Few will offer a disparaging word about Winston Churchill. If asked who deserves to be on the list of the world’s greatest leaders, he would likely turn up in the top 5. But behind that stoic gaze was a man who knew he wasn’t perfect and who, according to several historians, suffered from bouts of depression. Even his daughter remarked on his vulnerabilities: “Despite his eulogies, accolades and honors, Winston still had a void in his heart, in the heart of his being, which no achievement or honor could completely fulfill.” By some accounts, these hidden vulnerabilities could be a result of his often emotionally distant and unsupportive parents.
My younger brother is the epitome of stoicism. Nothing really seems to bother or worry him, and if insulted, directly or subtly, he’ll unleash a rather fierce, indomitable counterattack. You don’t want to get on this guy’s bad side, because he will rip you to shreds. Does he suffer from insecurities or fears? Likely – but he’ll probably never confess it, and my guess is, he keeps a lot under his hat.
My goal for this blog was to discuss gender difference in self-esteem. I theorized that women are more likely to struggle with their sense of self-worth simply because they are more likely to put themselves down – harshly so. Naturally, I assumed the data from our Self-Esteem Test would back me…but boy, was I wrong. On the one hand, our data shows that men are more likely to ignore negative comments, to bring up their accomplishments in conversations, and to point out their good qualities. But here’s where the stats shifted gears:
- 39% of men (and 33% of women) feel the need to prove themselves worthy – to friends, family, partners, and managers.
- 29% of men (and 23% of women) indicated that they feel that they are not “good enough.”
- 38% of men (and 33% of women) have a strong desire to be liked by everyone.
- 27% of men (and 22% of women) said that they have changed their personality, opinion or appearance in order to be accepted by others. (Yup, this one shocked me too!).
- 23% of men (and 20% of women) are fearful of making mistakes because they worry they will lose other people’s respect as a result.
Here’s where women struggled more:
- 45% of women (and 39% of men) don’t trust their own decision-making abilities, and often turn to others for reassurance.
- 24% of women (and 17% of men) seek constant validation from their partner (i.e. “Do you still love me?”)
Here’s where men and women were generally on par (meaning a percentage of both genders battle with the following insecurities):
- 22% of women and 24% of men compare themselves to others (their appearance, finances, status, job title, etc.).
- 35% of women and 36% of men frequently fall short of the expectations they set for themselves…which tells me that they are setting the bar excessively high or demanding too much of themselves.
- 17% of women and 18% of men believe that they will “never amount to anything.”
- 17% of women and 19% of men characterize themselves as “a failure”; 24% of women and 26% of men label themselves as “boring”; 21% of both genders describe themselves as “worthless and useless.”
- 27% of women and 28% of men believe they don’t have what it takes – the skills, the intelligence – to be successful.
- 18% of women and 17% of men trust other people’s opinion of them more than their own.
- 33% of women and 32% of men are not confident that they’ve done a good job on a project unless someone else points it out.
- 32% of women and men believe that they will only be respected if they have money or looks.
What would incite a person to think so poorly of themselves? Well, there are a myriad of reasons. Regular readers of my blog know that I don’t advocate the “It’s-my-parents’-fault” defense, because a) it places the onus on someone else to fix you, and b) many people with difficult childhoods have still managed to achieve great things (Mary J. Blige, Oprah, Charlize Theron, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Carrey). That being said, having a difficult childhood could have a significant impact on your self-esteem as an adult, something that I’ve labored with myself. Your parents help form the basis of your identity and sense of self – which means if you didn’t receive much love and support growing up, you’re already starting at a disadvantage. Factors like bullying, a lack of belonging and social acceptance, and high standards set by parents, teachers, and the media can also deal some serious damage do your self-esteem. But nothing is set in stone. Self-esteem is not something you’re born with, it’s a facet of you that develops over time, which also means that it’s malleable. Here are my favorite tips:
- Don’t rely on others to make you feel good. One of the snares of a shaky self-esteem is a tendency to depend others to find the beauty or the greatness in us, or to make us happy…and that almost never works. When you’re self-esteem is entwined in what others think of you, it will rise and fall with every compliment and criticism you receive. I love rollercoasters, but I’d don’t like riding emotional ones. The fact is, if you feel a void inside, no one can fill it but you. Healthy relationships are important for happiness, but what’s more important is the relationship you have with yourself. Start by working on you. What makes you special? What are your strengths (everyone has at least one!)? Write them down, and read them often when you find yourself plunging into self-doubt, negativity, or melancholy.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Social media has provided us with the opportunity to communicate and share ideas in an innovative way. It’s also created an unfortunate tendency to stalk people we knew in high school, which has been bittersweet for me because I can’t help but envy some of the milestones peers have achieved that I haven’t. The truth is, 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. Besides, Facebook as a social outlet lacks transparency – people will only ever post their best pictures and moments.
- Associate with people who affirm who you are. Do you have toxic relationships with people who criticize you or make you feel small? Take a good look at the people you surround yourself with and how they affect your self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges with people who treat you poorly, whether it’s friends, a partner or even family.
- Practice positive affirmations. 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 wonderful 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) but you will see positive changes happen soon enough.