It’s weird isn’t it? We spend so much time making sure we make others feel appreciated, valued and included, to praise them and take an interest in their lives, yet we rarely take the time to do the same for ourselves. Instead we’re our own harshest critics and deem ourselves worthy of comments we would never dare say to anyone else. We critique the way we look, how we act around others, how we compare to others; if we were to grade ourselves we’d give us an F.
I’d say that as a child my self-esteem was pretty high. I had this unshakeable confidence that I could do anything and be anything, and that self belief is still here. It never really dwindled. I’ve always trusted my own ability and have never doubted that I ill make something of myself. I’m not sure where this came from, but I think it was a combination of having parents that rolled with it and let me try out anything I wanted to and not being restricted to gender roles; having an older sister and being in single sex secondary education meant that my success and achievements were never limited to my gender. I was never told I was good at maths for a girl or that certain subjects would be better suited to me and because of that I’ve never really felt limited to what I can do. I may have always been confident but throughout my teens I suffered from extremely low self esteem.
I am the sort of person that wants to give out as much as I can and the problem is that it makes me naive at times. Since primary school I have been subject to teasing, bullying and being used, sadly things that still occur in my adult life, especially the latter. In the past it has left me feeling low and on a lesser level than my peers; obviously I’m not worthy of being part of it, just a pawn whenever people want to play strategy. It has had me questioning my likeability since secondary school and in my teens I self labelled myself as boring, uncool, embarrassing and awkward as people seemed to always find someone better to hangout with. They would talk to me if they were desperate. I just kind of accepted this shitty treatment because deep down I didn’t think much of me either. Because of this at secondary I retained this sort of bland, placid outer shell in my later years there to try to sink into the background, as being my outspoken self didn’t get me many friends and invited many backstabbers.The only places where I was truly myself were at home and doing activities like drama, but even then I never assumed high standards for myself. I always knew I wouldn’t be the most popular cast member or the one who stole the show. I was background material at best, surely. It was weird that those high standards I had for myself regarding my success weren’t shared regarding my personality and everyday life. I believed in myself to achieve, but not on the whole. I didn’t like or believe in that girl with the cropped hair and wry grin. I didn’t think she was attractive or worth hanging out with.
The problem was that I never fitted the mould, nor did I want to. I’ve always preferred blue to pink, books to lip gloss and I was never a fan of Disney or being a princess. Throughout secondary school I listened to pop punk rather than the charts and watched old sitcoms rather than Geordie Shore or The Only Way is Essex. I wasn’t on trend and I didn’t much care. I dictated what I liked and wore, not society. I was happy being different and doing my own thing, but unfortunately that doesn’t work at an all girl’s school. Teen girls just want to fit in and run with the crowd and if you’re not bothered or like them they’ll pick up on it. I was commonly ostracised and it became harder to brush off. I felt like such a loser, yet in reality I was just different to the others.
Going to university has really helped me realise that it’s ok to be different and that I don’t need to fit the mould in order to be liked. In fact that what my friends say they like most about me, that I do things my own way. I think university is the place where people who march to the beat of their own drum thrive, as its way less cliquey and you need to have a bit about you to get on. I’ve found that people who need to be in a close friendship group to fit on or use others or the trends to mould who they are struggle a lot more at university, as they sink into the background because no one can get a clear idea of who they are. So I’ve finally found that being different is ok and now I’m owning it.
I went to university being 100% myself and made loads of friends because of it , which made me realise that I am likeable and lovable. I’ve started to see who I really am: funny, clever, resilient, determined, kind and loving. Friends have told me I have qualities I never thought I had. I now have the self-esteem to let the positive comments override the negative, snide ones. I honestly couldn’t give a crap what they say because it’s not important. It may be their opinion but it’s not fact. It doesn’t confirm my own thoughts anymore. I now have the confidence to challenge those thoughts in my head. “Who said you weren’t attractive?” “Who said you can’t talk to boys?” Any little flaws are now tackled head on, rather than accepted as set character traits. Reading about cognitive behaviour therapy has definitely helped me appreciate who I am and have more confidence in myself. Once I r that my beliefs about myself aren’t necessarily facts I learnt to reprogram my brain to take down the negative thoughts in my brain and challenge my limiting beliefs. I’m now learning to silence the harsh thoughts and trust my ability. I am likeable. I am worthy.
