One of the tags I subscribe to as part of this blog is “self esteem” and there is one thing that really irks me about some posts that tackle the subject. I’m guessing that some of them do not have mental health issues and do not know people that do and therefore are not really understanding what low self esteem means.
The problem is that a lot of these blog posts are stating that the problem would go away if we worked hard and/or had something in life to be proud of. That way our self-esteem and confidence would be in abundance. Easy really! Just get a degree, a job or win a competition that takes real skill!
Sorry guys, it is not this simple. Like any mental health issue, it is an irrational thought process and rarely does this sort of simplistic approach work. Even people who are incredibly successful can have these negative thoughts and when their mood is lowest, even a gold medal Olympian will dismiss their successes and label themselves a failure or find an excuse to negate that success (refer back to my post where I discuss the hypothetical vet).
It is because most of us with low self esteem are perfectionists who indulge in all or nothing behaviour. We push ourselves beyond physical and mental limits and through illness because we (think we) will otherwise be perceived as a failure. Asking for help makes us a failure. Slowing down makes us a failure. Taking a break because we are not feeling 100% makes us a failure. So we plough on and when it all comes crashing down, the bottom line is confirmed.
Fighting it is not easy but through Melanie Fennell’s book I feel I have come a long way to combatting my low self-esteem. I have a job. I have post-graduate degree from a top department at a top university in the UK. I have many things to be proud of yet I have struggled at times to identify my successes. I now know how to fight those negative thoughts. Though I will most likely never be ‘cured’ of these feelings no matter how much success I achieve in life, I do what I can to fight back and limit their effects.
I can see that I have achieved things in life to be proud of, and I can list the personal successes I have had. I also know that I will always feel I could have done better. Right now it is a matter of fact that my hard graft in life has not been rewarded fully and I sometimes feel that I’m never going to make anything of myself, that it will always be a struggle, that I will always be in a dead end job and my qualifications will go to waste.
Fighting low self esteem is not about hard work, nor is it about success achieved from that work; I find it offensive when people suggest that low self-esteem is just an excuse to expect everything handed to you on a plate. I have friends with low self-esteem and I consider them some of the most passionate, amazing, dedicated and hard-working people I know. The difference is, they do not acknowledge when they have done well and that is the fine line between healthy and unhealthy self-perception.