1. Tim

    An excellent place to see the effects of low self esteem is reality TV. Did you watch Strictly Come Dancing when Julian Clary was a contestant? I could have wept for him at the start. Towards the end he had started to blossom. His screen persona of the brash bitchy queen hides a man in great pain. As the series progressed he seemed able to see that he was achieving something difficult, and by the sweat of his own brow.

    The 2013 Great British Bake Off had Ruby, a lady of immense skill and obviously low self esteem. Her self esteem took for ever to improve. I wish I could say she had made the same progress as Julian.

    Sometimes even praise for our genuine abilities and achievements isn’t enough to break the image we have created for ourselves, despite the praise being given correctly. It isn’t even “well meant” praise, something I find patronising, but real praise for real achievements. And we all have low self esteem sometimes. Some of us have it more than we think well of ourselves. Sometimes it goes back to bad parenting or bad teachers.

    In all things except singing I have a good image of myself. When I was seven my ability to sing was ruined by a teacher who should never have been allowed near children. She took a malleable child and ruined the enjoyment of singing by labelling me a non-singer, and humiliating me in front of the class in the way she treated me. She had far reaching effects on my life. Today I am 62 and am still unable willingly to open my mouth to sing, even in groups where my voice will not be heard, yet I have the confidence with my spoken voice to address large audiences, though I had to make a huge breakthrough to be able to do it. I can hold an audience with speech. I believe I can clear a room when I sing.

    Many people have tried to help me sing, but the self esteem in that place that was ruined by this stupid woman so completely that I doubt I will ever break though, even though I want to be able to do it.

    Her actions when I was seven changed my entire career. For many years I could not even speak in public. I wanted to be a barrister, but I was terrified of speaking in court. So I settled for a series of awful jobs instead of a great career. The irony is that those jobs made me speak in public, something I never expected to do. And I started badly, only becoming acknowledged as good by dint of great effort, plus a decision to be good.

    I can’t do that with singing. I am afraid of making a bad noise. My teacher, when I was seven, told me I made an awful noise, and I trusted the bitch. And today, when I know she is not to be trusted? I am still scared of making a bad noise.

    We can get through a great deal of low self esteem by making a decision to do so. I have huge determination. I used it to be able to speak, on business matters, to very large audiences. Today I adore the freedom of being on stage to speak.

    Ask me to sing and I start to sweat and want to run away.

    We can’t do it all by ourselves. I have not yet found two things: Sufficient desire to sing, and the person who will help me achieve that eventual desire.

    I think that is the message. When we have truly low self esteem we need first to want to change it enough to seek help, and we need to select the right helper.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Tim. The experience and legacy effect is very similar to a story I share with clients to demonstrate the points you make. Individuating ourselves from that which often becomes an innate belief, and which can insidiously ‘define’ our abilities is key; but far from easy, as you allude.

      • tim

        It has to start with desire to do it.

        With public speaking I chose never to look stupid again. I decided to be the best. My peers acknowledge me as superb. That is not vanity. It is accepting their compliments and feedback. It was not instant success, but the decision to achieve it was made in an instant. It was important to me to be able to achieve it. The desire was there.

        With singing I do not have the desire. I do not say that I will never achieve it, but I have no particular reason to work through the fear. I do not believe my evil teacher any more. I know her for what she was. But my inner demons believe what she said all those years ago, and still pour poison into my ears

  2. A topic worth covering and something we all struggle with at times. I find people who experience mental health issues are typically low in self-worth. It has been a struggle for me and one of the hardest practices I try and maintain daily. Thank you for sharing your insights Bob.

    • Thank you, Trish. It seems you are a perfect illustration of just how challenging it can be for others to ‘believe’ (about you) that anything is less than perfect! The ‘unseen’ as found in mental health is just part of what has maintained stigma and uncertainty for so long, and which breeds fear in those who need visual clues.
      All I see in you, Trish, is a beautiful, vibrant and compassionate human-being. I have certainly suffered self-esteem issues in the past, but I am so fortunate to have worked through the great majority of those incorrect cognitive processes. I very much wish the same for you.

    • Tim

      The part that perturbs me is that those like me had the element of low self esteem thrust on them by others. We, those so afflicted, have to work with great determination to shed the image that others have thrust upon us.

      I don’t suggest this in a ‘we are victims’ sense. I very much dislike the idea of being a victim for more reasons than there is disk space on this server to hold. I mean, simply, that we have chosen to accept what others have thrust upon us. I am certain from my own perspective that we can push it aside. Equally, I know that my own experiences are a part of my history that will never leave me, even if I try.

      It’s often the folk we trust who do this to us, and they do it almost casually. Apart from the singing bitch another teacher, one I liked, ruined my confidence when I was 11. I had to work hard to gain it back.

      At 13 the caring society of 1965 ruined my self confidence again, and the foul press of 1967 when homosexuality between consenting adults (over 21) in private was allowed, made me feel I was disgusting. That sticks to a bloke. I, an unknown kid, felt as if I’d been tarred and feathered by the press by proxy. But no-one knew. I’m explaining that badly! I was never in the press, it just felt all aimed at me! My self image was dictated by Fleet Street and the Daily Mail.

      It was reinforced every time a famous actor was arrested for that ridiculous act of propositioning men in toilets. I became scared that I would have to do that, too, if I was ever to find… well, not love in a public toilet.

      In 1972, at my university, the Gay Liberation Front Annual Conference happened. I was there because I was at the university, not because I was at the conference. I saw flamboyant men, some young, some no longer young, in peacock finery, looking extraordinary. I did not want to be one of them at all. They and the way they acted disgusted me. Therefore I disgusted myself.

      It’s taken me the rest of my life to recover, which I do by degrees and by sheer bloody minded determination.

      My strong and positive self image was and is a decision. I chose to like myself and it became true.

      I have issues with, not depression exactly, but with something less definable. It may be because of my history of episodes of severe low self worth, but I think not. I do see where you are coming from, and I may not be typical. Or I may be wrong. But I disagree with your saying that we are typically low in self worth. I think the tense is important. I think we have been, and may still be, low in self worth. But I do not think the present tense is one to be assumed. For me it is, probably, in the past.

      Apart from singing, that is!

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