Strengthening Self Esteem

Published February 4, 2014 by sleepydumpling

After a recent conversation, I’ve been mulling the concepts of confidence and self-esteem over in my head.   One of the constant criticisms women get when we talk about having confidence or good self-esteem is that we’re vain, we have tickets on ourselves, we’re narcissistic or arrogant.  Since I’m thinking more about how we feel about ourselves, our bodies and our worth, I’m going to stick to just using the term self-esteem for now, but confidence is something that comes as part of good self-esteem.

For example, recently I had a day where I was feeling really great.  I had an outfit on I loved, my hair was doing what I wanted it to do (and has been really soft lately), and I just felt awesome.  I said something about feeling really cute today.  Well, the open hostility and ridicule that I got in response from acquaintances was a bit of a shock to the system.  One woman rolled her eyes.  Another spat under her breath “Talk about tickets on yourself!”  Once I would have got upset at their negative reactions and let it ruin my day, but I just responded in a cheeky tone that my cuteness was completely wasted on them, they don’t appreciate how adorable I am.  It didn’t go down well, but it made me feel better.  It wasn’t about other people judging me as cute, it was about me FEELING cute.  However a little later a business acquaintance popped in to visit and he mentioned that he thought I was “looking particularly sunshiney today” – so my feeling cute was clearly showing in my demeanor.

Part of that is sheer sexism, women aren’t allowed to feel positive about ourselves – our culture is designed to keep us in our place by making us feel insecure, unworthy and doubting ourselves.  But I think part of it is misunderstanding about what good self-esteem actually is.  I think a lot of people see it as some kind of black and white territory, where people either have good self-esteem, or they have bad self-esteem.  I also think that people see good self-esteem as someone feeling perfect, or invincible.

Which is not really what I believe it’s about.

Self-esteem is about seeing your own value.  Good self-esteem isn’t about believing you are perfect, that you never make mistakes or don’t have flaws, or that you are invincible.  Good self-esteem doesn’t mean that you are never vulnerable, or unhappy, or feel bad about yourself.

I think so often when we think about good self-esteem in ourselves, we see it as this massive mountain that we have to climb, and once we’ve reached the top, then we’re there and we never have negative self thoughts ever again.  Which makes good self-esteem seem totally unattainable to so many of us.  We can’t see ourselves ever feeling perfect or invincible, which is a completely normal and healthy way to think, so we think that we can never have good self-esteem.

Good self-esteem not a mountain to climb.  It’s a road we travel.  With twists and turns and bumps and dips.  Sometimes we run out of fuel and have to top up the tank.  Sometimes we’re running like a dream and travelling smoothly.  Sometimes we get a bit out of control and crash.  But if we learn to value and take care of the vehicle (ourselves – physically, mentally, emotionally) and navigate with attention and care, then we mitigate the risks on the road.

The other thing I think holds us back from good self-esteem is the rhetoric around “loving” yourself.  While I think it’s a good thing for people to learn to love themselves, not everyone can do it nor should they be expected to do it.  When you’ve been taught your whole life that your fat body makes you dirty, diseased, faulty, disgusting, it’s not just a matter of deciding to love yourself and wahey-hey, off you go, everything fixed.  Particularly when those messages are constantly re-enforced every single day, every single time you engage with any form of media, and often, by the people in your life.

What has worked better for me, has been learning to value myself for who I am, flaws and all.  There are things I do love about myself, but other things I’m not ready or able to love yet.  Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.  But learning to value myself and see my worth in general has been instrumental in improving my self-esteem.  Mostly it’s about learning to cut yourself some slack.  Not one of us can be Wonder Woman or Superman.  We are always going to make mistakes, or the wrong decision or get hurt.  That doesn’t diminish our value – in fact I think it increases it, because despite our human frailty we still contribute so much to the world around us.

It doesn’t matter what area of life you look at, if we are constantly expecting ourselves to be the absolute pinnacle of human possibility at all times, with no failure, no mistakes, no vulnerability, then of course we’re doomed to fail.  Why do we expect ourselves to be the next Bill Gates in the workplace, the next Mother Theresa in volunteer work, the next Beyoncé in well… everything… and so on, when only those people can be those people.  The only person we need to be is ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we don’t strive to do bigger and better things, and be a better person.  It just means that in the process, we cut ourselves some slack and realise that life takes practice, and that there are always going to be times when things don’t go the way we want them to.  There will be times that we will be hurt, worried, nervous.  Confidence is not about being fearless and invincible, it’s about telling yourself “Ok, I can have a go at this, and give it my best shot.”  It’s about dealing with our mistakes and continuing on with the business of life.

