Changing Your Self-Esteem Filters

Today I have a guest on my blog writing about changing your self-esteem filters. Let me introduce you to Kassandra Lamb, a retired psychotherapist turned mystery author. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on the topic of self-esteem.Image00005

She also writes a blog regularly on misterio press. Check it out.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Pirkko!

A filter should be easy to change, right? I can change the one in my furnace in five minutes. Any self-respecting auto mechanic can change an oil filter in a car in less than twenty. An air filter’s even easier.

So why is it so hard to change our self-esteem filters?

Mainly it’s because they’ve been established for so long. It’s like those rusty screws or bolts in something that you can’t get loose for love nor money.

Try getting this out! (Photo by Noel Feans, CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Our self-esteem filters are established when we’re kids. How we feel about ourselves is a product of how our worth has been reflected back to us by the environment. Our parents, other family members, teachers even, influence how we perceive ourselves at a young age. Then it’s hard later to change that “first impression” of ourselves.

There are two components to self-esteem: self-worth and self-confidence. So we actually have two sets of filters. One is related to how we feel about ourselves as a person–are we worthy of love? The other is about how well we think we can do things.

We can have a parent who showers us with expressions of love but doesn’t let us try things for ourselves. That child will have good self-worth but may not be all that confident that they can handle what life dishes out. Another child may be taught how to do things and be praised for doing them well, but his or her parents don’t realize that the child needs to feel loved as well (that s/he needs to hear the words; kids don’t automatically assume their parents love them). This child may have confidence in his/her abilities but may feel less than worthy as a human being.

As adults, these beliefs about our worth and abilities become filters for new information. Any new input that counters what we already believe about ourselves will bounce off these filters. They won’t let that information in.

This is a good thing if you have high self-esteem. If you are mistreated by others, you will quickly realize you deserve better and do something about the mistreatment. When people tell you they love you, you’ll believe them, and when you do something well, you will let the pleasure of that accomplishment sink in. And if you fail at something, you will assume that you need to try harder and/or get more instruction, and you will likely try again.

But if your self-esteem is low, these filters are a major problem. They won’t let in the information you need in order to feel better about yourself. And the negative information they do let in just reinforces the poor opinion of yourself.

So when people tell you they like you, you figure they just don’t know you all that well, or they’re just being kind. If others mistreat you, that may feel like what you deserve.

If you do something well, you may dismiss it as luck or a fluke, or give someone else more of the credit than they deserve for that accomplishment. If you fail at something, you figure that’s par for the course and your self-confidence plummets even further.

What Can We Do To Change Our Filters?

I wish I had an easy answer for this. Most of the time it takes quite a few sessions with a professional counselor in order to get these filters turned around, so they start letting in the helpful information instead of the negatives.

But there are a few things we can do on our own–before, during and after that period of counseling.

1) Make a conscious effort to let the good stuff in. Accept the compliments rather than deflecting them. (See my post for hints on how to do this.) Take a long look at the people who say they like or love you. Are they idiots? Probably not. They’re probably reasonably intelligent and discerning folks who genuinely see value in you.

Let the love in! (photo by Takashi Hososhima, Tokyo, Japan CC-BY-SA, Wikimedian, Commons)
Let the love in! (photo by Takashi Hososhima, Tokyo, Japan CC-BY-SA, Wikimedian, Commons)

And when you do something well, make a conscious effort to give yourself credit where credit is due. This is harder to do than it sounds, which brings us to…

2) Watch your self-talk! We all talk to ourselves in our heads all the time. Make an effort to notice what you are saying to yourself. If the self-talk is negative, intentionally turn that around. It can help to keep a self-talk journal initially, and write down what you notice you are saying to yourself. Then write down the countering positive message and repeat that to yourself several times. Sounds hokey, but it helps.

3) Look at where the original filters came from. Do you know as an adult that your parents love you (most parents do love their kids)? Visualize that insecure little child that you once were in your mind’s eye. Tell that child that Mom and Dad really do love him/her; they’re just not very good at showing it. Or perhaps they had their own issues that made them less than stellar parents. That doesn’t mean that child is unlovable! (Imagery is particularly powerful for shifting the emotional charge on something.)

4)  Examine your perfectionism. I plan to do another whole post on this subject soon, as I am a recovering perfectionist myself. But for now, let me say that perfectionism comes from two sources: too harsh standards for performance when we were kids so we believe we have to do something perfectly in order for it to count as good, and/or an attempt to overcome poor self-worth by being perfect as what we do. If I do everything just so, then people will find me worthy of love.

