READ THE SHOW NOTES BELOW
Do You Have High Or Low Self-Esteem?
Well hello, friends and welcome. Welcome to another episode. This week we are concentrating on a topic that is very close to my heart, like anything that is really meaty is - do you have high or low self-esteem?
What do you think?
Sit back now and think to yourself, is my self-esteem high or is it low, and how are you going to measure that? So first of all, what is self-esteem? Well, really it's just how we think about ourselves, how we view ourselves, do we like ourselves, do we love ourselves? Do we respect ourselves? And those sound like simple enough questions, but it's a bit more complicated than that.
You might be sat here now thinking, 'yeah', I have good self-esteem.
I like myself, and I respect myself, and I love myself. I can tell you that years ago, in my old life, if somebody would have asked me the question: Do you think you have high self-esteem? I would've said yes, and I would have meant it.
But the thing is is I didn't know what it meant.
I didn't understand the complexities of the issue. I didn't understand how most of my life had been led from a place of having very low self-esteem. I think other people would have also said that I had high self-esteem because of the way that I would have looked at it back then. I would have thought about it and assessed my life situation, and I would have thought, yeah, I've got a reasonable career. I've been to Uni, you know, I'm in a relationship, I've got a great social life, I go out regularly. I've got a lot of friends. I'm mainly confident in things that I do.
First of all, I want to talk about some behaviours that people engage in, which are signs of low self-esteem.
Let's look at relationships, romantic relationships. I think we all know somebody or perhaps we've even been that person ourself, that keeps having the same type of negative relationship. And in that sense, I mean when we can see women who could have an abusive partner and has a horrendous time within that relationship. Perhaps they manage to get out of it but then repeats the pattern and gets into another abusive relationship or continues to stay in the same abusive relationship for years.
Now I've been doing a lot of work on these kinds of issues and one thing that I want to mention first is that one of the reasons why we can gravitate towards these kinds of relationships is because it might seem familiar to us if we've grown up with parents who were in abusive relationships or we were abused.
The energy surrounding an abusive relationship can feel familiar.
It's not pleasant, but it's familiar, and you know we human beings, we value familiarity. If you look at a bog-standard shitty relationship where neither party are getting either of their needs met but yet both continue to break up and get back together and then repeat and repeat, and nothing changes. It's because of this fear, this fear of the unknown, and the fact that it feels familiar so a lot of comfort in that, that people can tend to stay in these patterns.
But if we allow ourselves to be treated in a way that's abusive or unloving or unloyal or disrespectful, I want to suggest that perhaps it's because we don't think that we deserve anything better.
And whether that's something that's come from our upbringing or maybe a negative first relationship, or whether it's just to do with the fact that as women we have the idea forced upon us that we must be in a romantic relationship. This idea that we have to be in a romantic relationship for us to be worth something, so we continue because we think that we won't be worthy if we're single.
I want to tell you a story now about a friend of mine.
I've discussed it with her, and she says it's okay for me to talk about it. My friend has got a daughter with a man that she had a relationship with a few years ago. I've not seen this friend for a while, although we've been friends over 20 years now.
When she was explaining to me about the way that he treated her and her daughter, I was just absolutely baffled as to why she had maintained a relationship with this man. I couldn't understand it because he's got severe problems - he is manipulative and abusive and a whole range of things I could say. She told me that when she was seeing him, his dad just died, and every time she challenged him about his terrible behaviour, he would say: "You know, well, my mum has just died."
She accepted this, and now she tells me that she wouldn't accept this in the future from anybody. She's grown and developed so much over the last few years that it doesn't matter who's died. It doesn't matter what's happened. You cannot treat me like that because I am worth more. And that is somebody that's acting from very high self-esteem.
I get that I'm oversimplifying things here.
I know how hard it is to be in a relationship and be manipulated and be abused and betrayed. They continuously say they're going to change or say that they're going to make things better. They never do, but we want this to be the case and give them more and more chances. But somewhere deep down, that has to be a limit where we say: No, actually no. We need to make sense of the manipulation, and that's very hard to do, I know that.
Okay, so now on to another one of my favourite topics, Body Image.
Most women feel shit about their bodies. And this is because of all the messages that we've been given through the TV, through the media, through magazines and through society about how we should look, how we should behave, how desirable we should be, et cetera.
And of course, those images of women are not even real images, so we're taught to measure ourselves against something that's not real. So of course, our self-esteem is bound to be low in this area, and here are some of the behaviours attached to that low self-esteem for body image.