Striving to do better and be better is good for you.  But writing yourself off as worthless because you don’t reach the absolute pinnacle, or measuring your success against other people is going to do you more harm than good.

Another important thing to remember is that other people don’t get to measure your worth, or your success.  You do.  It’s nice to have our worth and success recognised, but that’s like the icing on the cake.  Not to mention that we don’t all measure worth and success the same way.  Only a complete jerk would expect their values and standards to apply to everyone.  We see that one a lot in appearance – ie my aforementioned tale of finding myself cute.  A lot of people believe that if they don’t find someone attractive, no-one else will, nor have they ever.  Which is a load of bollocks – everyone’s taste and values are different.  What I find attractive in a person is not universal to everyone.  Imagine how boring it would be if everyone found the same type of person attractive?  I can’t think of anything worse than if every woman on the planet was attracted to tall skinny white boys like I am!   Though I think an awful lot of us are attracted to Tom Hiddleston (you knew I had to work him in there somewhere!)

What I guess I’m trying to get at in a long and winding way, is that good self-esteem isn’t about being flawless, it’s about valuing who you are, flaws and all.

Because you are a worthy human being.  YOU are.

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31 comments on “Strengthening Self Esteem

  • Oh you are so right! At the risk of divulging too much information I was on a date with a particularly attractive woman the other day. I told her I was speaking to other women also and I was perfectly happy for her to do so. She asked why that didn’t bother me. I gave an honest answer “because I know I am that good that whoever you talk to won’t be better than me”. She was astounded. But it’s honestly how I felt. Why should I be shamed for that?

    • I think one of the mistakes we make in life stephrogers is that we turn interpersonal relationships into a competition. Either someone wants to be with us (be it friendship or whatever) or they don’t. If they don’t value us, then we need to learn to move on to those who do!

      • Yes! That’s exactly what I was getting at. I know my own worth. If she wanted to see other people I was totally OK with that because I know full well that if she wants to be with me then she will be. I am not going to cling and try to force exclusivity. It will come in and of itself when I meet the right person. And when I do meet that right person I wont want to see anyone else any more.

  • This whole entry reminds me of a great quote I heard once about bravery. Alas! I cannot recall the source, nor the precise wording, but the gist of it was this:

    Bravery isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about being afraid and still going forward.

    Self-esteem can be like that, too. We can look at ourselves and not be wildly in love with our wrinkles, or our odd laughs, or our habit of tearing up at sentimental Hallmark commercials… but we can find ways to accept our supposed physical flaws and laugh gently at our foibles. We can be afraid, but take another look and discover that the things we consider negatives are the things that truly make us unique and maybe make friends with them someday.

    Am I perfect? Far from it. But then, perfection is not only pretty much unattainable, it’s also kind of boring. And I will admit the thing that frightens me most is the concept that I could turn out to be boring,

    • I know of that quote too Twistie, but I’m too lazy to Google it and get the details too!

      And you’re bang on, self esteem is very similar. It’s about pulling your pants up and moving forward, isn’t it? Not to mention that the things that we often perceive as our “flaws” are the very things that can draw other people to us.

      And here’s to being perfectly flawed.

  • Kath – Couldn’t have said it better myself! I read it aloud to my husband (esp. the parts about self-esteem and what it really means) and he agreed. I think what you said makes sense about how people see good self-esteem as an unattainable goal that they think they’ll never have and when somebody else has it, that means you can’t get any, or it’s only for certain lucky people who have everything in life, or they think something similar to it. And that’s sad cuz when you feel miserable, you’re gonna want to take it out on everybody else around you. But if you see it as merely accepting who you are – with faults and all – and realizing you don’t have to be the best, or perfect, or even (gasp!) socially acceptable, then it becomes a little more doable. Even better? What you brought up about you don’t have to always feel that way in order to have good self-esteem. You don’t even always have to like everything about you. You just accept that you’re who you are and work with it. And relax and enjoy life (in whatever way you like, within reason of course!). ; )

    • Not socially acceptable DizzyD! We can’t have women thinking that they’re socially acceptable! It would be utter chaos – human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria! :)

      And that’s it isn’t it – you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to believe everything about you is perfect, it’s about growing and learning and giving it your best shot to live your life to it’s fullest.

