The Self-Esteem Age Gap: Young women still struggling with self-worth

I know of few women who eagerly welcome the aging process, but getting older does have its benefits. With experience comes wisdom – and I’ve always found that the best lessons I’ve learned were learned the hard way. Like the importance of asserting myself. Or recognizing that destructive criticism, masked as advice, says a great deal about the person giving it (i.e. that the only way they can feel good about themselves is by tearing into someone else). And filed away in my “Sad But True” mental database is the realization that having allowed certain friends, family members, and exes to treat me poorly taught me that I deserved much better and that most importantly, the root of it all was a lack of self-respect and self-love.

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I don’t jump on my soap box very often, but I can’t say enough about the importance of having strong, solid self-esteem. I’ve reiterated it here, here, and here. Self-esteem forms the basis of every decision you will make: The type of people you choose to call friends, your choice of career and partner, right down to the way you dress. And while self-esteem can be rather fragile in youth, as women age they are more likely to understand the importance of self-respect. They also know not to put much stock in glossy magazines displaying seemingly perfect bodies, or to allow the media to dictate how they should feel about themselves. For younger women however, these are lessons that still need to be learned.

In our analysis of the 7287 women who took our Emotional Intelligence Test, we discovered a distinct disparity in how younger and older women feel about themselves. Self-esteem, a major facet of emotional intelligence, appears to play a major role in how the women coped with decisions, challenges, and their own identity. According to our study:

  • 13% of women under the age of 40 don’t believe there is anything that makes them special (compared to 8% of women over 40).
  • 35% of women under the age of 40 have a hard time recognizing their strengths (compared to 18% of women over 40).
  • 30% of women under the age of 40 constantly doubt themselves (compared to 17% of women over 40).
  • 22% of women under the age of 40 harshly criticize and/or insult themselves when they make a mistake or fail (compared to 11% of women over 40).
  • 19% of women under the age of 40 change their attitude, behavior, or appearance in order to please others (compared to 10% of women over 40).
  • 21% of women under the age of 40 feel threatened when dealing with someone who is very assertive (compared to 15% of women over 40).
  • 23% of women under the age of 40 don’t feel confident about a decision unless others approve of it; 18% would rather have someone else make their decisions (compared to 11% and 6% of women over 40, respectively).
  • 15% of women under the age of 40 are not satisfied with their accomplishments unless they receive praise from others (compared to 6% of women over 40).
  • 43% of women under the age of 40 are not comfortable asking for want they want, like a raise, time off, etc. (compared to 32% of women over 40).
  • 32% of women under the age of 40 panic when assigned a task that is even just slightly above their capabilities (compared to 16% of women over 40).
  • 33% of women under the age of 40 suffer from “Impostor Syndrome” (the belief that they do not deserve success/did not earn their accomplishments) and worry that others will see them as a fraud (compared to 18% of women over 40).

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Part of the reason why young women still struggle with their self-esteem may have a lot to do with the media. Every decade, the concept of “beauty” changes, and women, particularly younger ones, desperately try to adapt. What ends up happening is that women who don’t fit the ideal – and even those who do, but don’t recognize it – are left feeling like they’re not good enough. This results in a highly fragile and highly volatile self-esteem. But self-esteem goes beyond self-image, so it spreads into other aspects of our life. It’s a representation of how we feel about ourselves as a whole, and a weak self-esteem is a major impediment. Self-esteem is the core of who we are.

The point to remember, however, is that we can’t blame the media for acting as a mirror reflecting back our own complexes. As someone who suffered with very low self-esteem for many years, I must underline the importance of teaching girls from a young age, at home and at school, that their sense of worth is not tied into their looks, their choices, or their accomplishments. Instead of learning how to make pizza or sew a pair of shorts in Home Economics, I would have preferred to have learned how to love myself. I wanted to be taught how to recognize that I am special simply for being who I am, and for having the courage to be myself.

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D