Contrary to the common belief, a healthy self-image isn’t that shiny or glamorous.
It’s something good. But it doesn’t always feel good. And it doesn’t always come across as something good.
In many cases, you have to go through a lot of pain in order to reach that highly sought-after healthy self-image and high self-esteem.
And you will not always have it. You will still have insecurities and flaws and shortcomings.
And it’s not about getting rid of these insecurities or flaws or shortcomings. It’s more about how you are handling them. (Read: How to Raise My Self-esteem If I Hate Myself)
The unhealthy self-image doesn’t always look that ugly!
It can be very beautiful and charming. It can come across, sometimes, as self-confidence.
At times, people with an unhealthy self-image can look like they have it all.
So, the difference between a healthy self-image and an unhealthy one can be very subtle.
A healthy self-esteem doesn’t always mean being loud and at the center of the attention. An unhealthy self-esteem doesn’t always mean hiding in the corner and withdrawing from people.
Let’s put the stereotypes aside for a moment and look a bit deeper.
How life looks like with a low self-esteem
Some people with low self-esteem are pretty awkward and anxious. But not all of them. Some are actually quite the opposite.
Being awkward and anxious is one end of the spectrum. There is another end.
Compensating for feeling weak and inferior by attempting to look anything but that. Therefore, not all those who look “confident” are actually confident.
And not all those who suffer from a low self-esteem will look unconfident.
They are operating from the same place people who are awkward are operating from. While the behavior, on the surface, is different, the motives and the emotional wounds and the fears are similar.
That’s why you need to look further than just the behavior. And you absolutely must forget about the stereotypes.
Let’s see how people with a low self-esteem operate. How do they even end up where they are.
This how low self-esteem is developed:
- They become filled with shame: shame, as defined by research, is believing that you are deeply flawed that no one will ever accept you as a worthy person. Usually, they become filled with shame after a deep emotional wound (neglect, bullying, abuse, …etc), whether during childhood or adulthood (or both).
- They hide this shame and deny its existence: it was too painful to be wounded and to feel shameful of one’s self. So, they never admit those harsh feelings. They try to hide them. This makes shame even stronger. (Read: Why Self-compassion Is The Best Thing You Can Ever Do)
- Unhealthy methods to deal with shame: they usually compensate. They try to be someone they are not. They try to project a certain image to the people around them. Some of them succeed (temporary). Some of them fail and sound totally needy and helpless.
- Horrible self-awareness skills: to me, self-awareness is half the battle. With enough self-awareness you can get enough self-esteem. But those people lack self-awareness. They’re too afraid to look inside and look at shame straight in the eye. They can’t be honest with themselves.
- They are waiting for someone/something else to fix them: it’s not their fault! It’s never their fault. So, they desperately wait for someone else to come and save them. Or for someone else to recognize how special they are and fall for them. Or for something to come around and make their lives better. They never take responsibility for their lives or their actions.
Thanks to this destructive cycle, those people end up developing certain beliefs about themselves and about life.
Those beliefs are the hallmark of an unhealthy self-esteem, regardless of what’s happening on the surface.
Those beliefs can include:
- If someone got close enough to me, they will not like who I really am.
- I need to impress people and look perfect. Otherwise, they will think that I’m worthless.
- I’m worthless because I don’t have “—–“.
- No sane person will ever like or respect me.
- I should make no mistakes. Only stupid people make mistakes.
- People should glorify me. (Or, people should treat me like shit).
- I must hide all my flaws and imperfections. I’ll act nice and good so that people think I’m a good person.
- I’ll change who I am for someone to like or accept me.
- Other people are better than me. All those around me are super smart and super sexy and I’m nothing but a worthless person who will never measure up.
- Other people are worthless. All those around me will never be as smart or as sexy as I am. Plus, they can’t understand how amazing me and my life are.
- Other people can’t understand my problems.
- If I just can “—-“, I’ll be happy and confident and fulfilled.
- All my relationships with other people are screwed up somehow.
This is a toxic combination of behaviors and beliefs. It ends up creating a toxic personality with a low self-esteem.
Note that I’m not judging or stigmatizing those people. I used to be one. And probably I’m still one when it comes to specific areas in my life if I’m completely honest.
The thing is, it’s a good idea to become aware of how low self-esteem looks like and how it develops. This can give you some needed awareness to break free.
And to add more to this awareness, let’s explore the other side. How the healthy self-esteem looks like. After all, it’s what we are after.
How life with a healthy self-esteem looks like:
People with a healthy amount of self-esteem have different beliefs and attitudes.
Some of them probably were lucky and grew up in a positive environment where they were encouraged. They developed a good attitude as a result of growing in this good environment.
And some of them were unlucky and actually had a low self-esteem at one point in their lives.
They were subjected to some emotional abuse that caused them to have self-esteem issues. They were exactly as what we described above.
But they were able to change.
They were able to change the negative and destructive beliefs they had. They were able to develop healthy and empowering and strong beliefs about themselves and life.
A few are lucky to have been brought up in healthy environments. But even if you are not that lucky, you still can change those beliefs and attitudes.
After seeing the negative and dark beliefs on the side of the low self-esteem, let’s see the beliefs and the attitudes on this side as well.
The characteristics of people with high self-esteem:
- They’re not perfectionists: Perfection is about seeking approval and trying to avoid getting hurt. Getting approval from everyone is not one of their goals and they are willing to get hurt (rejected, fail …etc).
- A strong sense of self: They believe they are worthy of other people’s time, attention, and respect (without being entitled, of course). That’s why they can get close to others and let others get close to them.
- They are OK with their own shit: They might have issues. But they work on solving them without stigmatizing themselves. They believe they do have bad traits, not that they are bad.
- They are self-aware: They have good self-awareness skills. They can be brutally honest with themselves, even if it hurts sometimes. And they are aware, to a good extent, of their motives and intentions.
- They take care of themselves: Emotionally and physically.
- They take full responsibility for their lives: They are not waiting for someone else to fix them and they are not waiting for a golden opportunity. They get up and do what it takes to improve themselves and their lives because they realize it’s up to them.
- They do whatever they do because they want to do it: Not to impress someone else. And they don’t care about the spotlight as much as they care about satisfying their needs in healthy ways.
- They handle negative emotions better: Emotions such as fear, disappointment, inferiority, doubt, or even depression. They come out of these emotions much stronger than before.
- They own everything that is related to them: Their good side and bad side. Their strength and weakness. They know that they can’t be totally good or totally bad, and it doesn’t make them unworthy.
- They always do their best to improve and grow: They never give up on themselves. As long as they are breathing, there’s a chance to become better. And they usually leave their comfort zone in order to grow and improve. But, hey, they are OK with negative and uncomfortable emotions.