Friday, February 5, 2016

A letter to women: Self-Esteem, Social Media, Attention Seeking Behavior

Dear women suffering from low self-esteem who constantly need attention,
I know what it's like to have low self esteem. I've been there. Truly. Most of my life. And let me tell you, it sucks. It sucks to feel like everyone is smarter, prettier, more successful. It sucks to take every cancelled plan or bad date or rough day at work as a sign that you're not good enough and you'll be alone forever. It sucks that no matter what you try, it doesn't seem to make you feel better for long. It sucks that nobody understands. I know this. And it makes me so sad that you feel that way.

I also know that we aren't all playing with the same deck. I am in no way an "everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps because I could do it, or because "Mary Smith" (random name) over there could do it." That would assume we're all the exactly alike so should be able to handle everything precisely the same way. Our low self esteem can be the result of a great many circumstances, and even if the circumstances were identical our personalities and our DNA are not. So it's probably impossible for me to give you some sort of formula that will absolutely work.

But I can tell you this:  no amount of pretending, no amount of material and superficial things, no amount of attention from others, is going to help your self esteem in the long run. Because ultimately, low self-esteem is our own vision of who we are at the core, unfairly distorted, through no fault of our own, by life experiences or genetics or abuse or some combination of circumstances that doesn't allow us to see ourselves as we truly are. All of those superficial pieces -what we have, what others say about us - are just the external pieces that we see as affirming our internal feelings of ourselves. They're a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you listen to them, the worse you'll feel, the more you'll see them, and it goes on and on. Now I'll admit, I'm the first person to change my hairstyle or my wardrobe when I feel like I need to get the current of life moving in a more positive direction. But that's because I know it's within me to continue that movement. I might desire a fun jump start, but I don't truly believe a new hair style is going to fix my problems or make me better, more likable, more successful. Nor does it matter if every one of my Facebook friends makes positive comments on my profile picture with said new hairstyle. Because if their affirmations "make me beautiful", their criticisms can just as easily plunge me downwards. It gives them control over my emotions instead of me. Why would I want that?

So please excuse me well I tell you something you probably don't want to hear: no amount of external praise or social media likes or retweets or shares in which you tag your boyfriend/girlfriend/favorite favorite friend of preferred gender(s) to make your presence known on his page daily is going to make you feel better about yourself. Even if he likes and comments on every f'ing one of them.  This isn't to say that you shouldn't share your successes or your great new look, or that you shouldn't tag friends in something that you legitimately think they'll enjoy. But before you do so, ask yourself this. If a day, a week, a month from now, nobody's liked or commented on that selfie, if you've posted a picture saying how fat or ugly you are and nobody's reassured you you're not, if said targeted person above doesn't profess grandly how great every one of your posts on his wall is, will you care? Be brutally honest with yourself.  Will it piss you the *$& off? Will you complain to your friends "I don't get it, suddenly he/she isn't liking or commenting on my posts"? If you don't will you secretly want to? Don't judge - there's no right or wrong here - but be honest. If others' affirmations or lack thereof influence it, don't post it. Because you've just handed them that power. It goes the same for what you wear, your hairstyle, etc. If you're doing it for them, don't. It will hurt you in the end. Because there's always some dissenter out there. Always.

I know this is difficult to hear for several reasons. First off, it can be tough to acknowledge that you have low self-esteem. Furthermore, nobody wants to discover, or admit, that they're attention seeking. And I know that you want to try to control external factors that make you feel better, because you feel no control over how you feel about yourself internally But it doesn't work in the long run if you're truly suffering from consistent low self-esteem. The only thing that will help you feel more control over your self-esteem is to be honest with everyone, and most importantly yourself, about who you are. Nothing diminishes self-esteem further than trying to be someone you are not. Eventually, you feel hollow, and hollow does not lead to feeling positive about yourself. I speak from experience. Things might get worse, externally, before they get better. I won't lie and say that being open about every bit of who I am, including my mental health condition, was a cake walk. But when things get better internally it matters less what people think externally.

So go ahead and post pictures of your abs or your new haircut. But don't pretend you don't think you look good. If you really don't, then by all means don't give others the opportunity to shoot you down emotionally after you've worked so hard to come up. But if you do, own it. Be proud. Is it everyone's top choice to see pictures of your abs? No, assuredly not. But so what? Maybe it's not your top choice to see pictures of the meal or their dog or their kid. It doesn't stop them. And the physical and virtual clinging to your boyfriend/girlfriend/favorite friend? You'll need that less too. Because the better you feel about yourself, the less you care about people who will only pay you attention if you practically give them no choice. And you deserve so much better than that. Confident people don't want to look desperate. And when you get like that, you do. I'm sorry. We all can see it.

So please, from the bottom of my heart, look inward. If you need to discuss your self-esteem issues, talk to a trusted friend or find a support group. Hell, I've been there, talk to me. I don't care if I know you or not - I help people I don't know in person through mental health struggles all the time, because I truly want to help. If you have to, speak to a professional. But don't speak to those people who will only notice if you continually throw yourself in front of them either on or offline, striving for their attention. Quite simply, once you are able to focus on your own positive opinion of yourself, you won't need theirs.

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