For example, continually buying makeup and products to make yourself look better, continually being on a diet or trying to lose weight, regularly purchasing new clothes for nights out, buying anti-ageing products to make yourself look younger and in the most extreme circumstances, plastic surgery and going under the knife. This is such a clear example of women who do not accept themselves for who they are. They haven't accepted their own uniqueness and their own beauty and are still striving to be this unrealistic woman that we see in the magazines and on TV.
So if we can't accept ourselves, that's because we have a low opinion of our body which is obviously low self-esteem.
The next topic I want to talk about is friendships.
When you get to my age, which is 41, I think most women have been through the process of having to let go of some friends. Perhaps the friendships are not equal or not appropriate anymore, and that can be hard, but it's also really healthy to let go of them. Some associations can be very harmful to our self-esteem, and our behaviour in those friendships can also be a sign of low self-esteem.
For example, if you're one of those people that always let's other people decide what to do or where to go because you don't know if your suggestion will be taken seriously or respected, then that's a sign of low self-esteem. If we want to please all the people all the time, that's a sign of low self-esteem.
It's good to be a good friend.
It's good to be kind, and it's good to be compassionate and caring, but not all the expense of ourselves. We always have to put ourselves first. And I know that's a controversial phrase in itself and if you think it is, I really hope that you will listen to my podcast on Self-Care, which explains that it's only by putting ourselves first that we can really better support other people and have a more abundant and more fulfilling life.
Perhaps you've got some friendships that are not healthy in the way that your friends can't be happy for you. If you achieve something or something good happens, they don't congratulate you, or are quick to put you down or judge you, or criticise what you're wearing, or make a judgement about your haircut that you haven't asked for an opinion on?
Those are not good friends.
And accepting these friendships is a sign of low self-esteem. Firstly, not saying anything and asserting yourself is like saying that your thoughts and your opinions aren't valued or don't matter.
The last three topics that I've talked about - relationships, body image, and friendships - on close inspection, I found that I had severe problems with my self-esteem concerning all of these areas. The other topics that I'm going to have to mention because they had such a significant impact on my life, and topics that I also think are related to self-esteem, are addiction and anxiety.
In my life, I've had many addictions.
Alcohol, drugs, shopping, internet, anything really - in my old life I was addicted to many things. I was addicted to anything that would occupy my mind because I didn't want to look at myself. I didn't want to spend time with myself because it made me feel uncomfortable, and I didn't like who I was, which is a sign of totally low self-esteem.
Phone addiction is a big problem. If you can't put your phone down to have a conversation with a friend, there are some severe addiction problems there.
So if you have got addiction problems, why, what is it that you don't want to attend? What is it that you're so uncomfortable with?
I talk about this a lot in my podcast: Do you have alcohol problems?
Now, I'm going to talk about anxiety.
And this is going to be controversial. I've suffered from anxiety problems throughout my whole life. Not so much anymore, but in my old life, and that was one of the reasons that I was an addict - I liked alcohol because it helped me in the short-term to feel less anxious.
I accepted the label of anxiety that had been given to me by the Doctor and I took antidepressants. I called myself anxious, and I told people I was anxious, or I said: I can't do this because of my anxiety. I never once thought to stop and ask myself: 'Why are you anxious'?
When we do ask ourself that question, we can't find the answer straight away. If we suffer from anxiety, we can't answer straight away why we're anxious. It takes work, but the fundamental thing with me and with some of the people that I know is that anxiety is not a disease. It is a symptom of fear, and it is a symptom of low self-worth and not liking yourself and not feeling good enough.
I did some research into other behaviours that people display who have low self-esteem.
And there's a bit of a list here. So we've got a sensitivity to criticism, social withdrawal, irritation or hostility, too much focus on personal problems, negative thoughts, feelings of worthlessness and defeat and experiencing shame after failure. So I want to go back to the original question now to see if any of this has resonated with you:
Do you have high self-esteem, or do you have low self-esteem? What do you think? Are you any clearer?
Most people do suffer from low self-esteem in some form or another, and I've just read some research that says that 85% of Americans suffer from low self-esteem. I know we're British, but I couldn't find the British figures, and I think that that's very illuminating - 85% of a population suffers from low self-esteem.
The reasons why we suffer from low self-esteem can be varied really, and there can be many of them.
If you've not had a safe and supportive upbringing or the upbringing has been overly authoritarian or particularly critical, this can have a significant impact on our self-esteem. But then other things such as any trauma in our lives or a terrible breakup where we've been deeply hurt, or even if we've been seriously bullied at school, all these things can contribute to low self-esteem.
