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Women and Self Esteem

» Mental Health Library » Featured Articles

By Maggie Vlazny, MSW, LCSW

Maggie Vlazny, MSW, LCSW

What do you like about yourself? Are you proud of yourself? If these questions make you feel uncomfortable, or you cannot answer them, chances are that you have a problem with self esteem. Why is that? Why do so many of us basically dislike ourselves? Why are we embarrassed to "esteem" ourselves?

Before answering this question, we must first define self-esteem. Self esteem comes from the inside out. It means that a woman is not dependent upon anyone else to make her feel good about herself, because she already knows she's fine just the way she is. She is confident and aware of her strengths and abilities. She wants to share them with others.

This does not mean she is conceited. She is also aware of areas needing work and growth. But that's ok, because she knows she's not perfect, and she doesn't have to be. No one is. She understands that we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

Self-esteem is a core identity issue, essential to personal validation and our ability to experience joy. Once achieved, it comes from the inside out. But it is assaulted or stunted from the outside in. A woman with low self-esteem does not feel good about herself because she has absorbed negative messages about women from the culture and/or relationships.

The reign of youth, beauty and thinness in our society dooms every woman to eventual failure. Women's magazines, starting with the teenage market, program them to focus all their efforts on their appearance. Many girls learn, by age 12, to drop formerly enjoyable activities in favor of the beauty treadmill leading to nowhere. They become fanatical about diets. They munch, like rabbits, on leaves without salad dressing, jog in ice storms, and swear they love it! Ads abound for cosmetic surgery, enticing us to "repair" our aging bodies, as if the natural process of aging were an accident or a disease. Yet with all this effort, they still never feel like they are good enough.

How can they? Magazine models are airbrushed to perfection, and anorexic. "Beautiful" movie stars are whipped into perfect shape by personal trainers, and use surgery to create an unnatural cultural ideal. But youth cannot last. It is not meant to. If women buy into this image of beauty, then the best an older woman can strive for is looking "good for her age" or worse yet, "well preserved". Mummies are well preserved. Mummies are also dead.

Abusive experiences join with cultural messages to assault female self esteem. Abuse is pervasive and cuts across all socioeconomic lines. It invariably sends the message that the victim is worthless. Many, many women have told me that verbal abuse has hurt them far more than any physical act. As one woman put it, "his words scarred my soul". Women whose abuse started as children have the most fragile sense of identity and self worth.

Poor self esteem often results in depression and anxiety. Physical health suffers as well. Many times, women with this problem don't go for regular checkups, exercise, or take personal days because they really don't think they're worth the time.

Relationships are impacted as well. Their needs are not met by their partner because they feel like they don't deserve to have them met, or are uncomfortable asking. Their relationships with children can suffer if they are unable to discipline effectively, set limits, or demand the respect they deserve. Worse yet, low self-esteem passes from mother to daughter.The mother is modeling what a woman is. She is also modeling, for her sons, what a wife is.

In the workplace, women with low self-esteem tend to be self-deprecating, to minimize their accomplishments, or let others take credit for their work. They never move up. Finally, with friends, they are unable to say no. They end up doing favors they don't want to do, or have any time for. They end up going where they don't want to go, with people they don't want to go with! A woman with low self-esteem has no control over her life. But that can change. These women can get help and emotional healing.

It is critical to remember that no one deserves to be abused. If something bad has happened to you, it does not mean there is something wrong with you. The responsibility for the abuse lies with the person who chooses to hurt you. If you are presently being abused, you must put yours and your children's safety first. If you think you are in danger, you can call your state domestic violence hotline number. NJ STATEWIDE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE 1-800-572-7233.

You can choose your own identity. You can discard the popular cultural image and replace it with something real. As I read someplace once, "We are bound by our fate only as long as we accept the values that determine it."

Nobody is perfect, but everyone is worthwhile. Believe in yourself.

Last Update: 10/26/2008



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