The word esteem and insecure is often misused when someone can't figure another person out or do not want to bother figuring someone out, so much so that who has or doesn't have high esteem is confusing for many.
After speaking to thousands of people over the span of 4 years about self esteem, reading piles of psychological data, researching societal attitudes about esteem, I didn't meet a single lay person who got it right, I even encountered many mental health professionals and life coaches who got it wrong.
The result stunned me, how could this be?
I wanted to help abused women and men, I ended up uncovering much larger social attitudes towards esteem, went from rock bottom to highest self and became a spiritual feminist instead, here are my findings.
1. Confidence and esteem are mutually exclusive. I was always confident and did better than my peers in all areas so that meant I was also severely misunderstood by myself and also others, I kept beating myself up, thinking I'm a horrible person for feeling down when I have so much going for me. People often didn't think I deserved empathy when empathy is a human need and I needed it to rebuild my esteem, so I decided to do it myself instead, I was better at helping them than they at helping me, so not much point either.
Confidence is about trusting our innate qualities like intelligence, talents and physical beauty, things that lay a good foundation for your future.
Esteem is the lens we view ourselves, our self image, it need not be 100% positive all the time, as long as it's positive most of the time, you have high esteem. It is relational and learned through relating with people who do have high esteem, I find they're rarer than people think, they also have good boundaries and wouldn't bother to engage someone with low esteem, so I often found myself all alone during the process of restoration, it's hard to get access to them when your esteem is low.
Similarly, relating with a dysfunctional person especially an abusive person can erode it, so it is in flux depending on who we're around, so curate your life ruthlessly to keep it.
2. Esteem isn't assertiveness. Assertiveness is a learned skill, often people with low esteem skip healing stages and jump straight to assertiveness, only to find it is unsustainable in the long run since other patterns of wounds aren't set down as a whole. When people start to see them as strong and invincible, they start hiding her vulnerabilities in a bid to keep that image, finding it difficult to live authentically. If they're mentally ill, the illness gets worse due to the incongruency between their inner and outer worlds, esteem also drops further for anyone who does it.
If that is you, give yourself time to work through it step by step instead.
3. Success isn't a sign of high esteem. We see many successful individuals commit suicide, in 12 years of mental health advocacy, I have spoken to many about this topic. People with mental illness and people without, none mentioned esteem issues, they saw it purely as a clinical issue, without considering social factors that I found through my women studies classes, how large an influence our environmental factors have one us, from lack of family support, childhood abuse, being around toxic people as adults and societal discriminations that affects us.
They probably have high confidence but low esteem, this is the backlash of success, people are around you because you're successful, they're not around you because they genuinely care about you. Successful individuals sometimes get the least support because people see their success but not their hidden sorrows, success is often used as a reason to overly rely on them instead.
Often people with low esteem are addicts and alcoholics who self medicate to desensitise, they soldier on because of their courage and depend on their talents to be successful, they and the people around them are often the last to realise they have low esteem. People with low esteem are often ashamed to tell others, they see themselves as fundamentally defective and intrinsically flawed, making it tough to ask for help, often struggling silently.
4. Ambition isn't a sign of high esteem. When you're around less ambitious people, they will see your ambition as a sign of high esteem, you might not suspect you have low esteem, compared to them, you're doing OK. If you're a chronic rescuer like I was, I was always the admired one, helping and uplifting others, I didn't suspect it was possible that I had low esteem.
When I decided to not let anyone who drag me down into my inner circle, choosing equally ambitious people, I can help from a comfortable distance and get my own support network at the same time, I didn't exhaust myself anymore. I think we all have our own visions for our lives and it's totally OK to go on your own paths even if people don't like it, be as ambitious as you want to be, the sky is the limit!
5. The ability to help people isn't a sign of high esteem. I was always capable of helping people, from being a caregiver to my loved ones as a teen then many friends as an adult, I was so good at it, I never failed once, although I was absolutely lonely inside, I wanted deep meaningful relationships and found it hard to even find such relationships, being people's pillar of support is all good and fine, what about me? I needed like minded people and people before me as well.
This was because of my skills, lived experience and training, as well as efforts towards self improvement, increasing resilience, finding courage, assertiveness and other business skills along the way. Giving myself credit and validating my efforts helped me stop people pleasing and feeling guilty about my abilities, feeling guilty fed my chronic rescuer ways, I was stuck inside my inner critic, my mental health was suffering greatly and that is not a way to live.
Eshet chayil, God is a She.