Self-Esteem Archives - Embodied Living

How many of us at this point during the pandemic are not feeling right? If you’re not feeling like yourself, it can be a strange feeling. But whilst each of us will be experiencing things differently, the common thread may be that we are acting in ways that are not typical.


How we might be feeling

We usually think that our sense of self is a constant unified thing. That there should be harmony and unification. But the reality for each of us, to some extent or other, is that of conflict. Who has not had the experience of being in conflict? Perhaps about a decision we have to make, perhaps about a relationship? It’s like a part of us wants something and another part wants the opposite.


Parts in conflict

This sense of parts of ourself in conflict is playing out in the world at large. Look at the extremes operating publicly in a liberal country like the US. Whilst Joe Biden calls for calm and civility, that is a big ask for human beings. We are ruled by difference, by polarity. And this plays out in those inner conflicts where we have polarised parts driven to behave in opposite extremes. Part of us wants to ask our friend out for a walk, but another part is being incredibly stubborn about something. We might have all the best intentions to eat better, or lose weight, yet part of us just keeps heading for the couch or reaching for the chocolate.


When opposites don’t attract

It’s a well-known aphorism isn’t it: opposites attract. Well, they do until they don’t and mostly they don’t. As human beings we really have a problem with difference. And when that difference is in us we can protect ourselves by becoming blind to it. Of course, our inner critic or internalised bad object may protest quite loudly, but we do our best to silence or ignore it.


Reasons for not feeling like yourself

This lack of inner alignment or balance can manifest in well-observed ways in all of us. We may be intellectual not sporty – or vice versa. We may be good at doing, keeping busy, but crumble when we need to sit still. We may be very rational and lack intuition or creativity, or perhaps we are arty and creative and people see us as a little flaky. It may be that we are seen as passive and easy going or we may come across as bossy or domineering. As a man we may be overly masculine and lack a more feminine side and a woman may have overly developed her femininity and deny herself the power of her own masculine side. And then there is the tendency to activity or receptivity. Perhaps we are great at putting others first or helping them, but poor at asking for help ourselves?


Polarities within families

We can categorise the polarities in our being into four broad types. Firstly, we are born out of difference. We are the product of a mother and a father. Two different people, two different genders. And then there is the whole realm of difference in the families of our mother and of our father. If both of our parents are balanced and well-integrated as people, in a loving family environment we have a chance, as children, that all parts our self will be seen, accepted and validated.

If you are not feeling like yourself, perhaps you have lost your temper or have been overly critical of your kids. ‘Oh god, I am becoming just like my mother/father’ is not uncommonly heard amongst some of us! Yet, if our parents stay together (or split amicably) and love each other, we can more easily integrate and balance those parts of our parents and our families with which we identify. This means that if we behave in ways that we are not so proud of, we are kinder to ourselves.


Family divides

But if our parents hate each other, or parts of each other’s families, we will be in conflict with those aspects of any of them which we recognise in ourselves. This may mean that we feel shame or disgust at our self, or to protect our self from shame, we may project onto others and see those qualities in people around us.

Either way we become split. This can result in a self-propagating cycle of shame where we either withdraw from relationships and have increasing feelings of unworthiness. Or we may become angry or hateful of others.


How to begin to feel better

Whilst our culture pretends that difference is not an issue, it also likes to have quick fixes and bulleted lists for self-help! Making deep changes within our self is not easy and neither are self-help suggestions, because we are all different. No two of us will be doing a ‘problem’ in the same way, nor would we have constructed or developed the problem for the same reason.

But here are some considerations for when you are not feeling like yourself.

  1. Awareness matters

The first step is perhaps to begin to develop awareness of these polarities that exist within us, but with a healthy dose of self-compassion. True change only comes from a place of acceptance. Once we accept something within us, that we may well not like, we have a chance of changing it.


  1. Practise self-compassion when you’re not feeling like yourself

self-compassion when you're not feeling like yourself

Once we become more aware of conflicting parts within our self, it is important to learn to be kind to our self. Otherwise, greater awareness can simply bring more self-loathing or criticism. For instance, remind yourself that just because your behaviour sometimes reminds you of your mother or father, it does not mean that you are globally like them. You are more than your behaviour. Learn to see the positives in the aspect of yourself that you don’t like. For instance, a tendency to be critical of self or others often has a positive intention of wanting them to be better.

