I have an acquaintance who regularly posts pictures of herself on Facebook in various outfits – the kind of outfits I’d wear on a humid day walking around my apartment, not out in public. She also rotates her profile photo on a weekly basis just in case, you know, people forget what she looks like. She’s pretty, based on my perception, but wears a little too much make-up. Looking at her profile alone, most people would come to the perfectly logical conclusion that she’s narcissistic and hungry for compliments.
Having known her for years, however, I see the signs of really low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-worth. She hasn’t dated anyone since she got dumped about 10 years ago…after a 2-month relationship. She still pines for the guy who dumped her, despite the fact that he insulted her, used her whenever it was convenient for him, and slept with one of her friends. One week, she’ll post a self-empowering quote, or write a cryptic messages about how he doesn’t deserve her. The next week she’ll turn philosophical, explaining that the heart wants what it wants. Despite words of support from her family encouraging her to move on from someone who, to put it bluntly, treated her like crap, she hasn’t been able to. She’s got solid self-esteem when it comes to her professional life (she’s a brilliant accountant and runs an accounting firm), but when it comes to men, her sense of inferiority is palpable.
“I love myself” are three words that are a testament to person’s true character. If you can’t look in the mirror and say these words to yourself without feeling ashamed, disgusted, or fake, your self-esteem has hit a solid rock bottom. And it’s not just about your outward appearance; I’ve met people who have confidence oozing out of every pore, despite, as my uber-confident friend put it, being “nowhere near runway material.”
“I’m overweight, but I’m perfectly happy with the way I look. I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and miserable,” she said. I reluctantly stuffed another forkful of salad in my mouth while she ate her cheese burger. “And let me tell you,” she continued, “I am freakin’ happy.”
So just how much damage can these three little words do? Here’s what our Self-esteem study uncovered. Those who admitted that they hate themselves were more likely to:
- Need reassurance from others before making any decisions
- Lose out on opportunities as a result of their indecisiveness
- Fear rejection from friends and partners
- Consider themselves a failure
- Believe that they will never amount to anything
- Feel humiliated and degraded when their mistakes are pointed out
- Believe that they will only be respected if they are attractive and/or successful
- Avoid arguments because they’re afraid of being disliked or rejected
- Change they’re appearances, opinions or values in order to be accepted
- Criticize themselves on a daily basis
- Believe they don’t deserve love and respect
- Have been diagnosed with Depression
- Believe that no one cares about whether they live or die
Having struggled for years with self-esteem issues, my online search for advice yielded what I felt was rather simplistic if not patronizing advice. One site suggested that I pamper myself with a spa day, like a massage was supposed to rub away years of self-inflicted derogatory thoughts and behaviors. Another proposed that I meditate, or simply “realize how amazing you are!”
I personally find that practical, down-to-earth tips are easier to absorb than that fluffy stuff. Like:
Learn from – but let go of – mistakes. Absolutely everyone, no matter how perfect they may seem, messes up from time to time. It’s how we learn – like the process of learning to walk as children. If we don’t stumble, we won’t learn how to get up and keep our balance. Keep this in mind as you venture out into the world. I’ll be the first one to admit that some of the stupidest things I’ve done yielded the best life lessons I’ve ever learned.
Don’t compare yourself to others. This is for all you Facebook stalkers who, like me, were desperate to know what became of all the people you hated in high school….only to discover that they’re doing a lot better than you think. But while you may look at someone and think they possess some quality or advantage that you don’t, the fact is they may be looking at you and thinking the very same thing. Someone may be, according to your standards, more intelligent than you, but you probably have something that they don’t (like amazing street smarts). And here’s one of those sad but true facts: People will only ever put their best pictures on Facebook. What you see is what they want you to see, and not, say, the hair they’ve lost and the weight they haven’t.
Associate with people who affirm who you are. Toxic friends, family members or love interests who criticize you or make you feel small have no place in your life. Take a good look at the people you surround yourself with and how they affect your self-esteem – the emotional vampires, the harsh critics, etc. If the idea of burning bridges makes you uneasy, then make it a point to either spend less time with these people, or learn to take a critical and objective look at the things they say or do to you. You’ll eventually reach a point where you’ll grow tired of their BS…or fed up with yourself for putting up with their BS.
Practice positive affirmations. Before you file this under F for “Fluff”, let me remind you that cognitive restructuring and thought modification is the basis of one of the most effective therapies out there: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Write down 5 or 10 positive statements, like “I love myself. I am beautiful, inside and out. I give out love and it returns to me tenfold.” Every morning after waking, stand in front of the mirror, look into your own eyes, and repeat your affirmations about 20 times. Do the same before going to bed (taking a few moments to do this throughout the day would be even better). It will certainly feel fake and untrue at first but with time, you can and will rewire your brain and will start to believe that all these things about you are true. It takes about 30 days to create a habit, so try to keep it up for that long. The process will take a bit of time, especially if you’ve spent most of your life re-enforcing negative beliefs about yourself. I don’t offer therapeutic exercises without trying them out myself, and this stuff works. Period.
Do things for others. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and forget that there are people out there who are in need. Give to others – your time, company, whatever you have to share. There’s something inexplicable that happens inside of you when you put aside your own preoccupations and help someone out. You’re more likely to be living in the moment rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.