2 Secret Self-Esteem Tools for Tackling Your Self-Hate (Part 2)

Tool #2 – Don’t Believe What You Think

This is part two on Self-Esteem and my post from last week, inspired by an important book ($12) – Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem

The first tool from the book that I shared in last week’s Part 1 post (here ’tis) was Anchoring. I tried to walk through how to anchor positive experiences of Self into your body in a physical way.  Trying out the technique really blew me away. I did it immediately, which is usually key…before any hesitation might come into the picture, right?  This next tool from the book is about Core Beliefs (really, truly unhelpful ones – but real all the same) and how to approach the process of reversing and rewriting them. This is a process that could take weeks or months of active work. And it’s life-changing.

This is about delving deep into the negativity, the toxic self-concepts that are inside (which we didn’t put there) that are causing us to doubt, hesitate, and disengage from what we want.  So, the stakes are pretty high, and the reward is pretty massively great here.

Capturing and Writing Down Your Core Beliefs

First, I want to share the funny (but true) notes I wrote in the margin of the Core Beliefs chapter, which are about my cat, Wanda, who had jumped into my lap while I was reading.

For those of you who are familiar with the abyssinian breed of cat, these are athletic, energetic, people-oriented, emotional, talkative, and high-need cats.

Wanda’s Core Beliefs

  • Amy is always happy to see me
  • I am a joy to touch
  • I am worth petting
  • Playing with me is a good time
  • My hunger is valid
  • I can say when I’m hungry no matter the time or day (or night)
  • Amy is happy to feed me
  • We like togetherness
  • I am heard
  • I am a good communicator
  • The the sound of my voice is pleasing
  • Being near me feels good to others

I think it’s safe to say that Wanda has extremely robust self-esteem, rooted in positive core beliefs.

Distortions of Self

Here are some bits from the book, to provide some context:

“The fundamental building blocks of self-esteem are your core beliefs:  your basic assumptions about your value in the world. Core beliefs determine to what degree you see yourself as worthy, safe, competent, powerful, autonomous, and loved.”

“Core beliefs are frequently distorted by early trauma and deprivation. In response to hurt or rejection, you may have come to see yourself as flawed or unworthy. Because no one mirrored back your value, now you may simply fail to see it.”

It’s hard to see core beliefs. They are the cake under the frosting – if the cake  beneath is lumpy or uneven, that’ll show up in the frosting although it’s buried.  What I’m saying is that we don’t know our core beliefs off-hand, but we can look at our actions, and our thoughts, to get to them.  This process requires self-reflection and a bit of investigative work.

To reveal your core beliefs, you need 3 things:   Situation + Thoughts + Feelings

This is the interaction or event during which the core belief was activated. For example, my dining room window cracked and I notified my landlady. We then had a confrontation about whose responsibility the cost was.

Thoughts are phrases, things you think (often quite automatically or unconsciously):  ”She doesn’t believe me. I did change my story, didn’t I? Ugh. I always feel responsible for things I didn’t do.” Or, “Why can’t I speak up when I want to, I’m always hesitating…!?” Or “The boss knows I messed up. I’ll never get a raise. Why am I so dumb – no brain in my head!”  Or, “They’re probably thinking I’m going to turn out just like my mother – desperate and addicted.”

Feelings can be explained by one word:  Scared, Vulnerable, Angry, Hopeless, Joyful, Excited, etc.

Just Do it!

Grab a pen.  Grab paper.  (Or open a Text file!)  QUICKLY write down a situation that took place in the past few days during which you “faltered” in your courage or confidence. Whatever pops into your mind.  Jot down notes.  Then, write down the feeling or feelings that you had, and some of the words or phrases that went through your mind.

Don’t judge, just write.

I’m doing this with you.  Here’s mine -

My Situation

Landlady says I’m going to have to pay for crack in window that spread across the whole window. But the glass repair people say the frame for the window measures out of square by .5″ and that I couldn’t have caused it. We argue. Landlady repeatedly uses my name, “Amy we both know this crack wasn’t here when you moved into the house,” talking like a parent. I’m hot under the collar but stand my ground, “That’s true but the cause of the crack is unknown – but we do know that the window is out of square and the glass guys are saying this was an inevitable occurrence.”

