Self-Esteem: When My Inner Demon Gets It Wrong - a Mind Tools blog
Self-Esteem: When My Inner Demon Gets It Wrong

Self-Esteem: When My Inner Demon Gets It Wrong

August 11, 2022

© GettyImages/Eoneren

What makes you feel insecure? Maybe it’s public speaking. Perhaps making a mistake leaves you down on yourself. Maybe your “hot button” is feeling rejected. Most of us have something (or multiple things) that trigger a sense of low self-esteem.

Even if we usually feel OK as we go about our day, running into that thing makes our anxiety spike and we start telling stories in our head about what an inadequate person we are.

You might think of it as your inner demon or the dark side of your brain.

Self-Esteem’s Bottom Line

While reading Melanie Fennell’s ground-breaking and practical book “Overcoming Low Self-Esteem: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques,” I was reminded of my own demons.

One of them likes to come out when I feel criticized. I react with touchiness and retreat from whoever I perceive as a source of criticism. The author says this is perfectly normal.

I learned that low self-esteem, whether a regular occurrence or triggered by situations, starts with a negative belief about the self that she calls a “Bottom Line.” Mine whispers, “You always mess up, there’s something wrong with you.”

The book explains that we make “Rules for Living” that we impose upon ourselves to avoid triggering our Bottom Line beliefs. If I feel I am bad, for example, I might try to avoid that feeling by acting “good.”

And guess what? It’s stressful to try to be good all the time! Avoiding negative feelings about ourselves costs us a lot of time and energy.

Changing Your Self-Esteem Story

So what can we do instead? The book led me through exercises in noticing my negative thinking, seeing how it affects my actions, then brainstorming alternatives and putting them into practice.

For instance, what do I do to avoid getting criticized? Sometimes I avoid people or freeze up around them. Is that helpful behavior? Not really! Better to engage and have a discussion, which is more likely to lead to resolution.

The book also had readers inventory their positive qualities. This wasn’t just a nice but vague list. (I’ve made those before, usually in cover letters for jobs!)

Look for the Good: You’ll Find It

It drew on the things that I’d done recently and had me identify what good qualities they showed about myself.

As an example, I made some art during Emerald Works’ Learning Fest, demonstrating creativity and dedication to completing a task.

The real insight for me is that the activity doesn’t require you to always demonstrate these positive qualities. Even if they only emerge in something you do occasionally, this still shows that you have them!

What’s Your Demon?

I’d recommend reading “Overcoming Low Self-Esteem” if you want to work on building a more balanced view of yourself. It’s long and involves a lot of activities: however, it’s an easy read.

I’ve read a lot of psychology books and made sincere efforts to shift my thoughts and behavior. But this book had fresh insights to offer, even to a seasoned reader in the field.

If I think of the demon metaphor (mine, not the book’s), it’s as if I’ve been letting that demon write the story of my life.

“Overcoming Low Self-Esteem” focuses on putting that pen back in my hand and ensuring that I’m the one writing the story. What do you want your story to be?

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Do you know your inner demon well? What does it have to say? What could you say back to it? Let us know in the comments!

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