The term “self-esteem” refers to a person’s attitude towards oneself and one’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value, which can be both favourable or unfavourable towards oneself (Cherry, 2019; Ackerman, 2020). Self-esteem consists of the various beliefs about oneself, including appearance, alongside emotions and behaviours.
Various factors seem to have an influence on our self-esteem such as age, genetics, personality, past experience, health, the media, societal roles and conditions, one’s thoughts and perceptions, others’ reactions and also comparing oneself to others (Ackerman, 2020).
Self-esteem levels can be viewed to be on a spectrum, with both ends of the spectrum representing extreme low or high levels of self-esteem, which can be harmful. Too little self-esteem impacts people in leaving them feeling defeated, depressed or not good enough, resulting in making bad life choices, falling into unhealthy relationships, or not achieving their full potential. On the other hand, having a grandiose level of self-esteem and self-importance is not healthy either as it is not only off-putting to others and can damage relationships, but it can also be a sign of clinical narcissism which is characterized by an extreme need for admiration and lack of empathy towards others. Therefore, striking a balance between the two ends of the spectrum whereby one has a realistic yet positive view of oneself seems to be the ideal and healthier option. However, we must recognize that self-esteem is not fixed, but rather we can work on it and improve our levels of self-esteem.
Gestalt Psychotherapy has been found to be helpful with clients facing issues of self-esteem. It seeks to restore awareness and contact within oneself, with others and with the environment in the present moment. Understanding the context of the client’s life and working on taking responsibility are two important elements which are emphasised through the gestalt psychotherapy approach.
Through Gestalt psychotherapy, the therapist can help an individual to achieve a healthy level of self-esteem through a number of ways.
Research shows that individuals with self-esteem issues are most often lacking awareness (Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors, n.d.; Bennett, 2017). For gestalt psychotherapists, awareness is seen as an essential goal for individuals in therapy. In order to enhance awareness, the gestalt psychotherapist works with the individual’s contact with the environment, focusing on the present moment, and on taking responsibility for their life and actions. The client is then more able to see how certain negative behaviours and patterns are influencing oneself in the present moment. In becoming more aware, one is more able to self-regulate and manage oneself in his or her surroundings.
Through the process of awareness, different aspects of the self may surface. This includes positive ones which are easier to accept, and negative ones too, which one might tend to push away and avoid. In order for one to develop their self-esteem, one must be willing to accept oneself fully, including these disowned aspects of the self. Through therapy, the gestalt psychotherapist explores these disowned aspects and works towards full acceptance of the self. By accepting and appreciating oneself fully, including one’s ordinariness and imperfections, one is able to fully see who he or she is (Stevens, 2017). Therefore, one is more free to grow in ways which fit for them and to move past the pain, suffering, and even low self-esteem (Bennett, 2017). Through acceptance, one learns to perceive oneself as being good enough.
Gestalt psychotherapists work through various other techniques and goals to enhance or regulate self-esteem. Such goals include working on:
- Reframing negative thoughts into more positive ones
- Inner strength and support
- Social support systems.
Through working through such goals in gestalt psychotherapy, the individual can achieve a greater awareness, increased motivation, self-regulation, self-acceptance, growth and a more positive attitude towards oneself which all contribute towards achieving a healthier level of self-esteem. This enables further development and movement from one’s past experiences, pain, stuckness, and other suffering one may be facing. Through the process, we may need to remind ourselves that our weaknesses and imperfections are what make us human, and only in accepting them and embracing them, we can fully love ourselves.
Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and is working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.
Ackerman, C. E. (2020). What is self-esteem? A psychologist explains. Positive Psychology. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/self-esteem/
Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (n.d.). Gestalt therapy: A guide to counselling therapies. Retrieved from: https://www.counsellingconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Gestalt-Therapy.pdf
Bennet, T. (2017). Gestalt therapy. Thriveworks. Retrieved from: https://thriveworks.com/blog/gestalt-therapy/
Cherry, K. (2019). Signs of healthy and low self-esteem. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-esteem-2795868
Stevens, A. (2017). How to improve self-esteem and self-confidence. Retrieved from: http://alexandrastevenstherapy.com/blog/2017/2/16/get-over-yourself-how-leading-a-life-more-ordinary-can-lead-to-the-extraordinary