Perfectionism, self-criticism, and other inconspicuous self-esteem problems

I have an acquaintance who is an accounting manager in a major firm with a salary of about $90,000 a year. She’s intelligent, fashion-forward, speaks three languages fluently, and can make an amazing Beef Wellington. Do I envy her? Kind of…with the exception of her absolutely horrible taste in men. She married someone whom she’s been financially supporting for the past three years (he’s trying to “find himself” and is currently attempting to become a carpenter). He puts her friends down in front of her (the first time I meet him, he proceeded to tell me that women belong in the kitchen, and when I disagreed, responded with, “Does it look like I give a crap about what you think?”). She just brushes off he’s blatant hostility and lack of decorum as a “joke”. I think I finally understood what “love is blind” really meant.

On the outside, she appears to have it all. In fact, if I were to point her out at a party and tell you that she has major self-esteem problems you’d think it was drunk psycho-babble. But not all signs of low self-esteem are obvious, like a lack of assertiveness, a tendency to be indecisive, or a fear of rejection. Here are some less obvious signs of a self-esteem problem:

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  • You tend to nitpick or point out other people’s mistakes, no matter how minor.
  • You believe that you’re only as important as the amount of money in your bank account or how good you look in skinny jeans.
  • If you can’t do something perfectly, you’d rather not do it at all.
  • You prefer to associate exclusively with people who are successful or popular.
  • You get offended when someone disagrees with you or rejects your ideas.
  • You get upset when you’re not the center of attention.
  • You get angry when people don’t praise your accomplishments.
  • Love ones keep things from you or are not upfront with you because they’re afraid of how you’ll react.
  • You refuse to admit when you’re wrong.
  • You believe that talking about your fears or your faults will make you vulnerable.
  • You think you’re boring, or assume that others do.
  • When you look back on your life, you only take note of your failures.
  • You criticize yourself regularly and harshly.
  • You consider it vital to be liked by everyone.

I will be totally forthcoming and admit that I see myself in some of these statements. I’ve come to the realization lately that I spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on other people – their opinions, their accomplishments, their status. I even thought at one point that my life purpose was to make others happy, even if doing so came at the expense of my own contentment or well-being. It was my sacrifice…and an unnecessary one at that.

It’s been a really long and hard journey, but I’ve finally, hopefully, come to understand that the only relationship that ever really matters is the one I have with yourself. When you’ve got that set, everything else seems to magically fall into place.

Here are a few other tips I can offer:

  • Live each day like it’s your last. I’ve always loved the question, “What would you do if you had nothing to fear?” because it’s a real thinker that puts your life in perspective. Personally, I’d travel more, tell people what I really think of them, and stop caring about what others think of me.

Ask anyone who has had a near-death experience and they’ll tell you the same thing: They suddenly realized how precious life really is, and how every little moment should be enjoyed and appreciated. I’m not suggesting you should go to great lengths to put your life in danger, but when life and all the little disappointments are really getting you down, ask yourself if it all really matters in the grand scheme of things. That argument with your partner, those extra pounds you gained, that less than satisfying performance review – as much as they bother you, do they really matter in the long-run?

  • Take practical steps to deal with mental health issues. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, loss or any other mental health or life issue, take the steps necessary to resolve it. Boosting your self-esteem will be all the more difficult if you don’t overcome these obstacles first. Therapies have come a very long way in the past few decades and show very successful outcomes for numerous disorders. Get the disorder in order, and then get your self-esteem in order. And if you don’t like the idea of going to a therapist, consider seeking out the expertise of a life coach.
  • Learn from but let go of mistakes. Absolutely everyone, no matter how perfect they may seem, messes up from time to time. This is how we learn – like the process of learning to walk as children. If you don’t stumble, you won’t learn how to get up and keep your balance. Keep this in mind as you venture out into the world. Be gentle with yourself.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. This has got to be my biggest downfall (curse you, social media!). You Facebook-stalk friends from high school, only to discover that their life is amazing. But as a friend gently reminded me, people will only ever post the best version of themselves on Facebook. You can’t tell by a picture alone if the person is in a happy marriage, if their job is fulfilling, or if they’re as content (or as fit) as they appear to be. Besides, you may look at someone and think they possess some quality or advantage that you don’t, but the fact is they may be looking at you and thinking the very same thing. Everyone has something special about them.

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D