Even before we’re fully adult, even before our preteens, we begin to realize that we can’t rely on others to serve all our needs. It’s healthy to acknowledge this and take pleasure and pride in becoming more independent. While no man—or woman—is an island, we need to be able to trust ourselves to become essentially autonomous in providing for our education and later for our livelihood, setting appropriate boundaries for our self-protection. My previous blog “Who’s In Charge of Your Destiny?” explores this topic in detail.
While most of us attend public or private school, at least through most of high school, and some of us go to college or technical school, a curriculum is meaningless unless we want to learn. Following higher education, women as well as men find work to support ourselves and perhaps our families. The more motivated we are to succeed in making a living that provides a productive life and even fulfills our passion, the more likely we’ll adapt to adult life as self-sufficient—and happy—individuals.
For women, the pressure to marry can undermine their path toward personal growth. While marriage is not inherently detrimental to a woman’s advancement toward her full potential, it can influence her to play a secondary role to her husband, remaining at home without a compelling purpose, while he assumes the traditional role of provider. Having children can create a sense of purpose that’s very real, but in today’s culture offspring are not considered mandatory to marriage—but rather a personal choice. Besides, focusing on children likely contributes to their development more than their mother’s. Too often, women put everyone else’s needs before their own, and feel depleted and undervalued as a result.
Whether married or single, it’s critical that women develop our own sense of self-esteem that’s not dependent on the positions or status of our families—in particular our parents’ or husband’s—because this has little or nothing to do with the growth of our characters, which is all about learning to trust ourselves as fully functioning females who are capable of acting out of our own free will. Below are some steps that can help us to gain confidence in expressing our true selves, without shame or apology:
- Forgive yourself. Put regrets and unhappy memories in the past where they belong. You’ve learned from these experiences, now it’s time to move forward.
- Develop awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Express them with assertiveness and consideration for others’ feelings.
- Establish your standards and values and then do your best to follow them every day. Refuse to compromise your ethical code.
- Practice integrity, which means your actions are consistent whether or not anyone is watching.
- Make commitments to yourself and others. Keep them. You can start small. For example, offer to do something kind for someone and then follow through.
- Speak with kindness to yourself. Stay busy with enjoyable esteem-building tasks to block out negative voices in your mind.
- Don’t try to be perfect, just be real. Accept your humanity. Your need for self-trust is the knowledge that you can survive.
- Trust your instincts. If someone’s negative behavior seems to be trying to tell you something—especially if it’s ongoing—examine your feelings, and listen to your instincts as a protective red flag.
- Don’t lie to yourself about any negative feedback you receive from the universe, including your relationships. It can help to keep a journal to discover recurring patterns in your own and others’ behavior. Otherwise you may remain in a state of denial, fearful to confront a problem, or unwilling to leave an unhealthy situation.
- Don’t try to control everything, so you can feel safe. The only behavior you can control is your own. While you can be assertive in telling someone when they’re hurting you, or asking what the problem is that’s causing them to offend you, you can’t effectively tell them how to behave. Sometimes walking away is preferable to confrontation. There’s a difference between giving up and realizing that you’ve had enough.
- Finish what you start. Completing what you plan to do is a big step toward self- trust and resulting self-confidence. But there’s a caveat to this advice: Sometimes you may need to experiment, and in doing so, you don’t get the results you want. This isn’t failure. It’s just a learning experience. Accept it without drama and don’t repeat the same action to get different results. Use your new knowledge to figure out another more creative approach to your project.
- Stop seeking advice instead of trusting yourself to make your own decisions. Sometimes people ask for advice they expect will be negative because they think they should get a variety of opinions. While “polling” or “testing” may be advisable in some impersonal forums, such as business, don’t get in the habit of doing this when it affects your personal life decisions. You must be accountable for making the right choices. First and foremost, listen to your positive inner voice.
- Make a list of your many strengths, positive traits, and admirable qualities. Refer to this at times when you self-esteem is low.
- Nurture yourself. Give yourself time to play and relax. Make taking care of yourself is your number one priority, so you have energy to share your joy with others. Mediation can be helpful, which is basically clearing your mind.
- Stop being self-deprecating. This can be a tough one. Often people will say, “She has a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor.” While this can be a very likable trait it’s always a two-edged sword, because others will usually treat you with the same level of respect that you seem to have for yourself. In fact, a more selfish or narcissistic man or woman will often use your voiced weakness against you, to undermine your confidence, gaining control of his or her relationship with you.
- Stay clear of people who undermine your self-sufficiency. While it may not be possible to completely avoid others who tend to demoralize you, you can give them a wide berth, and take their negative comments with a grain of salt. More often than not, they’re reflecting their own lack of self–worth. They may even be jealous of your progress and proficiency. If you believe they’re true friends, regardless of their negativity, it may be worthwhile to initiate a calm, non-blaming, win-win discussion of your feelings which are blocking productive communication. But be aware that sometimes you can actually play into the hands of a “closet opponent” by bringing up a problem that they won’t admit exists.
I hope you find this helpful along your journey to your authentic and best self, which are one and the same.
Mary Kathryn “M.K. Jones
Writer/Producer/Advocate for Women