Mike had become a wealthy entrepreneur, but he had a hard time enjoying his business success because it seemed that every minute he wasn’t solving a business problem he was worried about what others thought of him and what he could do to get their approval.

Janet probably had as many good ideas as Mike, but because she was plagued with procrastination, she was nowhere near as successful.

Roger always talked about his dream of doing something on his own, but he just didn’t have the confidence to leave his safe (and boring) job.

And finally there was Marlene, who complained of bouts of anxiety that seemed to come over her without warning and paralyze her.

Stories like these from our clients go on forever.  We’ve heard tens of thousands of them. It seems as if no one really escapes.

Escapes what?  … Having a low sense of self-esteem, a negative sense of oneself, a little voice in one’s head that is constantly critical of oneself.

Common Myths About Self-esteem

Before I explain why so many people have low self-esteem, let me first dispel a few common myths about self-esteem.

First, people who are described as “full of themselves,” or who have “too much self-esteem,” are people with low self-esteem who are trying to convince themselves and others of a worth they don’t experience. Low self-esteem is the result of negative self-esteem beliefs, such as I’m not good enough, I’m not important, I’m not worthy or deserving, and I’m not capable. People with high self-esteem don’t need to convince anyone of their worth; they know they are good enough and important and don’t need anyone’s approval to experience being okay.

Second, low self-esteem is not limited to the “losers” in life. A survey that makes this point crystal clear reported than many CEOs of billion dollar companies had the fear that “someday I’ll be found out and they’ll take it all away from me.”  It is possible to be successful by conventional standards (plenty of money, a good job or your own company, selling your artistic endeavors, achieving whatever you set out to achieve) and still have low self-esteem. In such cases the low self-esteem shows up as a critical “little voice” in your head that criticizes much of what you achieve, as a feeling that you don’t deserve your success, or as a fear of rejection, or a need to get others’ approval. All of these things that undercut the enjoyment you get from your success are the result of low self-esteem.

Third, not all people with low self-esteem are unable to function well.  How well you are able to function depends not only on self-esteem beliefs, but also on what other beliefs you hold.  In a study the Lefkoe Institute did with incarcerated teens and adults a few years ago, we discovered that those subjects had the same negative self-esteem beliefs as the CEOs we saw in our private practice.  The difference was that the CEOs believed that what made them good enough or important is being successful (by society’s standards), while the people in jail believed that what made them good enough or important was getting away with things others couldn’t do, or being part of a gang, or not accepting anyone else’s rules.

Why Is Low Self-Esteem So Common?

The question that is probably occurring to most of you right now is: Why do so many people have negative self-esteem beliefs?  Why has almost every one of the 13,000 clients we’ve talked to had the belief, I’m not good enough?

As I’ve described in previous blog posts, almost all of our self-esteem beliefs, positive or negative, are formed in the first six years of life as the result of interactions we have with our primary caretakers, almost always our parents.

Any yet most parents love their children and want the best for their children.  So what goes wrong?

To begin with, most parents are not aware that children are forming beliefs about themselves based on their interactions with their parents, which usually doesn’t appear to be at all harmful.

But even when parents are aware of this, they can have a hard time stopping their inappropriate behavior because they are rarely aware of the conflict between what they as parents want and what children are able to understand and do at various ages.

Parents, being adults, generally like quiet; children are not quiet and cannot even understand why anyone would value quiet.

Parents for the most part want their house to be neat; young children don’t even understand the concept of “neat.”

Parents want to sit down for dinner when it is ready and before it gets cold; children are almost always doing something that is far more important to them and don’t want to stop doing it when their parents call them.

In other words, parents usually want their children to do things that they are developmentally incapable of doing.  They want their young children to act like little adults, which they cannot possibly do.

If we expect children to “do things right,” we have to explain what “right” is.  And we may need to explain something many times to a child under the age of six or seven before they really get it.  And, finally, there are some concepts that young children are just incapable of grasping.

The question is not, Do children frequently “disobey” their parents?  Children are developmentally incapable to living up to most parents’ expectations. The only question is how parents react when their children are not doing what the parents want them to do.
And because few parents go to parenting school and most bring their own beliefs from their childhoods with them, their reactions range from annoyance and frustration to anger and abuse, with every possibility in between.

What Is The Question Young Children Ask All Day Long?

Hint.  It’s only one word.

Yes, it’s “Why?”.

Children know that they don’t have the answers (kids are always saying, “When I grow up, then I’ll be able to….). Children think their parents (because they are adults) know everything and have all the answers.

