If I was to guess, you either have low self-esteem and care what other people think about you or you feel as though you don’t because you have an “I don’t care what they think” type of attitude. The thing is though, that having an “I don’t care what they think” type of attitude doesn’t automatically mean that you have a healthy level of self-esteem. There is a lot more inner work that needs to be done to get there.
Let’s face it, the idea of attaining a positive and healthy self-esteem doesn’t exactly make you jump for joy with all of the inner healing and self-reflection that you need to do. I get it, but my question to you is “Are you willing to give up your self-worth and valuable life just to avoid dealing with the hard stuff???”
As much as you can try to have a positive attitude about yourself, or not care what others think of you, having a truly healthy relationship with your self-esteem takes work and self-reflection.
Attaining Healthy Self Esteem Takes Work
In my post How To Improve Your Self Esteem I talk about how self-esteem is fluid as it changes day to day and hour to hour, all depending on who you talk to, what shows up in your social media feed, what piece of clothing you put on, and what events occur throughout your day. This is a large reason for why having an imaginary (or real) self-care bag full of affirmations, exercises and self-love essentials is important for helping you deal on the days when your self-esteem is feeling low.
It’s important to know that it’s okay and normal to feel low some days, however, without striving for healthy self-esteem we can get stuck in a self-abusing relationship where we become bitter about others, the world and ourselves. This is a dangerous place to be as this is where mental health issues will likely arise. DoSomething.org states in one study, that over 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating. This compares to 25% of girls with a healthy self-esteem.
When we reach this low state of self-esteem it feels easy to self-abuse because we justify our behaviours with “I’m not perfect anyway” so we more easily engage in negative habits such as negative self-talk, substance abuse, hating ourselves or others and lack of care for our life.
So as much as we might rather spend our time focusing on things that make us happy or distracted from the unfortunate circumstances that happen in our daily life and our negative feelings, without working through the reasons why our self-esteem is low we can’t actually grow in who we are and achieve a state of balance in our lives.
My Self Esteem Journey
Through most of my life growing up, I would always tend to lie on the low side of the self-esteem scale. I was never a popular girl in school, in fact not even well liked. I might have had a friend or two, but relationships with other girls did not come easy for me. This could have possibly been linked to the fact that I changed schools a few times, and I moved continents halfway through elementary. It seemed that I would have to change schools right at the age that girls would cling to each other. It always left me in the position where my old friends weren’t seeing me much so they would draw away, and the new friends already had their “best” friends, so I never felt the connections that I was seeking. I always felt that I was a nice girl, caring about others feelings, and engaging in relationships was always (and still is) really important to me, yet for some reason, having girlfriends was always a struggle. Because of this, my self-worth was effected.
I struggled for many years with the idea that I wasn’t worthy of friends, and that I just wasn’t a likeable person, even though in my heart, I really wanted to be. I found myself always trying to be “accepted” and constantly seeking approval in others.
I had an especially hard time after I moved to Canada, half way through grade 4, and up until I got into grade 9. It was during this time that I was heavily bullied, physically and verbally. Having come to the school with a thick English accent, It was made painfully clear to me that I was different and because of that, I was not worthy. My self-esteem was at its lowest. I think the only thing keeping me from completely writing off who I was, was my family. They would always reassure me of my self-worth. But I would still always compare myself to other girls and I always felt not good enough.
I wish I had known back then all that I do now because maybe I would have felt more secure in who I was and not taken so long to make my self-worth discovery. I can now see where I was self-abusing because I didn’t feel good about myself and instead of focusing on growing my self-esteem I kept searching for acceptance from other people.
It wasn’t until my mid 20’s getting out of a nasty abusive and incredibly unhealthy relationship that my life started to change, and it was all because I had a painful realization that I was making the wrong decisions and not healing from the hurt of my past. It was time for me to own up to mistakes I had made, change the thoughts I had about myself and to discover what sort of life I really wanted. And can I tell you that it was the most empowering and liberating decision that I could have made? I physically and mentally felt stronger and happier.
My eyes were opened to how much struggle others were having just like how I had struggled and how so many things in our world only add to our feelings of unworthiness.