This self-hypnosis on ‘Loving Yourself’ might be nice to practise.



  1. Talk to someone who loves you

The best antidote for shame, an emotion often at the heart of difference, is to be seen by someone we love. Truly seen. If you can be brave enough to talk about aspects of your behaviour or thoughts that you don’t like, with someone you know believes in you, it can be transformative. To be seen in our shame or disgust, and accepted, helps to discharge it. Loving others may also see things differently – we are usually our own worst judge.


  1. Work on your HRV and coherence

Heart rate variability (HRV) is an important measure of coherence. If we can train our system into coherence we are integrating neurological imbalances such as sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and increasing vagal tone.  The neurological and psychological state that this achieves means that we are more resilient to stress and more able to make the changes we want in our life.


  1. Integrate your polarities

I believe we are driven to achieve balance and integrate all parts of our self so that we can become whole. All of us, regardless of the difficulties and traumas we have faced in our life, are able to become who we truly are. It is through achieving alignment on all levels of our being that we can move forward in life and be more able to face life’s inevitable challenges. A good psychotherapist can help you on this journey.


More reading when you are not feeling like yourself:

More articles on low self-esteem

Most of us are uncomfortable with conflict. How to handle conflict is vital in all our relationships. Yet when someone does not like confrontation or conflict it can be a sign of a weak ego self.

Conflict needs a strong ego

When we are secure in our self, we are less bothered about what others think, or less preoccupied with others liking us. Paradoxically this takes a strong ego, so we need to build the scaffolding of the ego self (false self) so that it is strong enough to take criticism, dislike and confrontation. But any strength becomes a weakness if it is over used. So at some point we begin the journey of shedding ego to find the authentic self inside.

Being less bothered about being liked

I have noticed myself saying, these days, ‘I’m not that bothered whether or not someone likes me or not, or what they think of me: if they do, great, if they don’t, so be it.’ I am more comfortable being authentic. Sometimes that means that I upset others; and here I need to tread carefully.

The five freedoms

This reminds me of Virginia Satir when she talks about the ‘5 Freedoms of becoming more fully human’:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what “should” be, was, or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
  3. The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
  4. The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks on you own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure”and not rocking the boat.

How to handle conflict

I rocked the boat recently. When I was teaching a local group, an attendee made a complaint against me. The complaint was about something that they insisted that I ‘said’ – though I never said it, it was certainly a of twisting of my words- yet, if I really second positioned this person and where they were coming from, I could understand their perspective. So, I had to look inside at what motivates us to be kind to or understanding of others.

Unenlightened self-interest

Many of us act out of self interest: we are kind to others to please them or keep them happy, or we are motivated by a need to have others like us. So in the act of kindness or consideration or helping others, the motivation is actually self-interest. What might be termed ‘unenlightened self interest’. Of course, it does seem to benefit the other; they are happier perhaps because of our kindness. But when we look deeper, we are acting in this way, somehow, to make ourselves feel better. It is a kind of manipulation, we are playing the politician or the actor, and seek approval or reputation management. We fear others’ judgement, anger or disapproval.

Making a stand

Ok up to a point, perhaps. But what about when that leads to us to pay for this in the cause of our own self interest? After the complaint, I apologised for how the member took it and said that this learning would teach me to be even more sensitive in future. I could have left it at this and everyone would have been happy. Yes? I may have well had an easier life – and not lost an income stream!

But I noticed that this organisation treated other teachers/trainers in a way that did not seem to honour their rights; they put the members rights as priority. And I felt it important to make a stand and ask for some closure, some mediation on this complaint (which was verging on slander in some respects). I asked for my voice to be heard. When they refused and just insisted they were passing on some ‘feedback from a member’ , I gently stated my case and resigned. The process was confrontational and had some conflict. But if overall, it helps the club to think about their process for fairness, it might contribute to making other teachers and instructors happier in the long run.

