The Therapist Corner

Self Esteem: Part 2

by Peter Boger, M.A.

In the last article we talked about the origins of self esteem and ways that anyone on the Spectrum can find themselves struggling with low self esteem and the associated kinds of emotional and social negative consequences that come from low self esteem. In this article we will look at ways to improve self esteem and how to work daily to maintain good self esteem.

One good way to begin to work on improving self esteem is to understand that at its core low self esteem is rooted in negative core beliefs about yourself. These core beliefs are not conscious and are experienced as ‘just the way it is’ in your mind. The two most damaging core beliefs are ‘I am unlovable/unworthy’ and ‘if other people see me as I truly am they will not want to be with me’.

The first step to changing low self esteem is to bring these core beliefs into your conscious awareness and challenging the validity of ‘this is just the way it is’ by beginning to realize that it is possible to take control over your self beliefs and make changes that will be beneficial to you.

It is also important to understand that while only you can make these changes, it will make your chances for success much better and easier if you have support from others as you work towards this goal. Having a therapist to assist you in this work, while not absolutely necessary for success will definitely make the journey much easier.  Also having the support of family and friends is extremely helpful as well.  

One approach I have seen work is to have a structure to your efforts and I recommend starting a Self Esteem Workbook as one way to get started. This is a simple binder or folder that you can organize into sections and add to as you progress and refer to daily to keep yourself focused on paying attention to your thoughts and self talk related to your self esteem.  

The first section could be titled ‘My Positive Traits/Characteristics’ and this will challenge you to think about what it is about you that deserves to be admired/respected both by yourself and others.   This is not to be confused with accomplishments or things you have done, but instead what it is about you as a person that is worthy of being valued as a human being. Examples could be things like ‘I’m a caring person’, or ‘I’m trustworthy’, or ‘a faithful and loyal friend’.  In other words things that would accurately describe you as a person that make the world a better place just because you are in it.

When I was in training to become a therapist I was in a group where each time the group met we had to think about someone else in the group and ask ourselves ‘If this person hadn’t been in the group today what would I have missed out on?’  We then had to write this down on a card and when the group met next we would go up to the person and give them the card. It may have been something that the person shared that we related to, or just their smile or laughter that made us feel good during that time we were together.  Getting these cards from others in the group opened my eyes to the realization that just showing up and being around others I was having a positive effect on people that I didn’t know I was having!

As you develop this section in your Workbook you can add to it as you go and as you start each day you can get it out and review it and seek to say mindful of how you play an important part in the lives of the people you encounter that day whether you are aware of it or not.

This is also a great way to develop your relationships with others as well, since you can start to pay attention to how you see those same traits and characteristics in others and let them know what it is about them that you value, respect and admire.

We live in a culture that tends to focus on the negative, with criticism and judgements, while taking the positive for granted.  Beginning to make the change to looking at and paying attention to the positive in ourselves and others can make daily life much brighter and lighter. Make this a new habit to practice daily and you will be amazed at the way you will feel better about yourself and others!

In future articles I will talk more about the Self Esteem Workbook and more sections to add to your binder. I think of this as your ‘external’ self esteem resource that you can turn to for support until you can internalize it and make a new part of yourself.

Closed Support Groups

I’ve been fortunate enough to lead one of our Closed Support Groups for (Autistic) adults at AANE for the last several years. These reflections are from my perspective as the facilitator; I cannot speak on others’ behalf. 

This was actually the first online group for Autistic adults we ran at AANE (we’d offered a couple for parents previously) and we weren’t sure how it’d go. This was pre-covid when using zoom was not the norm it is today. What we did know and feel was the massive need for support among this community. The virtual setting allowed us to reach more people to begin addressing this need, when little or nothing else was available. 
The groups are small, capped at 12 members, and coupled with the 8 week structure, this allows for a certain trust and intimacy to develop. They use a facilitated peer support model, meaning group members are primarily the ones providing support to one another.

The amount of acceptance, encouragement, vulnerability and wisdom shared by group members has been beautiful to witness. What makes it even more so is the wide array of backgrounds/identities members have. Among the many commonalities, there are vastly different experiences. Life experience is a teacher like no other and when that experience has been marked by pain and struggle, it leads to an incredible amount of empathy. But it would also be a disservice to not acknowledge the sharing of interests and strengths.  

Although people can join the group regardless of when or if they have received a professional/official diagnosis, the majority of members have been newly diagnosed (within the last few years). After years and years of not knowing, yet having to navigate as though they received the same guidebook to life bestown to others, this group says yes, you’re different and no, nothing is wrong with you.  When you’ve received the message again and again that being different is not okay, it’s going to have an impact. While Autism affirming therapy can be very helpful in addressing this, I’ve heard many members say that the group experience has been equally if not more powerful. Of course everyone’s process is their own. 

I have been changed for the better by being the facilitator of this group and I’m looking forward to many more rounds.

Kelly Urban
Senior Manager of Individual & Family Services