My Thoughts

She’s being aggressive, but I can see what she sees and it totally looks like this is my fault. If I push back, I bet she’ll try to get rid of me. How much am I willing to pay in order to be sure I’m secure in this house? I love this house, I’m at home here. I don’t want to have to move. I feel like everything is at risk now. What am I going to do? I didn’t do this. Am I responsible nonetheless?

My Feelings

Disbelief. Scared. Angry. Blamed. Bullied. Confused. Panic. Fight-or-Flight. Caught. Exposed. Child-like. Principal’s office. Victim.

Next Step:

To get to the Core Beliefs part of this equation requires further analysis. Basically it’s a matter of asking the question, “So What Does That Say About Me?” over and over till the core is revealed.

“It looks like this is my fault.” And “If I push back, she’ll get rid of me.”

So What Does That Say About Me? It says that if something looks like it’s my fault then it will become something I admit to. And that I believe that acting out can get me thrown out.

So What Does That Say About Me? It says that I believe my true innocence is irrelevant to how I’m judged. It means that I must play by others’ rules in order to secure my safety and home.

So What Does That Say About Me? That I have to be what others want, agree to what they want, be “nice” all in order to prevent abandonment.

So What Does That Say About Me? That I play by the rules of others because I’m so afraid of abandonment and loss of my home. And that others are in control of my sense of security.

Bingo!  Got it:

I believe that others are in control of my true security and having a home. And if I rock the boat, I put my safety at risk. 

Amazing, huh? That an everyday incident concerning a crack in my window can summon my old, old fear of abandonment and a belief rooted in my experiences of abandonment?  Wow. But that’s what we’re after here – the roots, the old crap that rules our minds.

I wrote about core beliefs in a different way in a post a while back. It was more playful, but took a similar approach. Here’s that post. (In that post I identified the “mottos” or “beliefs” of the family in which I grew up, including: “If we don’t discuss sex with the kids, they won’t have any!”)

Also, therapist Lisa Kift and I discussed “unhelpful core beliefs” in our discussion about Family of Origin Work, which is in this post here.

Here are some additional sample core beliefs and some listed in the book, which you may or may not relate to and might help you reveal yours:

It’s best to stay with the devil I know.
I shouldn’t ask for help.
I shouldn’t initiate sex.
It’s bad to report co-workers’ incompetence.
My child will hate me if I confront her about her behavior.
I’m unable to make good decisions.
My life will eventually fall apart.
If I don’t say “Yes” now, I won’t be asked again.
Good love eventually turns sour.


The idea is to get from the above list to this NEW AND IMPROVED CORE BELIEFS:

I am worthwhile and will always have options.
I ask for help when I need it.
Sex is enjoyable and voicing my desires is welcomed.
I have sound judgement about when to report co-workers’ incompetence.
Because I’m an engaged parent, I model and expect good behavior in my kids.
My approach to decision-making works well and works for me.
I empower myself to continuously keep my life on track and fulfilling.
It’s OK to say “No” to invitations when I’m tending to myself – there’s always next time.
Good love is something I can give and I deserve in return, and I’m built to enjoy Love.

Much better.  But getting there isn’t a matter of re-writing sentences. It’s a matter of acting on new beliefs. By acting as if you believe in your worth, you will re-write your core beliefs. Fake it till you make it, as they say.

In my cracked window example, this means that I would stand my ground and say, “While it’s true that the window wasn’t cracked when I moved into the house, it’s also true that the window is out of square. According to the glass experts, this couldn’t have been my fault. The fact is, neither of us knows how the crack got there. That’s why this is an issue. I know you don’t expect me to take the blame for something I’m not responsible for, which would be unfair. I like living here and I’m looking forward to enjoying this house for a long time. What seems like a fair solution to you?” Doesn’t that sound like someone who’s not afraid of being kicked out because she stood up for her rights? Doesn’t that sound like an…adult?

In the end, she had a second glass expert come, who confirmed that the window frame was out of alignment and said, “This is my thing” about the responsibility. However, she when she asked me to contribute to a portion of the cost, and I agreed. While I feared that she’d think my giving her some money was an admission of guilt (ack! no!), it was important to me to foster good will about the whole thing.

What was hardest for me during the incident was the nagging feeling that she’d think I was someone who’d try to get away with something. It was very uncomfortable to argue about something that LOOKED like my fault but wasn’t. So the incident pushed a lot of buttons for me, not just those tied to unhelpful core beliefs.