Enlightened self-interest

So what’s my point? It’s about Enlightened self interest. I am not talking about acts of altruism (I’m certainly no saint), where we personally suffer through acts of kindness but that by acting to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), we ultimately serve our own self-interest. In a way, we will “do well by doing good”. Our motivation comes in part by self-interest—not selfishness but enlightened, generous, self-interest. In this way we contribute to the happiness or wellbeing of the majority rather than the minority.

Our bodies know more about our happiness and the things that have happened to us in our lives than our conscious minds are aware of. Pesso Boyden system psychotherapy can help you tap into this wisdom.

The body holds the negative

We may notice tension or tightness, and have no awareness of what’s triggered it. Our faces and other areas of our body hold onto negative experiences and emotions. Without knowing it our expression may show a subtle sadness, anger or fear. Certain areas of our bodies are more highly enervated than others: in particular the face (eyes, jaw, and throat), hands, abdomen (diaphragm), feet, and pelvic area. They are very quick to tense up and slow to release.

Emotional tension at its root

All physical tension has emotional tension at its root. We think of someone who upset us and our jaw tenses, we see a place where we were once unhappy and lonely and our throat tenses around a lump, we might smell something that takes us back to a fearful situation and our stomach feels like a knot. The trouble is, we are often not consciously aware of the link between the sense and the emotional reaction. So we are left stuck or consumed with the emotional reaction.

Feeling helpless

This isn’t a problem if the emotions are positive or transcendent; such as love, joy, or awe. But when the cycle is negative we are left dis-empowered: which builds on the sense of shame. For example, two friends of mine recently went for a walk around some gardens, it was sunny and warm and the two friends were chatting and enjoying themselves. They walked past a gardener watering a bloom of pink roses, they saw the man carefully tending to the flowers and smelt the strong smell of the roses. As they continued the one lady felt elated, and joyful, yet her friend started to feel inexplicably sad and a little anxious.

These two had done a lot of self-development work and got interested in what was going on for themselves. When they got back they talked about this and one friend realised that seeing the gardener had reminded her of her childhood and her father in their garden when she was a child, a very happy time for her. The other lady realised that the smell of pink roses and the blooms reminded her of when her first husband told her he was leaving her for another woman, he had taken the opportunity on a walk in the local park. She remembered the incredible sadness and fear she felt on hearing this from a man she still loved.

Lack of awareness

For many of us, we have no awareness of the processes, and the sadness or the fear may stay with us for a while; it seems to come over us for no reason. Deepening our sense of shame, perhaps.

Sometimes our bodies speak to us by way of persistent headaches, sleeplessness, stomach disorders, numbness or a constantly tense muscle that gives us pain somewhere. Our bodies are reacting to unconsciously re-remembered past experiences that we haven’t fully processed and are loaded with negative emotions such as anger, shame and guilt. In an attempt to self-soothe these painful emotions (and even to continue to repress them) we often turn to compulsive eating or drinking patterns which aren’t the best for us in the long term.

Learning to develop awareness

If we can learn to increase our awareness of what our minds are processing and what our bodies are ‘telling’ us in the moment to moment wisdom of the felt sense inside, we can begin to have more choice about how we react to it. We can even begin to understand what it is that our bodies are re-remembering. It is because the origins are usually traced back to unresolved early memories (before the age of 7) that we get stuck. Not necessarily because the memories are terrible or traumatic. But because at that age our brain has only developed to the second level of its three part structure: the most important ‘processing’ part of our brain hasn’t yet come on line. The cortical brain only starts development around the age of 7 years and is only fully developed into our late teens or older.

Infantile neurology

So if little 4 year old Charlie has a fight with his older sister who is teasing and being mean to him and is provoked into a tantrum and hits her with a plastic track, his mum smacks him so hard he cries and he is sent to his room for a couple of hours. He doesn’t fully understand that the punishment he gets is for his behaviour.

He fails to take away a message that anger and aggression are natural little boy reactions; yet need to be contained in a loving and accepting way by sensitive parents who don’t have their own issues with anger. He internalises a sense that he is a ‘bad boy’: along with the guilt and fear that are linked to the anger.

