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Counseling/Depression and low self-esteem


Hi. I suffer from depression and very low self-esteem. Both of my parents were very critical of me and I was also bullied all through school which had a detrimental effect on my self-esteem. I hate myself, and am unable to see any good in myself. I have been told all my life that I am smart, and so my entire sense of self-worth has been based on that. I KNOW that I am not pretty, have never been popular or had a lot of friends, am not stylish etc. The only compliment I have ever gotten is that I am smart, so I am very hard on myself when I make a mistake. For example, I am quite upset because I just realized that I made a spelling error in one of the Christmas cards I sent out. I misspelled the word generosity (I spelled it generousity). I feel so stupid, and certain that when the person notices that I made a spelling mistake they will realize that I am not smart at all, and that I am in fact stupid and illiterate! This fear of looking or sounding stupid stops me from doing a lot of things or takes the joy out of doing things I would otherwise enjoy (like sending out Christmas cards). Do you have any advice for me? I know this must sound silly, but I have been agonizing over the fact that I made that mistake, and wondering if I might have made others. I beat myself up for a long time after making a mistake, tell myself I am stupid, worthless etc. This makes my depression worse. Thanks for listening. I hope you can offer some words of advice. It would be greatly appreciated.

Hi, Erica: First, questions about how we can grow and change our lives are never "silly". Your question indicates that you want to be different - you're just trying to figure out how to accomplish that. Let's start with the self-esteem part.  Most often we treat self-esteem as if it were a noun:  we go to therapists to get IT, we either have IT or don't have IT. I find that it's much more useful to think of self-esteem as a verb; it's something we do.  We change how we think about ourselves by what we accomplish in our lives and how we take stock of our strengths, talents, abilities and resources (both within us and our social resources). Feelings, thoughts and behaviors are all tied together; if you change one, you will change the others as well.  Too many people concentrate on changing feelings.  In my experience, that's the most difficult of the trio to change.  The good folks at AA have a saying: "fake it until you make it."  What that means is the road to change starts with trying on new behaviors. That might feel unnatural at first but eventually it becomes incorporated with how we see ourselves.  I have a friend who says "practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent."  You are not chained to how you think and how you behave; the first step is to realize that you always have options and choices about how you think, act and feel.  We are also not prisoners of our past.  Most parents do their best but they are human and make mistakes.  As an adult (I assume you are one) you don't have to live with their view of you or anyone else's - you have choices.  My suggestion is that you begin by asking yourself how you want your life to be different rather than consistently thinking about your weaknesses, problems and faults.  A good question is to suppose that you go to sleep and while you're sleeping some miracle happens.  That miracle is how you want to have your life be different and better.  But, you don't know about this miracle - not yet - because it happened while your sleeping.  What will be the small signs as you go through your day from the time you open your eyes in the morning after the miracle until you go to sleep that night after the miracle that will be the clues that this miracle happened?  Write down the details of that miracle; how you will be thinking, feeling and acting differently.  Who notices the change and how they notice it and what different will it make for them to see you acting differently.  Once you have a detailed vision of the change, then go to sleep, wake up and act as if the miracle had happened.  Notice how it changes how you think, feel and act and notice who else sees the difference. You may need to do this several days in order for it to work but I think it might be worth the effort. If you find it difficult to consider change, you might then want to consider seeing a therapist or counselor - maybe a life coach who might be able to help you move on a different and better path. Take a look at   Hope this helps.  Joel


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Joel Simon


General questions about counseling, psychotherapy and mental health.


Over 30 years as a therapist, clinical supervisor and solution-focused trainer. I've worked in a variety of settings including adolescent day treatment, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, community mental health clinics, and hospice. Further information is available on my website:

A founding member of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association, Academy of Certified Social Workers, Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in New York State.

Co-authored "Solution-Focused Brief Practice With Long-Term Clients in Mental Health Services: I'm More Than My Label." Authored: "Solution-Focused Practice in End-of-Life and Grief Counseling" Several articles published in professional journals including 2 with Insoo Kim Berg. Further details are available at

Masters of Social Work (Yeshiva University 1978). 5 years training in Transactional Analysis, certified in Advanced Ericksonian Psychotherapy and Hypnosis with the New York Society (NYSEPH), Advanced training and advanced supervision seminar in solution-focused brief therapy with the co-developers of the approach, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer

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