Self Esteem Therapy

Colette Dowling, LCSW

The following article on self_esteem_therapy is by Psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW. She has written eight books, including "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction and The Cinderella Complex.

Self esteem therapy helps many women who are lacking confidence and feel bad about themselves. The problem of women and self esteem has deep roots. Low self esteem is actually something we're conditioned for, beginning when we're young. Studies show that girls--especially smarter ones--often have severe problems with self esteem. They consistently underestimate their own ability. When asked how they think they'll do on different tasks--whether the tasks are untried or ones they've encountered before--they give lower estimates than boys do, and in general tend to underestimate their actual performance.

Self esteem therapy is available to females of all ages. For example, low self esteem leads to a host of related problems in girls. Research shows that they are highly suggestible and tend to change their minds about perceptual judgments if someone disagrees with them. Girls set lower standards for themselves. While boys are challenged by difficult tasks, they nevertheless demonstrate MORE task involvement, MORE self confidence, and are MORE likely to show incremental increases in IQ than girls.

By the age of six, the cards are in on probable intellectual development, just as they are in on probable independence development. The six-year-old whose IQ is going to increase in later years is the child who is already competitive, self-assertive, independent, and dominating with other children, Eleanor Maccoby, a Stanford psychologist, found. (The information from Maccoby that you see here can be found in her book, The Psychology of Sex Differences, published by Stanford University Press.)

Maccoby showed that a six-year-old whose IQ would probably decline in the following years was passive, shy, and dependent. "On this evidence," the psychologist wrote, "the charateristics of those whose IQs will rise do not seem very feminine."

Another psychologist, Lois Hoffman, described a developmental sequence that leads girls to become adults who need excessive support from others. The little girl has a) less encouragement for independence, b) more parental protectiveness, c) less cognitive and social pressure for establishing an identity separate from Mother, and d) less mother-child conflict, which supports separation. Not surprisingly,the child engages in less independent exploration of her environment. She continues to be dependent on adults for solving her problems, and this means she may need her affective ties with adults at all costs, including the cost of her independence and self esteem.

Self esteem therapy can directly address women's self esteem issues. Many of my own patients describe childhoods in which they were treated very much as Hoffman described. And yet, interestingly, these women are often not aware theyve even had a restricted or overprotected childhood. They don't think of themselves as having been hobbled in their efforts to become independent, and so, when dependency problems crop up in adult life, they are often dumbfounded. Why is this happening to me?

Those who eventually go into self esteem therapy will begin to recall the fear-enhancing proscriptives of their parents: the warnings, the curfews, the entreaties not to travel too far afield lest they lose their way. Many parents show a tendency to "overhelp"--to jump in and help their daughters when they don't really need it, when, instead, they should be learning to falter and self-correct. Faltering and self correcting is a process that's fundamental to the development of self confidence. Unfortunately, girls often don't get the chance to self correct because parents are so bent on keeping them from faltering.

Good self esteem comes from learning that one can accomplish by oneself--that one can rely upon one's own abilities, can trust one's own judgment. Girls are often not given enough opportunity to learn these things. Eventually they internalize the idea that they can't succeed in meeting life's challenges on their own. Without this belief they eventually become women who have difficulty with low self esteem.

The problem of women and self esteem is often encountered in the psychotherapy office. Working with a supportive therapist, a woman is able to engage in a process that allows her to unlearn the deeply ingrained negative beliefs that have made her feel she isn't strong enough to stand on their own. Her feelings of worth and value get re-affirmed, and she finds she can let go of the old baggage and develop an entirely new sense of herself.

Colette receieved her masters in social work from Smith College and did advanced training at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She is the author of many books, including The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence, "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel this Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction, The Frailty Myth: Re-defining the Physical Strength of Women and Girls, and Red Hot Mamas: Coming into Our Own at Fifty.

Self esteem therapy in New York City is offered by psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW. Colette has a practice in Manhattan. Her Flatiron office is convenient to Brooklyn, Hoboken, Jersey City and Queens. Colette can be reached for consultation at 718-594-0201, or by e-mailing

To hear Colette speak about what it's like starting with a new therapist click the audio button below

Information on self esteem therapy and Colette's therapy practice can be found at Psychology Today.

For more information on self esteem therapy and other mental health issues click here for Colette's website.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010