I have always struggled with self-esteem, I don’t believe that I am alone, I think a lot of people do. I don’t know if it’s because as a country (UK) we are taught that we shouldn’t be big-headed or conceited. Or if it is just that we are much more likely to put someone down than build them up. I don’t know, but whatever the reason is, fixing our self-esteem issues won’t be found at the bottom of a wine glass as I thought previously.
Have you ever been treated badly, or been let down by someone and you have not even felt that bothered by it, because you don’t believe that you are worth it anyway? I know I have. When I was younger I would constantly be let down by people close to me. Even so far as a very close family member not attending my wedding because they had decided they were going on holiday elsewhere that week! At the time I was sad but had such low self-esteem that I didn’t blame them. I accepted I wasn’t important enough.
I believe that people pick up on how you feel about yourself, if you don’t think you are worthy of much, why should they? Some of it is actually not their fault, if you constantly send the message that you aren’t important, then can you actually blame them for treating you that way?
I used to know a girl with so much self-esteem you could almost see it emanating from her. Upon meeting others she would let them know how she expected to be treated and she would not tolerate any form of criticism or judgement at all. She was a good friend to her group until they crossed her. I actually think she was a bit of a narcissist, but that’s another story. My point was, she was treated so well by everyone around her because her self belief was such that you just didn’t ever doubt what an amazing person she was. This led to almost hero-worship from those around her. I remember she singled me out after a night out as someone she really like and told everyone how funny I was. This resulted in others changing their behaviour towards me, not because they suddenly loved me, but because she did! Her self esteem was so high that others wanted desperately to be liked and accepted by her.
This example is quite extreme but it shows that what you put out there is picked up by others and thus can determine how you are treated. The same can go the other way, I have a friend who has very low self-esteem and constantly apologises and feels she is a nuisance ( she isn’t). People close to her often take advantage and don’t treat her well. She doesn’t feel she deserves any different and therefore puts up with it. I believe that if she just saw and believed what a wonderful person she is, she would be treated better.
When I was still drinking, my self-esteem was non-existent. It didn’t start from a very high level but then add to that the guilt and shame around alcohol and it left my self-esteem tank on zero.
So how do we build self-esteem, how do we look after ourselves more?
I know that this is easier said than done. You can start with a no apology unless totally necessary rule. Sometimes it feels like we apologise for even existing, how many work emails start with a ‘sorry to bother you’. How many times do you apologise in the supermarket when you have done nothing wrong? Just stop right now. I promise you this is empowering and you will feel better soon.
*Obviously if you are in the wrong about something the rules are different.
Treat yourself as you would treat a friend
Would you bitch about a friend who was exhausted and needed a break? Would you expect your friend to be the perfect Mum/wife/sister? I doubt you would, so why do you hold yourself to such a high standard? It will take a while, but when you are starting to feel angry at yourself or low because you haven’t achieved what you wanted to achieve. Try and step out of the situation and think of how you would judge a friend in your situation. Give yourself a break!
I was in the hospital a couple of years ago for a pain rehab clinic. I was really lucky to meet a great group of girls there and we socialised a lot in breaks from our treatment. I always remember being in awe of one of the girls who would say no to the group. I would tend to go along with any plans that were made, even if I was tired or sore as I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone. But this girl would say no, she would only do what she wanted to do and I was fascinated by her.
I started to copy her, if I wanted breakfast alone then I did. If I wanted a swim while everyone else wanted to go on a walk then I would do that instead. It was amazing and I suddenly realised that what I wanted to do was important and by doing this I raised my self-esteem. The ground didn’t open up when I said no, no one really worried about it, but I got to look after myself and to give myself what I needed.
I doubt she has any idea how she helped me, but learning to say no has improved my life and it has also taught those around me that my feelings and choices matter too. This has been invaluable in my new sober life. If I was still unable to say no, I would really struggle to stay sober. I would not feel I could say no to going to visit places or people that would trigger me and indeed I may have even said yes to alcohol, just because someone else want me to drink with them.
Stop people pleasing
I am still working on this. I am a total people pleaser, I will say what I think needs to be heard, do what pleases others and sometimes be a version of myself that isn’t real, just because I want to fit in or please others.
What usually happens when you do this is, the takers keep on taking. They don’t even notice what you are offering after a while and they certainly don’t appreciate it. You are never going to be enough for these people. The only change you will see is when you stop giving all of the time, you need to be aware of this. Takers do not appreciate you suddenly standing up to them, they will very quickly become the victim and you the villain. You need to brace yourself for this, but it is worth it in the end for your own self-esteem. If a relationship isn’t equal is it really a relationship worth holding on to?
Try and break the pattern and become yourself, if others don’t like that, then that’s just tough. I am sure most people will respect the new you and if not? well, we can’t be liked by everyone.
Stop comparing yourself to others
Have you ever looked at Facebook or Instagram and it feels like everyone is younger than you, has a better life, has better-behaved children etc? I know I have. I am a nightmare for worrying that I am not good enough and so and so from school looks much better than me now or Julie is always on holiday and I am not, I could go on and on but their lives aren’t the true depiction (apart from Julie, she is always on holiday!) I mean who would honestly put their bad shit on Facebook. Take me for example, today I look awful, have greasy hair, no makeup, scruffy clothes, working. Do you really think I would pop that image out on social media? Nope, but get me dressed up for a night out, with good lighting and I will be sharing those pictures willy nilly!
It’s like that in real life too, some people have it better and manage better and some don’t. If we endlessly compare ourselves to others then we are constantly looking at what is wrong in our lives and building guilt and resentment.
Be proud of yourself
What little thing did you do today that made you feel good? What did you do that you hadn’t done before? Have you managed a drive you were worried about? Did you get the kids out to school on time? Did you remember to eat breakfast? Did you manage to get the work done you needed to?
Take a little bit of time out of your day, sit down and relax, grab a coffee, light a candle listen to music, whatever floats your boat really. And then have a good old think about what YOU have achieved today or this week or whenever. Think about that moment when you made someone feel special when you baked that cake when you said no and stood up for yourself, or whatever makes you feel proud of yourself and give yourself a pat on your back. Try focusing on the positives about yourself at least once a day and see how that feels. Because you should be proud of yourself.