We speak to Melody Hendriks about the plight of a damaged self-esteem, particularly prevalent among women, how to quiet the negative voices that question every decision, and how to identify the roles women take on that effectively obscure their authentic selves.
Q: What is this thing we refer to as ‘self-esteem’?
A: Self-esteem is a result of what we process internally about ourselves. For those who live their lives with low self-esteem, it is an anxious and difficult ride. What I want a client to see is that they have value – they have self-worth that they need to put a value to. By really dissecting one’s various attributes and looking at the different roles we play in our lives, we discover the many positives we have forgotten about because of the loud critic that dominates our thoughts.
Our ability to deal with failure and to take responsibility for choices, and our resilience to change and unpredictable situations are just a few factors that can impact our self-esteem. The judgmental and negative voices in our head – often stemming from previous relationships or parents – play an important part in creating a low self-esteem. I find that clients tend to catastrophise little failures, which ends up snowballing into a continuous reminder of how ‘pathetic’ they are.
Q: Would you say that women more predisposed to self-esteem issues than men?
A: As woman we feel we need to take on roles that we think are expected of us by society. The pressure of having a career, being the perfect mother and wife, being involved in our children’s schooling, finding time to do exercise and, and, and, just all becomes too much. Also, with taking on so much, there is obviously a lot more room to fail. When we fail we are reminded by the critical voices in our heads that we are not good enough and so the spiral starts… never mind all that we are and have actually achieved.
I find that, when working with women, it is so important to identify the roles we play in our lives, then to separate them and look at their demands and rewards, and then, most importantly, to prioritise them. We can’t be everything! Many of my female clients put so much pressure on themselves to be good at everything and forget to pat themselves on the back for their accomplishments.
Q: How do you identify low-esteem and what are some of the negative effects of a damaged self-esteem?
A: Clients with low self-esteem are generally lost; they feel that they are not good enough or like they are failing – usually in multiple areas of their lives. They are often also insecure in their relationships or careers. A damaged self-esteem doesn’t allow one to really live – or, rather, forces one to live in a bubble of negativity, mistrust and anxiety. This is a lethal combination that prevents the ability to be positive and to achieve. When I expect myself to fail, there is a good chance I will. A lack of self-belief and confidence can also make one undesirable to others so, in my experience, clients also seem to end up losing friendships and other relationships, which, in turn, again impacts negatively on the self-esteem.
Q: So, how does one set about quieting the voices of negativity that plague so many of us?
A: I think it is so important to understand who you are. In counselling, we start by trying to help the client get a grasp on who they are and where they come from. Understanding our childhoods and past relationships helps us understand the language of the voices we have in our heads. Once we can identify the voices, we can put them into perspective and learn to quiet them. By learning to talk more positively to ourselves, and by being kinder and more positive, we put ourselves mentally in a much better position to like ourselves. When start to like ourselves and our self-esteem starts to improve, loving ourselves becomes an option.
Counselling allows one to sort the voices out – to put them in boxes, understand why they are there and then to build a stronger self-esteem by making the positive voices more dominant. Counselling also helps clients to accept failures as situational and not as character flaws, to deal with change and the unknown and to put on big-girl panties and take responsibility for their lives. Seeing a client take responsibility and make positive choices is very rewarding as a counsellor.
Q: Has that been the greatest reward of starting your own business, do you think? What, then, has been the greatest challenge?
Yes, to see my clients grow and take responsibility for their lives and to witness the positive energy that they start to bring to the sessions is so encouraging. The biggest challenge, on the other hand, is getting people to trust a counsellor, as opposed to a psychologist, as a therapist. Luckily word of mouth has helped me along.
Q: Tell us about a bit about starting your own business?
Ever since completing my Honours degree in Psychology nearly 20 years ago, I have always known I would end up doing some kind of therapy later in life. As 40 loomed, however, I knew it was now or never. After finishing my counselling certificate at SACAP, I continued counselling for a non-profit organisation as well as at the local police station. I quickly learnt that the counselling chair was where I felt very comfortable and competent. I started small and was lucky enough to have a space in my home conducive to doing this and so could keep costs down. The core clientele of my business, Family Matters Counselling, are women between the ages of 20 and 35 who are trying to figure out who they are and to gain confidence in themselves. I have planned a very exciting self-esteem workshop aimed at this particular group of people, which I would like to put together over the next few months. I also really enjoy couples work. It is quite special to see couples, who have been passing each other in the dark for years, suddenly realise that their partner has been there all along.