So I think the point is that liking yourself, loving yourself and respecting yourself sounds simple, but it's not as easy as we believe.
I'm not even sure that we can operate from high self-esteem at all times. I'm not even sure that's possible, and we might have low self-esteem in some areas and be better and higher in others. If we do think that we suffer from low self-esteem because of anything that I've just said or otherwise, what can we do about it?
Well, the good news is that with can do something about it and it's not that hard.
First thing's first we've got to stop comparing ourselves to others.
This doesn't serve us in any way, shape or form. I was having a conversation with one of my coaching clients the other day who is just starting a business, and I was quick to remind her not to compare herself to people that have been in the industry, you know, ten years or more because she'd be measuring her beginning to their end.
That's just a straightforward explanation.
If we look at body image, how people look, or the kind of lives that people live in, everything that you see people posting on Instagram, that's bullshit, and it's not real. But second of all, comparing ourselves against that goes against accepting ourselves. It's only when we fully accept ourselves for who we are, the good, some bad, that we start to be more in control of our lives and begin to be far happier.
One of the most empowering things that I've learned in my life was taught to me by a very dear friend of mine. She taught me many years ago that it's very, very important and empowering to accept and then let go. And since I've started to live my life in that way, I cannot tell you how much my life has changed.
And when I say accept and let go, that's me specifically talking about really big hurts in my life. But we can also apply it to ourselves. Let us recognize ourselves. Look at body image, even if we do lose some weight, our bodies fundamentally are always going to look the same. And in a few years, as time goes by, they'll sag and age. But if we accept ourselves, this is fine, and it doesn't matter, it's not going to be a problem for us. If we don't accept ourselves, we're going to be always striving to look younger or thinner, never being able to achieve it. Let's stop comparing.
Another thing we can do to increase our self-esteem is to start speaking up for ourselves.
Start speaking our minds, realise that we have a valuable contribution to make and that we have a right to make it.
The other way that can raise self-esteem, and this has been very influential in my life is looking at the ideas around negative thinking.
I used to think obsessive negative thoughts about every single issue in my life. If we get to know what those thoughts are, we can seek to address them. We have to be careful here because often when we're completely unconscious, we don't even know what the thoughts are, we act out these behaviours, and we're not sure why - we're not sure why we repeat patterns, et cetera.
But if we spend time alone, meditate, as I've mentioned this before, just 15 minutes on our own in silence, we start to get to know ourselves, and we begin to realise what these limiting thoughts are. Once we know what the thoughts are, we can use positive affirmations to address them.
So, for example, some people suffer from low self-esteem because they haven't had a safe upbringing, and they have brought that with them into adulthood. And so a lot of their behaviours will be acted out from fear. So we can think to ourselves: 'I'm not safe'. To address this, we can say to ourself: "I am safe, and all is well". And it sounds like such a simple thing to do is, and you might think about how it can work?
I can tell you that it does work.
If we say these powerful statements to ourself and there are many to choose from, I'm sure if you researched affirmations, you'd find loads that were suitable for you. If we say these positive affirmations to ourselves often enough and write them out and say them to ourselves, as we mean it, eventually, the negative thoughts and beliefs around that particular thing do go.
They don't go from saying them once or saying them twice, but if you're committed to raising your self-esteem and overcoming yourself limiting thoughts and beliefs, then you will do it over some time, and they will work.
The final bit of advice I've got for raising self-esteem is showing kindness and compassion to other people, even to strangers.
There isn't much kindness in the world, or there is, but there's not enough of it. We can get so caught up in our thoughts and what we want that we can forget to be kind. It's so gratifying and confidence-boosting if you can be generous if you can take some time out of your day and put some effort into thinking about what somebody in your family might need right now, or what your friends might need right now, or somebody on the street might need right now. This is good for our self-esteem if we can act in this way.
When we start acting from a place of high self-esteem and making decisions based on the fact that we do like ourselves, that we do love ourselves, that we do respect ourselves it breeds confidence and it feels excellent.
The more we do it, the better we feel and the more comfortable we are doing it again. So much so that it lifts our self-esteem. Okay. So I think that's all I've got to say on self-esteem for today.
To receive honest and absorbing stories to help us try and make sense of our world please get on my email list.
Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Coach & Mentor.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Using her no bullsh*t approach Hannah helps single women (inc. single parents) feel more confident so they can live an exciting and meaningful life with no apologies.