  • They never give up, do they? You would think they might have a life & better things to do with their time.

    This is a great post, Kath, & an important one. Developing genuine self-esteem & confidence in myself, knowing that I am really okay & who I am supposed to be as I am, has been the hardest thing for me to accomplish in my life. There are always so many people…from those anonymous trolls to friends, family, the media, the culture around us…doing all in their power to make us feel worthless. It has taken a long time for me to get here, but no one can do that to me ever again. I am good enough…period.

    • *sad little troll who has no life at all leaves tired old hack comment that we’ve heard a million times before.

      • Wow. You really are pathetic Jane. Perhaps a good psychoanalyst could help you understand why you behave like you do, and that might help you alter your behaviour so that people might like you. I think finding some actual human friends might do you the world of good. It would at least give you something more meaningful to do with your life.

  • I know this is your blog and that makes you the boss, and I totally respect that. But sometimes I wish you’d completely remove the troll comments and not leave them standing edited. I love your blog, this entry is especially good, and I also love reading the (good) comments, but some days I’m just too sensitive and then even the knowledge that there is this constant flood of trolls makes all the bad shit come running into my head, yelling at me those thought most of us know: “you are such a miserable person, you should just go kill yourself” or any of that similar crap. I just thought I’d at least bring it up, I feel I’m a long way on the road to recovery from self hate so if this gets me so down I’m thinking there might be others.
    Thanks for the blog btw!

    • What you’re asking me to do is to be silent about the trolling I receive. That’s a pretty shitty thing to ask me to do on my own blog. Because this is MY space on the internet, and if I want to have a space on the internet, I have to be able to express myself freely. I’m not bringing this stuff into YOUR space on the internet and forcing you to read it. But the trolls are coming to MINE and forcing me to read it, and you want me to be silent about that.

      If that’s the case, stop reading my blog, or stop reading the comments. Don’t silence me because it makes you uncomfortable. That’s a horrible thing to do.

        • Why would you state this opinion if not to attempt to stop me from doing it? Why would you tell me “I wish you’d completely remove the troll comments and not leave them standing edited.” if you didn’t want me to do exactly that?

          I don’t recall asking for your opinion on how I handle trolling on my blog.

          And perhaps you shouldn’t continue reading, because if you have a problem with how I handle trolling in MY space online, you’re going to have a problem with the post I’m just about to hit “publish” on.

          There are plenty of other blogs out there for you to read if you have a problem with mine.

          • Why would I state my opinion? Why do most people state their opinions? To make them known perhaps? I don’t expect people to take my opinions as their own but I feel it’s my right to state them. My personal experience and pain felt at reading hateful comments is something I didn’t realize I had to hide.

            I’m sorry, I didn’t know opinions that don’t match yours were unwelcome here. Never had that experience on any other blog or in a conversation ever. Most people welcome other peoples different views and encourage dialogues. But if monologues are your thing then fine. I’ll voice my (obviously very upsetting) personal experiences somewhere else…

            • Do I come into your house and state my opinion at you? Do I go on to your blog and state my opinion at you? This is my house. You’ve spoken to me what, once or twice before this, and then you march on in, state your opinion as though it’s something I should be grateful to hear, and then wonder why I tell you to bog off. Remember, opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one, but not everyone wants to hear it.

              I really do wish you would take your opinion somewhere else. You are very mistaken if you think that I will feel a loss, or that I even do this to garner other people’s praise or approval. I don’t do this to make YOU happy, I do it to make ME happy. If other people come along for the ride and are made happy by it too, that’s a nice bonus. But I am not begging for hits or opening up a dialogue. I am writing about my experiences. If you don’t like that, don’t read it. I don’t understand why that is such a difficult concept for people to understand.

  • Wow – what a wonderful, inspiring post. Good luck and all the best to you, you deserve it. Thanks for being the voice of reason and love.

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