Adult consequences

And this belief impacts on adult Charlie who is now afraid of his own anger, squashes it, becomes the nice guy desperate to please everyone (it appeases the guilt). Doesn’t do conflict and lacks assertiveness in relationships (fears the ‘consequences’ if he stands up for himself so tends to be walked over), yet has rare moments when he completely loses it, leaving him bewildered and scared.

Pesso Boyden system psychotherapy and healing

If we can take Charlie’s 49 yr old adult brain back to the event at 4 his, now online, cortical ‘executive’ functions can make meaning to resolve the event and when that happens the negative beliefs and emotions are resolved. And Charlie is free, he has more choice in how he reacts and behaves. Hereby the wisdom of the body through the ‘felt sense’ informs the higher functions of the cortical brain, new meanings are made and Charlie is free from past patternings. In a way, Charlie’s brain has been ‘rewired’.

Many of us may not get much in the way of difficult symptoms but we remain unaware of what wisdom is held in our bodies. If we could learn how to bring this to the surface and process things it will enrich our lives.

Pesso Boyden therapy workshops

Sue is running half day experiential workshops designed to help us look at what our bodies can tell us about ourselves. The aim is to raise insight and self-awareness. In a small, safe groups (6-8 people) we’ll use some gentle and powerful Pesso Boyden experiential activities to look at what surfaces from our bodies and what meaning we make in the world.

Read more about PBSP here.

Find out more about our PBSP modality here



Abuse is more prevalent than we realise in our society. Parents abuse children, husbands abuse their wives, women bully and abuse other women at work and children abuse children.

There are three general categories of abuse:

  • Physical abuse: physical beatings where damaging blows to the victims’ body are experienced
  • Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual relationship or exposure
  • Psychological abuse: which is about unwanted reduction of the victims self-esteem and value through psychological blows such as: derision, humiliation, ostracism, forced submission etc.

The word ‘Ab-use’ means an abnormal use of a person whereby a person is treated as a thing or object or commodity and not as a living soul or ego.


By Soul, is meant essential or real self – our core being. It is the source of all energies of a person, instincts, emotions, impulses primeval unconscious reactions to external events. When we’re in touch with our soul we are able to laugh and find pleasure when things are satisfying; get angry if things are frustrating. When we’re connected to our soul we have the capacity to be close to others, to love, and to be creative (to create). We also are able to attack or run when we are in danger. In other words, we feel truly alive.

It is a function of the soul to process events and experiences (psychologically and neurologically digest it) and convert it to meaning: in terms of emotion, thoughts, beliefs, behaviours. The soul contains polarities such as the nuclear forces of power and vulnerability. It also contains our collective and genetic history going all the way back through human history.


In order to survive and thrive, the soul needs the discriminating ability of the ego. Which is about boundary making, with separating capacities, providing a separate sense of self that is able to stand independent of others and protect itself from ‘invasion’ and does not have a tendency to want to ‘merge’ with another in co-dependency.

The Ego, which is developed in our own lifetime, acts as a perfectly fitting cell membrane and controls what comes in and goes out of us. The development of the ego is shaped by relationships- especially by parents.

The balance between soul and ego, the closeness of the ‘fit’ is determined by our parents and their parenting. If our parenting was such that it allowed as much of our soul’s potential to be expressed, named, sanctioned we are in good balance. Otherwise parts of our experience of our soul become unacceptable, hidden, denied as coming from the self.

Toddler tantrum as breach of ego

Take an example of how parenting can result in imbalance. A toddler in a powerful tantrum: a fit of rage. He or she might be put in another room until the tantrum dissipates, the child becomes exhausted through the expulsion of energy and collapses with tears in despair, forlornness and tiredness.

This is a highly negative experience for the child, as the nuclear force of power has not been contained. Remember, that the child’s ego is the container for the powerful forces of the soul, and is developed with parents who are strong enough to do the containing for the child in early life. The child then learns that she is not limitless, that the forces within her are not ‘all powerful’.

In the above example, the parents need to hold the child in a supportive way, to see and accept the child’s power, and let the tantrum dissipate whilst the child is in their arms. This provides an external ‘countershape’ for the inner force, which can then get internalised by the child’s ego.