I’ll make two countering points here and save the rest for that future post. One, nobody is perfect and nothing humans do is ever done perfectly, so perfect as a goal is a set up for failure.

Two, our worthiness of love is not and should not be predicated on how well we perform certain tasks, and it certainly shouldn’t be required that we be perfect at everything in order to be okay as people. Nobody is perfect, or even good, at every single thing they attempt.

Give yourself permission to not be good at certain things that aren’t that important to you. Save your higher standards (but still don’t expect perfect) for those things you really care about.

Which brings me to my most recent writing project. I decided to let my inner perfectionist loose for awhile as I went back to the very first book in my mystery series and re-wrote it. I didn’t change any of the plot or the characters. I just corrected some mistakes I had made when it first came out, because I was a novice writer at the time and didn’t know what I know now.

I did this, and gave it a spiffy new cover as well, because I’m planning to make this book $0.99 indefinitely.

For me, writing is less about making money and more about sharing my characters with my readers. So I’m willing to practically give this first book away in order to get readers interested in the series.

But I wanted it to be as perfect as I could get it. So here it is… Tada! The new, close-to-perfect edition of Multiple Motives, A Kate Huntington Mystery  (Even though it isn’t entirely perfect, I am very proud of it!)


Psychotherapist Kate Huntington helps other people cope with the horrible things that have happened to them, but she herself has led a charmed life… until now. When a series of what seem like random events–a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time–takes a sinister twist, it becomes apparent that she and her lawyer friend, Rob Franklin, have a common enemy. But the lead police detective has a different theory. He’s convinced Kate and Rob are lovers attempting to eliminate their spouses. And he seems determined to build a case against them.

As the attacks escalate, Kate and Rob are forced to investigate on their own. Who hates them enough to want them both dead? And doesn’t seem to mind if others get caught in the crossfire!

 Available at AMAZON & BARNES & NOBLE

You can also get it from Kobo.

So what do you think about these self-esteem filters we’re stuck with? Have you ever tried to change yours?

Pirkko Rytkonen

Wife, mother, and grandmother. Christ follower and seeker of truth. Blogging to inspire and encourage others.

24 thoughts on “Changing Your Self-Esteem Filters

  1. Pirkko,

    Thanks for hosting Kassandra!

    I tried therapy briefly in college; it wasn’t a good fit for me, personally. At another time, or with another therapist, who knows?

    I’ve spent the last decade or so, though, in a kind of self-therapy. I’ve read and explored a lot, tried some things, and managed, for the most part, to shift some pretty negative filters to much more positive ones.

    My mother was fond of saying, when I was a child, “Self-esteem is one thing I can’t give you; I never had any.”

    It was only in the last few years that I realized the tangles in that statement. I think all babies are hardwired with self-esteem (that’s why they cry when they need things; there’s an expectation of care).

    No one could give me self-esteem; but, for me and my mother, abuse and shaming could definitely sap it.

    With my own children, when they say something negative about themselves in a generalized way, I often encourage them to look at it a little differently, or to think of ways they might improve the perceived shortcoming. I also point out that no one is good at everything, and that they’re still growing and learning.

    So far, their self-esteem seems far healthier than mine was, at their age. I suspect having parents who think fairly well of themselves helps…

    1. Hey, Shan, thanks for stopping by!

      First let me say that if therapy isn’t a good fit for someone, it’s because that particular therapist isn’t a good fit for that person. As you say, with another therapist, who knows?

      But it sounds like you’ve done a great job with your self-therapy. Unfortunately, there are two ways people can respond to an abusive childhood. They can repeat the same patterns, as your mother did. Or they can learn from their parents’ mistakes and do everything in their power to raise their own children differently. Thank God you chose that route!

      I love what you’re doing with your kids when they are negative about themselves. You’re not just giving them reassurances (as my mother did but I didn’t believe her most of the time). You are helping them look at themselves and their behaviors differently, to reassess and if necessary, make some changes. They are lucky kids to have you!

