Girl Talk: How Do You Get Self-Esteem?

Last week, I had dinner with a friend and a gauntlet of sorts was thrown: shape up and get some self-esteem, Julie, because you’re really bringing everybody down. Well okay, I thought. I get that. Nobody wants to hang out with a sad sack. But I just don’t know how you go about acquiring self-esteem.

This isn’t a ploy to get you to say nice things about me, or to pump me up with artificial compliments. I am truly at a loss as to how you transform the way you think about yourself. This is something that I’ve struggled with all my life. I don’t know how or why it began, except that I’ve always been someone who has defined my success in relation to other people. When I was young, it was how many As I got in school. My grade point average. My academic standing and where I went to college. That worked out fine until I was out of school, and suddenly those standard markers of success and affirmation weren’t there; I was left to try and figure out how to assess myself on my own. And assessing is where the problems began.

If you measure yourself against other people, you always find a way to come up short. And yet I had the driving desire to know where I stood. What my life was worth compared to others, and whether I was of any value. All of that evaluating probably drove my sense of self and self-esteem down. I literally can’t walk by a girl on the street without evaluating whether she’s skinnier than me or not. It’s not because I’m judging her at all; it’s because I’m judging myself. It also bleeds into the way I interact with people. Part of it is just my natural sense of humor. I’m Jewish. Our entire comedic ethos is born on self-deprecation (See: Groucho Marx’s “I’d never be a member of any club that would have me,” for reference). But it’s also a convenient excuse for why I say mean things about myself.

This self-esteem thing has affected every aspect of my life, most strikingly my romantic relationships. Not having high self-esteem has lead to insecurities in how someone I’m with views me. It’s lead me to stay in failing relationships way too long. It’s lead me to accept behavior I shouldn’t have because I didn’t think I deserved anything better. And then, because I accepted the bad behavior, the low self-esteem gives me something else to have low self-esteem about. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everybody says that the key to happiness in personal relationships is that you “must love yourself before anybody else can love you.” It sounds so simple, right? Love yourself. Be happy with yourself. I just do not know how to get to that happy, self-satisfied place.

Because I like tackling and addressing problems head on, I want someone to give me a step-by-step method to solving my self-esteem crisis. Especially if it’s affecting the people I care about. But it seems like there’s no quick fix. There’s no course you can take or book you can read that makes you suddenly shift mental gears — at least that I know of anyway. There’s only bumper sticker platitudes about self-love. I’m seeking self-love, but I just don’t see the road that leads to it.

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