I remember the first time I sat in my therapist’s office, and she asked me to make a list of words that describe my character or positive things I loved about myself. I could come up with five. Five whole things I loved about myself. It was pathetic, actually.
I seriously could not think of much else that I liked about myself and definitely wasn’t prone to brag about my abilities or strengths. In time, and with her help, I was able to dig up a super long list from the depths of my soul that I still have tucked away in a desk drawer. It felt painful to try to love so many parts of myself when I was so stuck in a pattern of low self-worth. I had to literally shift my focus from the negative to the positive, which is not how my brain is hardwired.
I still fight this battle every single day.
She encouraged me to pull it out from time to time and look at it, but I don’t. But that exercise alone helped me realize I was chronically insecure and had low self-esteem and it wasn’t doing me any good to stay stuck in that negative cycle of self-loathing. Now that I’m a parent, the last thing I want is to model insecurity. I want my kids to love themselves wholly just the way they are.
I’ve struggled with insecurities my whole life. Who doesn’t, right? But I remember as a kid not being able to make decisions easily without coaxing and help. I was a constant people-pleaser and desperately needed to be liked. But the truth is, we can’t control who likes us anymore than we can control a moody toddler in an emotional rage. Trying to constantly please others led to feelings of failure because I couldn’t love myself if I was unable to please those around me. And if I hadn’t received enough praise for whatever I was seeking at the time, I felt disappointed.
I have also always been insecure about my body. I remember being ashamed of my tiny roll of fat on my itty-bitty waistline at the ripe old age of 15. I had to wear a leotard often for school activities, and I was always comparing thigh gaps and flat abs in my head. It probably didn’t help that my mom was always pointing women out in the street and asking if her butt was as big as theirs.
It sucks to be insecure, but I’ve been a pro at it my whole life. In fact, if I had to make a list of insecurities I’ve had over the years, it would cover just about everything from worries about people liking me, never being a good mother no matter how hard I try, and worrying about other people scrutinizing me in a bathing suit as I try to play with my kids at the pool, and literally everything in between. A couple of years ago, my list of insecurities would have been overwhelmingly longer than the lists of things I loved about myself.
I’m not sure if it’s from the fact that I’m finally settling into life as a mom after 10 years, and three kids, or if it’s because I’m approaching 40. But I’m finally not so insecure anymore, and it’s like a breath of fresh air to start to feel comfortable in my own skin after years of being chronically stuck in a pattern of low self-esteem.
So, what’s changed? I guess it’s a combo of therapy, trying to model self-love for my kids, and just finally realizing that other people aren’t scrutinizing me as much as I think they are. And if they are? They aren’t my kind of people.
But I’ve also worked hard to get to this place. How? Through a lot of trial and error, but I am happy to share a few things that have helped me break the cycle of chronic insecurity for myself:
I praise myself.
No, I’m not walking around saying, “I’m so awesome!” but I kind of am in my head. When you’re stuck in negative self-talk, you have to consciously make lists in your head of your accomplishments. And, sometimes make lists on paper. I do this often, and it has helped me realize that I accomplish lots of amazing things both big and small every single day. Even if it’s just getting caught up on the laundry, or cleaning off my kitchen counters.
I’ve learned to get out of my own head.
Honestly, this is the hardest part for most people with chronic insecurity. But focusing on the needs of my children, or focusing on the needs of a neighbor, or friend instead of my own neediness, helps me love myself more. Serving others (including my own family) gives me a feeling of self-worth that helps boost my self-esteem. It helps to know that my family might literally never be able to stay stocked on toilet paper or find their shoes if I wasn’t here either.
I stopped seeking the praise of others.
Plain and simple, I do things for me now, not for my husband to notice, and certainly not for my kids to notice. By shifting my focus to pleasing myself instead of those around me, I feel satisfied when I follow through because I know I accomplished something I needed for me. I do not allow my value to be determined by others.
I try to believe the compliments I receive.
As much as I don’t seek the praise of others, I still try to believe it when I do get it. If it’s a note from my child that tells me I’m a great mom, I try to see myself through her eyes. When someone compliments me for being patient in a difficult situation, I accept it and try to remember it when I’m not so patient the next time, so I can focus on building myself up instead of tearing myself down.
I’ve learned not to compare myself anymore.
It’s beyond easy to compare yourself to others because of the peek we get into another life through social media. But it can only lead to feeling like you’re never measuring up. But instead, I’ve learned to focus on what I am doing instead of what someone else is, and it’s made a world of difference.
There is too much negativity everywhere we look. It surrounds us and can seep into our lives like an ugly black cloud if we’re not careful. But I’m standing up and making a point to shine a light on all the good inside me and inside my children. I hope that by finally letting go of all those insecurities I have, my kids will love the people they are inside and out, because their mama did. I do not want them to have to fight this battle, so I’m leading by example.