It’s as if the child thinks to herself, “If my parents don’t like what I do a lot of the time and are unhappy with me, they must have a good reason.  I guess I’m not good enough to have their approval.”  Or, “If I can’t get their attention, I guess I’m not important.” Or, “If I always have to do what they want me to do and rarely get to do what I want, I guess I’m powerless.

In other words, children form their beliefs about themselves trying to make sense of their parents’ behavior, statements, tone of voice, and facial expressions … every waking minute.

It is important to emphasize here that rarely will just a few parental actions or statements lead children to form beliefs, positive or negative.  It is only when something is done or said many times that a child forms a belief.  It’s as if children say to themselves, “Why does this keep happening?  Oh, now I know what it means.”

Parental Clichés Lead To Low Self-Esteem

Some of the phrases parents commonly use have become clichés in our society:

  • “How many times do I have to tell you?”
  • “Don’t you ever listen?”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Are you just clumsy/stupid?”

What would it mean to a child aged two to six or seven to hear those phrases uttered repeatedly in anger or frustration?

Thirteen thousand clients have told us:

I’m not good enough. Mistakes are bad.  I’m not capable or competent.  I’m inadequate.

Do you understand now why so many of us have low self-esteem, which shows up in so many obvious and subtle ways, including worrying about what people think of us, being afraid to take risks, having a little voice in our head that keeps telling us that what we do isn’t good enough, etc.?

Thanks for reading my blog. I really would appreciate your comments and questions. Please feel free to share my blog posts with anyone you think might be interested as long as you tell people where it came from.

If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using The Lefkoe Method, go to htp://www.recreateyourlife.com/free where you can eliminate one such belief free.

To purchase an on-line interactive program where you can eliminate 19 beliefs, go to http://www.recreateyourlife.com/sales.html.

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Copyright © 2009 Morty Lefkoe


  1. dotjenna July 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Do you have an article regarding this theory of the elimination of beliefs from childhood? I’m interested in understanding your theory.

    • Morty Lefkoe July 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Dotjenna,

      This blog is filled with articles explaining how beliefs are formed in childhood and how they can be eliminated.

      And we have a site where you can actually eliminate a few of the most common beliefs from childhood, without charge, at http://recreateyourlife.com.

      Let me know what you think after reading a few posts and trying the belief-elimination process.

      Regards, Morty

  2. dotjenna July 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    This is pretty much common sense stuff. The question is how to raise self-esteem and refute the lies that one has believed, which I believe is done through the release of repressed feelings that are bottled up, and reassessing blame, and in revisiting childhood events to make assessments using your current cognitive functioning that are more appropriate and healthful. I feel you must do this continuously, until every lie, every false belief, and every wrong message is refuted.

    • Morty Lefkoe July 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Hi Dotjenna,

      Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation.

      My experience is that we don’t need to release repressed feelings. We need to eliminate the beliefs formed in childhood. That doesn’t require releasing repressed feelings.

      Regards, Morty

  3. Sandra Hendricks May 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Children make majestic promises to themselves as they are growing up. The pledges, we make when we are young, manifest over time, through the power of imagination. Everyone speculates of the things they will do after they have grown up and are in control their world. Your childhood dreams come true one by one. Before you realize it, you are living in the very suggestion you had as a child.

    You may have visualized having a family, flying jet planes, or owning horses. Several of the things you imagined as a child may be waiting to materialize. Glance back in time and search for those daydreams. What were you yearning for when you were no more than a youngster, with a wild sense of adventure? Have you completed countless things you thought about in the past?

    Many of the things we vow to do can bring misery into our lives. Undeveloped perception brought about by harsh emotions when we are growing up, can cloud our mind. For instance, the commitment many of us make to do things differently when we grow up and have kids. We, as children, know what we do not like feeling, and we link those sensations to our parents. The shortcomings we sense that our parents have, when we are children, are normally unrealistic.

    Often our parents utilized great insight, and had skills that are valuable to us in our own parenting. However, if we are determined to do things completely different, expecting better results, we may overlook their wisdom. As we set out to change the parenting style, we are apt to throw the good out with the bad.

    Letting go of resentments and disappointments, you hold from your childhood, opens your remembrance. This gives you an opening to perceive your parents and your kids in a brand new light. Then you can tap into what actually made you the person you are today. If we are resolute, we may fail to pass onto our children, the finest part of our parents and ourselves.

