In my role, as Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I often meet people who come to see me due to low self-esteem.  For so many different reasons, what has often started out as an uncertainty, self-consciousness or even fear of inadequacy; usually originating in childhood years, has not been resolved and so has remained with the person into adulthood.  This sense of being ‘less than’, in comparison to others, often goes on to become a truly undermining and debilitating force.  One of the key traits of a person with low self-esteem, is that they describe how they ‘know‘ that other people think negatively about them.

Those of my current and former clients who read my Blog, which I am delighted to say many do,  will chuckle knowingly when I state that my usual response to anyone saying that they ‘know’ what other people are thinking about them is:

“Stay out of other people’s heads”!

Unless we ask another person directly, we cannot truly be sure what another person is actually thinking.  We can easily mis-read or mis-interpret the indicators that come from body language and indirect verbal communication.

I believe that something else is at play… 

The subconscious part of our minds is the part of our thinking structure that is most connected to our history.  Our conscious mind, meanwhile, is busy managing everything that is going on in the present moment.

I believe that in any present moment of uncertainty, such as social anxiety, the conscious mind gets distressed and so refers to the subconscious mind for information.  The subconscious mind then taps into all that it has learnt over our lives and accesses information stored more deeply in our minds. In doing so, it finds all of those childhood fears and negative feelings.

Knowing that this information will not help the conscious mind, the subconscious mind panics and triggers those unpleasant old feelings to surface in the present moment. In a state of heightened distress, the conscious mind then cannot make sense of the big emotions it is feeling.  Why are they happening now?

The person becomes filled with very uncomfortable emotions and can even suffer a panic attack at this point because the conscious mind cannot make sense of what is happening in the present moment.  Sensing danger, the subconscious mind then takes over and looks for anything to validate the negative feelings it has triggered.

It looks around.  It seeks out evidence to support the negative feelings it triggerd.  Yes, if the person has low self-esteem, it seeks out evidence to support that low self-esteem, for then surely things will make sense to the conscious mind and the person will no longer panic and will be safe?  The subconscious looks at all of the people interacting with the person and decides that these people must surely be thinking bad things about the person; judging the person negatively.  It explains this to the conscious mind.

This now makes sense to the conscious mind and so there is no need for panic.  The negative feelings ease a little but, alas, the person is informed by the conscious mind that people are indeed judging the person negatively.  The person believes he/she has worked out what others are thinking and is left feeling inadequate and self-conscious, with low self-esteem having been reinforced.  The nightmare of low self-esteem continues…

What To Do:

That’s quite a lot to follow, but do re-read it bit by bit again, until you can clearly see the inter-play between the conscious and subconscious mind.

So, what does one do when this happens?

A simple reminder, to repeat to yourself, in any difficult situation is this:

“Stay out of other people’s heads”!


“Because you cannot truly go there.  You actually go into your own historic negative beliefs about yourself and risk pulling them into the present moment.  This will only validate the negative”.


(C) Dean Parsons.







6 Responses

    • Hi Lesley, Thanks for reading. Yes, it takes practice, but eventually it becomes second nature. Give it a try and let me know how you get on. Thanks for commenting x

  1. This is so interesting to read about psychotherapy from your perspective as a professional in the field. I enjoyed your insight on the topic of mind reading and low self esteem, which are two things I was in therapy for in the past. Sometimes I still do try to be a mind reader although I am aware what I assume other people are thinking about me is not actually true. It used to be that I would believe, without a doubt, that my perception of what people think of me was reality. Now I can see outside of that scope but it’s something I need to keep working on. Kind of like rehardwiring my brain.

    • Hi Nat, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m sure many people will share your insight. It’s good to know you are doing well in overcoming your ‘mind-reading’. It takes practice, but keep going. Thanks so much for reading my Blog and for taking the time to comment.

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