How do I go about improving my self-esteem?

I'm a gay man. I deal with a lot of struggles related to my sexuality, but they are largely due to factors that are not related to my inability to accept my being gay. I struggle to be intimate with others because I have very low self-esteem, and when I do begin to feel comfortable being intimate with others, I become very clingy/emotionally dependent on them because I fear that their display of affection for me may have just been a fluke that I will be unable to elicit from others in the future.

I feel very pressured to be conventionally attractive, and I deal with disordered eating and body dysmorphia . I also have some pretty gnarly acne scarring on my face.
Asked by Jake
Answered
10/21/2021

It sounds like these are reasons to be explored in therapy, a possible history of trauma or neglect, that your life experiences have created and led to a highly critical inner voice. This inner critic often leads to issues that you have mentioned such as low self-esteem, unhealthy attachments,  body image issues,  and eating disorders. To answer your question on how to improve your self-esteem, one way would be, to begin with, recovery work on dealing with your unhealthy inner critic to decrease its influence and effects and begin a process of facilitating an increased sense of self-acceptance and ultimately self-love. Oftentimes when your critic is very noticeable, there has been an emotional flashback that has triggered the critic. You could think back on times where your inner critic has been activated and identified that there was something that emotionally triggered it. If you struggle with a history of trauma or neglect from your childhood, oftentimes for survival reasons, you might have learned ways of responding to your emotional states, some people have learned to fight, some have learned to run, some have learned to just shut down, and some have learned to attend more to other's need. These become your "go-tos," and to this day, will continue to use those same response patterns today.  So much of the recovery work begins with identifying what your trauma and neglect were, what coping skills we used to deal with those traumas, drawing lines between learned response patterns to the way you respond to relationships dynamics today, identifying how your inner critic was formed, understanding what the critic is saying and beginning to stop the negative thoughts and replacing them with more caring and loving responses. You learn to identify your triggers and understand when you are in a flashback.  You begin to learn how to deal with those emotional responses in healthy, more loving ways. In addition to individual therapy, I would consider group therapy as it can also be very therapeutic to be in recovery with other people working on recovery. Additionally, I would encourage you to be working with your whole health team: doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, personal trainers,  just to name a few.