  2. Timely post on a great subject. Something we are constantly working on at my house. Thank you for hosting Kassandra on your blog, Pirkko. Very smart, using the rusted bolt to get your point across, Kassandra. Very vivid. It’s easy to say we need to let the good stuff in, not so easy to do at times. I work with my Asperger son on this every day, and BOY it’s hard! I pray we’ll get there. Thank you for this post. 🙂

    1. So glad this post is helping you with your son. I pray the best for your son and that he will feel the love and good stuff you are instilling in him. Love goes a long way! Don’t beat yourself when things don’t work out for the moment. Celebrate little victories. Thanks for your comment. 😀

    2. So glad this post is helping you with your son Debra Kristi. I pray the best for your son and that he will feel the love and good stuff you are instilling in him. Love goes a long way! Don’t beat yourself when things don’t work out for the moment. Celebrate little victories. Thanks for your comment. 😀

    3. I’m glad you found the post helpful, Debra. It’s hard enough helping kids to deal with the slings and arrows of life as it is. When Asperger’s or autism is part of the picture… that much more for the world to pick on them for, and it’s harder to help them deflect the bad stuff.

      As you may know, my grandson is autistic. He just turned 6 and he’s still mostly nonverbal. Next year he has to leave the safe haven of the special school he’s gone to since he was 2, and go into the public school system. I cringe at the thought!

      My hat is off to you and to my daughter-in-law and all those moms who deal with this! {{{Hugs}}}

  3. I love the cover! Kudos to you, Kassandra, for revising parts of your book. I’ve heard that we should do that with some of our books that need it, so good for you for taking the time to do just that. And you’re offering it at a great price, so I hope the sales for your series take off big time!

    I need to watch the negative self-talk and what I say to others, like how I suck at marketing my books! Ha! Perhaps I need to reverse that and start believing I rock at marketing.

    A wonderful post. Thank you, Prikko, for having Kassandra guest post.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. I’m so glad you like the cover!

      That self-talk can really get us, without our realizing the damage it’s doing. Honestly I don’t know any author who doesn’t think they suck at marketing. It’s a totally different mindset and a different set of skills.

      I think of it as a necessary evil and tell myself I’m probably as good at it as most folks are. That’s the best I could come up with in terms of self-talk on the subject, without feeling like I was deluding myself! 🙂

    2. So glad you’ve commented here. It shows how you care about your readers and fellow writers. I am believing that your sales will increase. I will dust off my Kobo and get your books downloaded. It was a good idea to include your book cover and market yourself as the author. Well done. 😀

  4. Thank you Pirkko for having Kassandra as your guest! What can I say Kassandra? You hit this out of the ballpark again. Can you tell that I’m sensitive to this subject. Well, most subjects really. Cause I’m a sensitive gal. But truly, I am so glad that you are going to write more about this subject. I think most of us suffer from one form of this or another. And I like your illustrations. They make the information so much easier to understand. When I saw the picture of the kitties, I knew I would love this post. I have the upmost respect for your passion to update your book. I just shows how much you care about the product you share with your readers. I love that! And I hope this gives your series a great bounce. Thanks girls!! 🙂

    1. What can I say…Kassandra’s expertise shows clearly. Yes Karen she makes it easy to understand. I’m sure this will increase book sales as well in addition to increasing readership. Funny how the kitties spark interest. I had a different photo in mind but technology works in mysterious ways! 😀

    2. It’s funny how things work out. We were planning on using a different picture and it wouldn’t download, so we used the kitty cats instead. And it turned out to be a better picture for the topic!

      I’m glad you got something out of the post, Karen. Yes, I think I will definitely be doing another post on perfectionism, and now Kirsten has inspired me to do one on underachievers. Seems there are no end of topics on this area!

    1. Underachiever, as in your teacher sent home comments “she doesn’t work up to her potential?” I’m afraid that’s another whole post, Kirsten!

      But I’ll give you a little food for thought on the issue. Underachievers often fall into a couple categories: those who truly are underachievers due to low self-esteem and those who are not really underachieving but got labelled as such by overachievers. 😉

  5. Hi Prikko! So glad you had Kass on your blog today. Doesn’t she just rock the psychology sphere? Really interesting post about filters. Wish mine was as easy to change as the one in our water pitcher, LOL. 😉

    BTW, I’ve read several of the Kate Huntington mysteries, and they are fun and suspenseful! Hope your readers will consider giving the first one a try. Can’t beat it for 99 cents!


    1. No worries…you’re not the first one! I like my name even though it’s difficult to spell and pronounce in North America. One day I will have it on the cover of a novel! ~happy face~

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