University has taught me that there is no point comparing yourself to others. Yes there will be people who are smarter or prettier or more popular, but they’ll envy you for things you take for granted. A local university trip to Cologne really affirmed this to me. I was sharing a room with a girl who I made really good friends with who is a model in her spare time. Eleanor is everything I’m aspiring to be: super fit and toned and mega disciplined. Old me would have envied her or felt inferior due to my curvy frame and tomboy roots. But new me doesn’t compare, because like me she also has things she wants to change or isn’t happy with. We are all amazing and perfect in our own way. We just need to unlock it.
I can honestly say that when I look in the mirror I like who I see and I’m falling in love with who that person is on the inside and out. Not in an arrogant way, but in a self- acceptance way. I may be a few pounds heavier than I’d like at the moment or have a few spots, but I don’t care. It’s all relative. It’s what makes up me.
Funnily enough I find myself most attractive when I’m stripped bare and am just in my sweat top and joggers. I find something really beautiful in it. I’ve never worn much make up and I think that’s why I’m pretty accepting of my appearance, as I’m used to seeing the bare minimum as the finished product. Sure wearing make up enhances my look ,but I don’t need it to feel beautiful. I used to hate what I saw in the mirror, as I thought that compliments from boys or others meant I was beautiful. No I know that’s just shit. I decide whether I’m beautiful or likeable. No one else.
Obviously I’m not an expert and everyone is different, but here’s a few tips I’ve found have helped me accept and love myself for who I am.
Exercise – Starting to workout daily not only gave me a sense of accomplishment in the mornings but also made my insides glow and feel amazing for the rest of the day. Realising how good my body can feel when I look after it has made me appreciate it and feel more comfortable in the skin I’m in.
Buddhism – I don’t want to sound like a hipster dickhead, but since adopting a more spiritual lifestyle through Buddhism I’ve found more peace within myself. I live in the moment more, have become less materialistic and have become more open and compassionate towards others. All these little things have helped me accept and make the most of my circumstances, as well as make a concerted effort to work on myself. Wanting to improve and work on yourself tells you that you are worth bothering about.
Time Alone – As an ambivert I cherish my time alone and actually it’s a great skill to have to promote high self-esteem. It gives you tine to work on you, your goals and to get to know yourself and what you’re about. On an average day I spend about 60% of it alone and I love it. I’m my own coach, motivator and best friend. I like just being by myself, because I make myself laugh, I know how to have a good time and I listen to my body. Alone time is so important to me, without it I go mad. I often find that people who can’t be by themselves or always want to be around people or part of something have low self esteem, because they don’t like themselves enough to just sit with themselves and do them. They have to have people to big them up because they can’t do it themselves.
Being Naked – Sounds weird, but I find that dressing in front of the mirror every morning and staring at my naked body each day has made me fall in love with how I look. When you look at your body everyday you see how it changes, sometimes my stomach looks bloated, sometimes incredibly toned. Sometimes my boobs are floppy, sometimes pert. It’s all relative. My bum always looks good though!
Guilty Pleasures – We all have things that we indulge in. For me my weaknesses are coffee and cinnamon rolls. I used to berate myself for giving in to indulgences. I was not deserving of the teat. Now I own it. If I want that coffee I’ll have that damn cappuccino and heck I’ll listen to one direction and sing along as well. I don’t care. Knowing what you like and not caring what others thinks is a sign of good self-esteem, as you wont let others opinions shape you. This is something I’m definitely learning to own now, as away from the peer pressure of school and the anxiety ridden teenage years I’m happy liking what I like regardless of whether it’s cool or not.
Thought Challenging/ Journaling – Keeping a positive thoughts journal has help me challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about myself and break them down. Whenever something happens that upsets or has me questioning my self-worth I write it down, find the main negative thought and reassess the situation. Taking a different perspective helps me to get rid of the negative thought, rather than bottling up crushing beliefs about myself that aren’t true.
I’d love to know you’re opinions on this subject. Do you find it hard to love yourself? What do you like most about yourself and what do you do to cultivate good self-esteem? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,