Can’t wait to hear what you guys came up with – feel free to share!

Be kind to yourself.


  1. Carl says:

    Here’s my story of an uncomfortable situation just yesterday.
    We have some developmentally disabled adults who work at my company. I always say hi to most everyone. Some of the folks who happen to be challenged in this way return my hello and even call me by name. While walking to the lunch room I said hi to one of the ladies who has seen me many times in the lunch room and to whom I have said hi before. As we continued down the hallway I asked her what department she worked in and she couldn’t answer. I could see she was uncomfortable with the question. She kind of waved her hand and said back there, pointing to the production area. Immediately, I felt so bad that I had probably gone beyond and asked one question too many. I felt scared for her thinking I added to her fear of other adults. Right away, I thought she would avoid me in the future. It was very uncomfortable for me. As I am writing this now, I am almost crying that I could have made her feel uncomfortable. I have some understanding of where my fear is based around communicating with others. I don’t want people to be scared of me as I was incredibly scared to death by my father and potentially all adult men. I have learned to be able to stand erect and present a self-confidence in business and everyday situations but under the surface I am reminding myself that most all other men can feel vulnerable just like me and still be capable to carry out their responsibilities. It’s ok that I can be reminded of how frightened I was growing up, but knowing in my heart that I survived and that I am lovable and appreciated for who I am. That my children love and respect me and are very compassionate with me.

  2. Amy Eden says:

    Carl thank you so much for sharing that. Those kinds of interactions likely happen much more than we think and…they do matter, they do stir us up.
    I wonder what her experience of the interaction was…?
    You final lines remind me of how very disconnected our outer appearance is from what’s inside.
    Thank you again.

  3. Carl says:

    I would guess that she would take it in stride as she has previously seen me as kind and nurturing. I’ll be saying hello to my work colleague on Tuesday and I will let you know if I am able to discern any carry overs from the difficult question of the other day.

  4. Jane Eichner says:

    Hi Amy,
    Just reading about your experience caused me palpable feelings of sympathy anxiety! Kudos to you for being composed enough, and present enough to stand up for yourself. My issue is that, when something similar happens to me, I react immediately (as if my very life depended on my response)… with my toolbox of apologies and reasons and more apologies…ugh. My question is, how do you get to a place where you don’t just instantly react to such triggers? I’m wanting to get past feeling like a cornered animal whenever I am faced with conflict.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Hi Jane. This is such a good question. For me, the answer has been that I’ve come to trust my body to tell me when it’s a trigger situation — my gut, my forearms (which get tight when I’m anxious), my chest/lungs (which burn when I feel attacked), and my stomach. Somewhere along the road I began to listen to those bodily, or systemic, signs of distress. And, this is the biggie: to trust they are right. Actually, I think it’s a two-part tool, that I hear the information (shortened breath/holding breath/lung burn) and then that I believe it to be factual. I think I first started by leaving the scene — saying things like, Let me get back to you, I’ll be right back, or whatever…ways to get physical distance from a stressful situation, without apologizing and excusing myself in order to gain that space. You know what I mean? Then I tried to find ways to find a middle-ground so that a situation didn’t feel attack-y, so that I felt safe, but also so that I didn’t feel like I was selling myself out just to make the conflict/confrontation end. I’m very motivated to resolve perceived conflict as quickly as possible, because it’s so powerfully unpleasant. I think the way to come at this is to work on the issue of believing in one’s gut, believing that your own sense of a situation is 100% RIGHT, for you, and that you can withstand the discomfort of a conflict. Conflict is like an ocean wave that will roll over and seemingly drown us, but then–if we just curl our toes and hold on–it does recede. It does.
      This is such a great question and has really got me thinking about when this began to click for me. I get it “right” 80% of the time, not always, for sure not always. But when I succumb to the “I’m sorry!” escape route…well, I just accept that it’s what I needed to do at the time. It’s a process. I hope something here is helpful….!

      • Jane Eichner says:

        Love the ocean wave analogy. Maybe curling my toes will be like an anchor–whenever someone is confrontational with me, I’ll remember to curl my toes, breathe, and think to myself, “This too shall recede.” Thanks for being a comforting voice of reason out there!

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