If the child is left, as in the example, the relationship and balance between the soul and the ego is disrupted. The child experiences an all powerful, omnipotent level of feeling that doesn’t have limits (exhaustion and crying themselves out is not a ‘safe container’ and doesn’t give a feeling of control). This experience damages the ego. Several ego functions may be affected and reduced including identity, consciousness, meaning and resulting in feelings of loss of control.

The damage of abuse

Abuse even more dramatically damages the ego, breaking the ego defences and leaving the soul, to a greater or lesser degree, without boundaries. This also gives rise to omnipotent levels of feeling. It arouses strong feelings of both vulnerability or powerlessness and reactivity and power that aren’t ‘digestible’ by the victim’s ego because they are so much stronger than anything he has learnt to cope with. Life simply has not prepared them for this. Thus the feelings are seen as foreign or alien and not part of the self, and in this way abuse can dramatically affect the survivors sense of identity.

This breach in ego boundary can make the victim vulnerable to more abuse: they often present as quiet and fearful. Though sometimes this vulnerable core can have an outer ‘armour’ of toughness or prickliness, but underneath survivors share a fear of their own weakness.

They become more closed, protecting themselves and fearful of letting anything or anyone near to them. Paradoxically this unbounded vulnerability may lead to some abuse victims acting out sexually.

Others cope with the intense feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability by closing down completely. They disconnect from their bodies and felt experience, and learn to be out of their body (dissociate), so they don’t feel. Sometimes they might appear ‘spacey’ or far away, with a whispery, breathy voice, often not clear on what they are talking about. But this subconscious expression of softness or vulnerability leaves them open to the opposite kind of contact in others. Because when someone is weak or vulnerable others often become more powerful, as the polarities of power and vulnerability tend to elicit the opposite in other people.


In psychomotor therapy (PBSP) the treatment of abuse victims focuses on:

  • creating conditions to heal the ego, to ‘darn’ the breaches in its fabric, that allow the ego to once again to be in control
  • creating a safe environment where the victim can get in touch with and express all those powerful, repressed feelings and impulses
  • providing that behaviour and those feelings with the vital validating or limiting interactions with ego-creating ideal parent figures.

People often come to therapy wanting help with low self worth or lack of self esteem. They might call it low self confidence and then look a little puzzled and say, ‘but I am confident in some areas’.

Self esteem and self confidence seem to be two separate, and often mutually exclusive, things. But the lack of clarity between them is the cause of a lot of our problems.

Someone with high ‘self esteem’ doesn’t necessarily need to be confident to try something. The drawing (right) was a sketch I did in India. I haven’t sketched for years but thought I would have a go, however it turned out it didn’t matter, it would be fun. I was sat in a convention hall with a 10 year old boy sat next to me. These children had been nominated as volunteers to ‘chaperone’ us adults, and despite being many years younger with ‘important’ foreign visitors, they effortlessly engaged with us. He saw the drawing in my book and immediately started telling me the English names of the animals, writing them in my book. The light in this child’s eyes belied his self esteem, we smiled and laughed together, enjoying the chance to get to know each other. The greatest gift you can give a child is self esteem, self confidence then goes hand in hand.

But self confidence doesn’t always lead to self esteem. Someone may continually push themselves in life, gaining qualifications, promotions, wealth, fame etc and wonder why, in their darkest moments of honesty they feel like a fraud who will soon be exposed: ‘but i don’t do anything’ they bemoan of themselves. Or they may lack motivation to achieve their goals, or have no goals, aimlessly wandering wherever life pushes them. Sometimes someone is over confident, verging on arrogance perhaps, but when an event such as job loss, relationship break up, being passed over for promotion happens, they crumble into self pity or breakdown. High achievers and low achievers both often share low self esteem.

Self esteem, in my experience, is a measure of our self acceptance. The degree to which we truly ‘own’ ourselves as we really are: our body, our mind, our feelings, our thoughts, our fantasies, our failures and fears, our successes. Rather than berating ourself for what we are not, how much do we truly love and accept our ‘warts and all’ self for what we are? Not a self acceptance based on a projection of some ideal self walled in by ego defence.

This is crucial, and, in my experience, the starting point of real personal change. Without this change is cosmetic and won’t last.

Virginia Satir sums this up beautifully:

“I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me.

Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it — I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.

Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.”