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Dear Dr. Dina
I think I have low self-esteem. People constantly tell me that I'm smart, but I feel really stupid. Why?

Dear Intelligent,
It is very common for people to have unrealistic perceptions of themselves. Unfortunately, such perceptions frequently err on the side of being too negative. If others are constantly telling you that you are smart, chances are that you indeed are smart. So why is it hard for you to see this? Not because you are dense!

When many people are telling you one thing about yourself but you believe the opposite, the disparity often comes from an emotional block. Children are by nature vulnerable and impressionable, and our childhood experiences very much impact how we see ourselves as adults. Growing up, you may have been told that you were inadequate or made to feel inferior by a parent, a teacher, or other children. For example, a child who does poorly in school for any reason - problems with concentrating, learning disorders, lack of interest, etc., may be treated as if he or she were stupid, when this is not the case. Subtle messages, such as looks of disappointment, or comparisons, have just as great an impact as obvious ones.

The way you learned to feel about yourself as a child and what is the truth may be two different things. Nonetheless, the childhood feeling of inferiority become intense and can overpower your self-view years later. I recommend looking inward and trying to fain awareness about where you low self-esteem may have originated. At times when you feel unintelligent, you will need to remind yourself that you are responding to feelings from the past, not the current reality. It is also important to really listen to compliments from others and allow what they are saying to penetrate. Why are people telling you that you are intelligent? What actions, ideas, etc., are you sharing that lead people to believe that you are smart?

If these techniques alone do not help your self-esteem, you may want to consider group therapy. Just like individual therapy, group therapy offers you the opportunity to explore and understand your issues with help from an objective expert. Group therapy also allows you to gain feedback about yourself from multiple perspectives. This repetitive feedback in a safe environment may be powerful enough to override the unrealistic perceptions you have about your intelligence.

It is important to know who you are and the embrace your wonderful qualities. Feel free to contact Dr. Friedman for further information or to find out if group therapy may be right for you.

Please contact Dr. Friedman for further information or to schedule a consultation.

Dr. Dina Friedman
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Private Practice
Reston, VA