Our self-esteem is under assault. I’m using this Sharepost to identify some of the issues that cause self-esteem to be chipped away, to think of ways to stop the rot and turn things to your advantage.
Quite a lot is written about the media pressure on young people to live up to some ideal type, yet older people are also under a huge amount of pressure to look and behave young. Youth has always been valued but with the introduction of expensive creams, botox injections, cosmetic surgery, facial and other ‘treatments’ the pressure continues to increase. Youth is a valued commodity whereas age is perceived as unattractive and flawed. Of course this is just one side of the picture. Age often brings wisdom and the kinds of emotional and practical support that young people still need. The balance of the population is also shifting and people are living longer. The generation now moving towards their 60s will help to influence how older people are perceived in the future. Meanwhile, it seems to me that chasing youth is a road to nowhere. If your life is structured around looking and being youthful it’s time to develop new abilities and new aspects of your personality. There’s nothing stopping you looking good while you’re at it.
For every action there’s a reaction. Walk around looking miserable and your feedback will tend to reinforce the way you feel. It may feel a little strange but try putting a gentle smile on your face and then smile when you come into contact with people. Not only will it give you a little boost, the reactions you get from others will be so much different. You won’t know until you try.
Appearance is a self-esteem issue but let’s not confuse presentation over substance. Certain well known magazines and websites thrive on celebrity culture. It leads to people fretting over their size, shape, hair style, dress and lifestyle. Spending a bit of time on how we look does help to boost self-esteem, but it’s only part of the picture. We need talking and listening skills so developing a small group of like-minded and sympathetic friends is part of the process of developing self-esteem. Everyone has broadly similar needs so making new friends is often not the hurdle you might think.
Be yourself. Some people find this a weird concept. What do they have to offer? What’s so special about going to the local school and then getting a job in the local supermarket? These are examples of low-esteem thinking. Often these same people look at their lives and draw comparisons with movie stars or the rich and famous, and see material possessions as a way of validating themselves. ‘I would be something more if I had a sports car, big house, lots of cash.’ Actually, you’d be the same, but you’d have more stuff. There’s nothing wrong with dreams. Sometimes it’s the dream that sets the goals to which we aspire. But you can’t ‘be’ another person.
Being yourself involves giving yourself permission to do things you’d like to try, to grow your ideas and not have your life defined by the past or the way others think about you. Being honest with yourself is part of the deal. If there are things you don’t like about yourself, especially your personality, then work on this. Nurture friendships and develop new ones. Treat yourself with some respect and stop comparing yourself with other people. Don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has times when they are in front of the fan when stuff hits it. Being yourself is partly about accepting the things you like and the things you are without feeling guilt, but it’s also about becoming what you want to be. Whether this is developing new hobbies and interests, or fulfilling your potential in some other way only you are in charge of yourself, so take the responsibility on and go for it.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.