pointed out that when you’re experiencing low self-esteem, the culprit is always your thoughts. You are giving yourself negative messages, like

  • “I should be better than I am,” or
  • “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” or
  • “I’m inferior–there’s really nothing special about me.”

You may even tell yourself that you’re defective.

Although you probably believe these painful thoughts with all your heart, they are, in fact, distorted and illogical. You’re telling yourself things that aren’t really true. Depression is the world’s oldest con. You’re probably involved in All-or-Nothing Thinking, Mental Filtering, Discounting the Positive, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, and Self-Blame, to name just a few of the “cognitive distortions” that trigger depression and anxiety.

Here’s the good news–when you change the way you THINK you can change the way you FEEL. To find out how, check out one of my books, such as Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy or The Feeling Good Handbook. Numerous research studies have revealed that roughly two thirds of the people who read one of these books and do the exercises experience substantial, and even dramatic, improvements in mood and outlook within four weeks, even without antidepressants or therapy. These studies included individuals who were moderately to severely depressed.

What was equally startling was that the effects seemed to stick–long-term follow-up studies revealed that patients felt even better at their three-year follow-up evaluation.  So although these books are not panaceas that will cure all depression, they can certainly help. And it’s also good news that we now have powerful, fast-acting, drug-free treatments for depression and all of the anxiety disorders as well.

Most of us fall into black holes of self-doubt from time to time. Recovery from those feelings is one of the greatest feelings a human being can experience. I’d love to show you how to have this experience, too.

For more on overcoming depression and low self-esteem, stay tuned.