Media Is Killing Our Self-Esteem
We live in a media-driven world, and I have come to realize how nearly impossible it is to have a healthy balance of self-esteem because media actually kills it by constantly exposing us to the false idea that we can be perfect. Everything, be it, social media accounts, advertising, magazines, etc. place images purposefully in front of us in such a way that says “you don’t have this and you need it.” We are forced to look at how we are different and that it’s a bad thing.
The sad thing is that most of the time we also put out a false representation of who we are. We want to appear happy, fashionable, motivated and living a rich full life so that no one sees the negative things in our lives. But the issue is that this feeds into this false perfectionism of the world. The truth is that we can never live up to it because it’s not possible to be perfect, and when we try to, we falter and get hit hard with feelings of unworthiness and being incapable.
Now I am not saying that we should bare it all on social media either because I don’t believe that would help our self-esteem, but choosing to be more vulnerable about our struggles and “imperfections” and changing our mindset to say that “what I’ve got I’m okay with, and I don’t need to be different to feel better about myself.”
The challenge I have for myself and that I hope to inspire others with is to be more vulnerable and open about who I am, maybe then all these things that I label as “imperfect” I will start to see as “uniquely and beautifully me”.
Self Esteem Confusion
Notice how I keep using the term “healthy” self-esteem instead of “high” self-esteem? There is a very particular reason for that.
You see, self-esteem is a tricky thing to balance between the right amount of “I am beautiful and capable” and “I am humble and appreciative”. These two often come without one another to the point that someone either feels just “beautiful and capable” which can lead to narcissism, or just “humble and appreciative” without believing that they have a purpose. It is misunderstood that by feeling beautiful you should also be appreciative and by feeling capable you should also be humble. This is the important thing to understand in order to have a healthy balance of self-esteem.
There is also one piece that is often missing when it comes to achieving a healthy balance of self-esteem that I believe is key, and that is self-compassion.
Healthy Self-Esteem Requires Self-Compassion
Researchers are starting to argue more about how focusing on having self-compassion is actually more important than focusing on self-esteem. The Greater Good Magazine argues that “we should stop trying to label ourselves as “good” or “bad” and simply accept ourselves with an open heart. To treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend—or even a stranger, for that matter.”
I believe that both self-esteem and self-compassion should go hand in hand. We should be able to lift ourselves up and realize the truth about our self-worth and how so much of what the world tells us about ourselves is not true. But we should also be able to show ourselves kindness and forgiveness for when we are not feeling particularly high spirited and on some days be understanding that it’s just easier to not strive for our best.
The importance of having self-compassion is that it opens us up to realize what areas in our lives we struggle with and are particularly sensitive to so that we can learn to have more compassion for ourselves and with that will come a drive for change.
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Having positive self-worth with self-compassion has also been found to correlate with lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher levels of happiness, optimism and agreeableness.
The Work Is Worth It
I understand that it’s not easy to face the things that make you uncomfortable, and given that in order to have a healthy level of self-esteem you are required to be honest with yourself about your struggles, be vulnerable and open to change, the truth probably makes you feel like running for the hills. However, I can promise you that it is worth it.
Having been in the place of having extremely low self-esteem a few times in my life and getting to the point that in order for my life to drastically change I had to learn this important lesson, I can honestly say that I wish I had listened to others earlier on about what they told me was true about myself. I have since had to face the deepest of hurt and lies that I told myself for so long and work hard to change my inner voice.
It takes time and practice and the truth is that I am still not great at it. I catch myself getting too into my head and too observant of my differences as though they are a bad thing. It’s so easy to fall back into that pattern of negative self-talk and feelings of unworthiness, but that is why I am glad to have self-compassion. I am able to forgive myself for the times I don’t do so well, talk through my feelings, pick myself up and start moving forward again, and it is truly freeing.
I know this journey far too well so I want you to know that if you are struggling with low self-esteem, that you are not alone. I hope you know that you deserve some self-compassion because you are worth love and kindness.
If you are in need of some support in your struggles I would love to talk to you, so please send a private email through firstname.lastname@example.org or if you are willing to share your story to inspire others, please leave a comment below.