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ADDICTIONS RECOVERY COUNSELLING, CALGARY. Michael Haggstrom, Ph.D. Psychotherapists & Counsellors.
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woman%20stressed.jpgWhat is Self-Esteem?
What is Positive Self-Esteem?
What is Low Self-Esteem?
What are the Effects of Low Self-Esteem?
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
How Can Therapy Help?
Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is the way a person thinks and feels about themselves. It reflects a personís overall evaluation of his or her own worth. It is how you feel about the way you are, the way you behave and how you look.

What is Positive Self-Esteem?
Positive self-esteem is a feeling of pride in yourself, a feeling of being worthwhile, having a sense of faith in yourself and in your abilities. It helps you to be resilient and move through failures and disappointments without excessive shame or negativity. To sum it up, having positive self-esteem is about the thoughts and feelings you have that provide you with a positive sense of overall self-worth and self-confidence.

What is Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem isnít simply about feeling bad about something you do, such as when weíre disappointed that we didnít achieve a desired goal as we all make mistakes and experience failure. Rather, low self-esteem is about negative generalizations felt about our overall sense of self that would say, "Iím such a failure", "Iím so stupid", "I canít get anything right", "Iíll never make anything of myself", "No wonder no one loves you, you are such a loser".

There is another way low self-esteem manifests itself and that is through grandiosity, where everything we do has to be perfect or at a high level of success. Perfectionists and over-achievers suffer from low self-worth. Their belief is that unless itís perfect or unless I reach the highest peak in life and keep reaching it, itís not good enoughÖ Iím not good enough. This is not the same as just valuing excellence, which can be a positive trait to adhere to. Rather, it is about needing to look good and receive positive feedback from others in order to feel worthwhile. It holds to the belief that if I please others then Iím acceptable. They might be family and friends, but it can also be society, the media, the boss, a therapist, a coach, a certain group of people and just about anyone we idealize. It can even be about someone from our past that we would have wanted to gain approval or love from but never received in a way that was truly meaningful to us. It can also be about a past failure that we never were able to overcome and that we are constantly still trying to prove our worth about. So unconsciously we may be stuck in a reoccurring pattern that holds us prisoner to something of the past that is not sufficiently dealt with.

What are the Effects of Low Self-Esteem?
Having low self-esteem will cause you to respond negatively to life events as they occur in your life and thereby only reinforce it all the more. The more we do this, the greater a negative self-appraisal becomes acquired in our psyche. We judge ourselves as inferior to others and begin to despise who we are, believing that we are not good enough and are not as valuable as others. As this continues to build, we find ourselves unhappy and uncomfortable with who we are.

Low self-esteem can cause you to give up trying in life where you end up living out your beliefs of failure and unworthiness, resulting in hopelessness and mediocrity. On the other hand it might motivate you for a long while to gain much success and to push yourself really hard to get there, but still it will leave you feeling empty, lonely and unworthy. You might go from one project to another, from one relationship to another, addicted to the busyness of achieving. However, achievement will never be enough to give any of us the sense of worth that we need to have within ourselves regardless of how much we succeed or fail in life. In the end, low self-esteem will always bring about depression as it leaves us feeling that no matter what we do in life it will never be enough.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
No one is born with low self-esteem and it has no natural occurring genetic factors to it. It is not the same as someone who is reserved in their personality versus someone who is more outgoing, both of which may have genetic factors. If you want to move toward healthy self-esteem you will have to look back from where youíve come. If youíve developed a prevailing negative view about yourself then ask yourself, ďWhat in my history has contributed to me learning this?Ē

Low self-esteem generally starts early in life, but can begin later on as well. Influencing factors can be many, such as:

  • lack of encouragement and positive input from caregivers, authority figures, peers and partners
  • being devalued or put down by others
  • receiving praise or affirmation primarily through competitive settings
  • bullying in school, at home, at work, in sportsÖ
  • reoccurring failures or let-downs
  • media or societal portrayals of the ideal person, the ideal life-style or the ideal body
  • keeping company with negative people
  • repeatedly comparing yourself to others
  • being highly competitive
  • past or ongoing abuse, trauma or neglect
  • having unfulfilled needs, wants or wishes
  • unrealistic expectations of yourself
  • the way you deal with defeat or failure
  • faulty thinking; negative attitudes about life, yourself or others
  • depression or other mood disorder
  • not living up to your own potential or giving up on your dreams

How Can Therapy Help?
Counselling can assist you in looking at how your unique story has contributed to having low self-esteem. Then it can seek to change the way you think and feel about yourself. This is not just about learning some form of ďpositive self-talkĒ, as it is much more complex than that. It can be about authentically learning to appreciate yourself and learning to develop self-compassion regardless the circumstance. Even more practically it can be about developing practical skills and resources to help prevent reoccurring failures. It can further focus on regaining some of the essential building blocks that you may have missed out on in life, such as learning how to interact socially with others, how to overcome disappointment, how to be assertive, or how to manage difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, loneliness or fear. It might include healing past unresolved pain that at times is the root of it all. In the end it is about helping you gain a healthier and more positive appreciation of yourself as a human being, about learning to wake up in the morning and feel good about who you are and what your current life is like, no matter the circumstances.

If you have any questions or want to inquire about setting up an initial counselling appointment please feel free to call Michael K. Haggstrom, Ph.D. at 403-220-1101 or email: (Calgary counselling counsellors)

Highly Sensitive People (HSP)
Some people are called Highly Sensitive. They are more aware of their environment and seem to be more inpacted by what goes on around them. "Extraordinary sensitivity to noise and chaos. An aversion to particular fragrances and foods. A strong sense of what others are feeling, and an immediate dislike or attraction to certain people without even knowing why. If these traits seem familiar, you might be what is known as a "highly Sensitive person" or HSP.

"Highly sensitive people often experience a sense of being uncomfortable in a physical environment," says Dr. Michael Haggstrom. "They're sensing everything going on around them. They can tell when a boss, teacher or friend is in a good or bad mood. They even notice the slightest weird odour around them." Up to 20 per cent of the population displays the traits and abilities of HSPs, all of whom seem to have one trait in common: a highly-tuned central nervous system."

Some of the traits of "Highly Sensitive People" are:

  1. Instantly affected by moods and body language of other people
  2. Uncomfortable with schedule changes and social situations
  3. Strong desire for quiet and time alone
  4. Meticulous and/or perfectionist tendencies
  5. Difficulty relating to others or forgetting painful experiences
  6. Highly creative, artistic and intuitive
  7. Possess a tendency to overcommit to others
  8. Hardworking and effective employee, but often overlooked

If you have any questions or want to inquire about setting up an initial counselling appointment please feel free to call 403-220-1101 or email:

To download the above full HSP article click on: (requires adobe reader): Sensitive People Need Not Suffer, Calgary Herald, by Donna Gray with Dr. Michael Haggstrom, DCC, DMin, Ph.D.
suggested READING: The Highly Senstive Person more reading

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Disclaimer: The information presented in this site is only for informational purposes and is not intended to replace personalized professional guidance. Individuals should always see competent professionals, such as a medical doctor, when they have concerns about their own mental/physical health and behaviour, or that of others. The reader assumes full responsibility for his/her own actions in regards to any material contained in this site, on any links, in any downloads, and in any recommended reading materials.
© Copyright 2003 Michael K. Haggstrom. All Rights Reserved.
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