    Suppose that you owned merely a handful of toys when you were young, and yearned to have what the neighborhood children were playing with. You may conceive that you are going to be kinder to your children. You may imagine that you are going to earn lots of money, so you can give them what you do not have. Possibly, you grow up and give your child everything they want. Will they lack the determination required, to succeed later in life, as you have? Reflecting on what our parents did correctly enable us to find the special equilibrium, which benefits our children the most.

    • Morty Lefkoe July 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Sandra,

      I agree that sometimes we focus too much on what our parents did that lead us to form negative beliefs. Although getting rid of those beliefs can lead to a lot of compassion for our parents, it also would be valuable to focus on what our parents did that was useful and valuable to us.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Regards, Morty

  4. Cate Bolt April 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Very interesting read and I agree with you on principal. Childhood is an important and formative part of our lives, but how long can we use it as an excuse? There has to be a point, certainly at least by 35 in my opinion, where we say “I’m an adult now, I make the choice to be confident”.
    We definitely have the ability to carry around our parent issues all our lives, if we so choose. We also have the free will to get over it and let it go. We can’t die saying “I wish I had… but mother wouldn’t approve”

    • Morty Lefkoe July 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Cate,

      I’m not talking about using childhood as an excuse. We formed beliefs in childhood that we think are “the truth.” As long as we think they are the truth, they will run our lives … in the present.

      Saying I’m adult I will no longer be run by my childhood beliefs sounds good, but in my experience doesn’t work. In fact years of therapy sometimes are not enough to get rid of the beliefs.

      The Lefkoe Belief Process is designed to get rid of those beliefs easily and quickly.

      We have free will but it doesn’t enable us to make beliefs go away just because we want them to.

      We aren’t saying, I wish I had but mother wouldn’t approve. We are saying, I wish I had but I’m just not good enough and I’m not capable and I’m powerless. We think those statement are the truth about us.

      And it is possible to eliminate those beliefs and stop being stopped by them.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Regards, Morty

  5. Nancy Chomicz July 17, 2009 at 5:20 am - Reply

    Mort, GUESS WHAT? There is NO SUCH THING as ‘beliefs’!!! They are SIMPLY….The Person’s “TRUTHS” in the Moment!

    People used to …’believe’….The World was Flat! THAT was THE ACCEPTED “TRUTH”!!!

    The EXISTING TRUTH was….The World is Flat….

    Until…..A NEWER TRUTH….was Discovered…..THE WORLD IS ROUND!!!

    ‘beliefs’…have ABSOLUTELY….NO POWER!!! NEVER say the ‘b’ WORD!!!


    People who…”think they believe”….they are Worthless…..REALLY….SADLY….HAVE THE TRUTH….They are worthless!!!

    All people have to do is SHIFT their….WORDS!!

    Instead of BRAINWASHING & PROGRAMMING Themselves to ….”Believe the Lie”……”I am not worthless”…..They Simply need to …”TELL THE TRUTH”……”I do not feel WORTHY”….

    AND THEN….TAKE BABY STEPS….to DO & SAY….what will make the Person…..EXPERIENCE ….THE TRUTH…..I AM WORTHY!!!!

    This is “NOT” ….Negative/Positive ‘thinking’…..which is SELF-FALSE-BRAINWASHING!!!

    This a NEW PARADIGM where People…TELL THE TRUTH….about where they are RIGHT NOW….IN THE MOMENT!!!

    Getting Rid of a ‘belief’ is like Getting Rid of a ‘fear’…..NEVER ENDING PIT….NO POWER!!!




    DROP the negative/positive false self-talk…..There is NO POWER in it!!!





    HE FOLLOWED HIS HEART…..never his ‘mind’!

    HE WAS LED….by THE TRUTHS of HIS HEART!!!! (Not beliefs!)


    • PooperScooper October 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm - Reply


  6. Kicki July 15, 2009 at 7:15 am - Reply

    Thank You !! I wil send this forward. I thank You for the insights. For my self and for my children. I will read it again, and turn my mind right about my self.
    Thank You!
    Kicki, Sweden

  7. eitan July 14, 2009 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Thank you for the great insights that you share. Having done some work with Shelly a couple of years back and reading your blog, slowly helps me to shed light on my beliefs and the way they manifest in my daily actions. As much as it is painful to become aware of my past and my crippling beliefs, this awareness creates a new freedom which is very sweet indeed. This is a gradual process for me, nevertheless a most rewarding one.
    Thank you,
    Eitan, Israel

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