So many of us struggle with self-esteem/self-worth issues. What is at the root of this, particularly for women 40+?
An important note to discuss before I delve into this question is the distinction between self-esteem and self-worth. Although frequently used interchangeably, these terms describe different dimensions of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. Knowing who we are and understanding the way we think about ourselves is key to developing positive self-value and living a meaningful life.
Self-esteem refers to your confidence in your competence—what you do in the world. Even if you are a successful teacher, parent, athlete, chef, electrician, or musician, you may still suffer from low self-worth. No external accomplishment is ever enough to fill the void of low self-worth. I refer to self-esteem as the “outside” you, what you do and how well you do it.
Conversely, self-worth is how you feel about yourself internally, the “inside” you. Your self-worth is your spiritual center, your soul, the authentic being living inside of you, without facades or defense mechanisms. It is the real you.
Given this noteworthy distinction, as women age, they become more introspective and philosophical about themselves. They have a greater tendency to question fundamental areas of their life and whether they’re fulfilled. Leading a meaningful life is important to everyone. As women approach midlife, existential questions begin to cycle through their minds with greater frequency. What am I here for? Who am I really? Am I happy, or am I even content with myself and my life? What is my purpose here on earth?
Midlife is a time when women take inventory of what is working and what isn’t working in their lives. As these thoughts intensify, some women experience self-doubt and question their value, believing they are less attractive, even invisible in some cases. Lifestyle changes such as observing children grow up and become independent, different challenges with partners or spouses, dealing with aging parents, a diminished libido, and the onset of menopause also take a heavy toll on women’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
With age, however, women have the opportunity to develop a window into who they really are, in a deeper, more profound manner. Maturity brings wisdom and insight about what truly matters. This is a time when women evolve and become mindful and self-aware—a brilliant time to focus on holistic health and to develop positive self-worth.
Learning to believe in yourself is instrumental to enjoying a healthy, joyful, fulfilling future.
Why is self-worth so fundamental to any personal development goals?
Low self-value affects every single facet of your life. How you feel about yourself in your innermost core being—the person you are without defense mechanisms or facades—has the greatest impact on the quality of your life.
A poor self-concept is a heavy burden to carry and occupies valuable space in your brain, creating a wall between you and your life. This wall blocks your ability to live in the present or enjoy intimate, harmonious relationships. It also prohibits you from feeling inner peace and equanimity.
Every facet of you are and how you live your life is filtered through your internal sense of self—how worthy and lovable you believe you are—the value you place on yourself as a human being. How you feel about yourself impacts every relationship, your attitude, energy, focus, productivity, immune system, ability to heal from illness, sleep, sexuality, resilience, and every other aspect of your life.
Low self-worth will sabotage your commitments and objectives. Without a solid inner core of strength, stamina, and resilience, a person is prone to abandon their goals and accept mediocrity. Feelings of unworthiness squelch your internal drive, motivation, tenacity, and passion—all of which are needed for sustainable behavioral change.
When you believe in yourself, however, you are equipped with the self-assurance, inspiration, and perseverance to achieve any goal you set for yourself. You are free to pursue anything you wish because you are comfortable with yourself and you have the internal faith that nothing will derail you.
Can you give us a few examples of women 40+ you’ve helped coach to improve their self-worth?
When I work with anyone, I ask them if they are passionately committed to the process of developing self-worth. Through years of research and interviews on the human brain, I’ve learned that the only way to achieve sustainable change is through desire and passion, not through force, guilt, or shame. Too many people take on personal goals because they feel they should or have to, rather than because they are excited to embark on a journey of positive change.
Next, I introduce the concept of retraining one’s brain through the science of neuroplasticity. We know now that we can actually change our brain by acquiring new information and skills. When our brain consciously engages in new ways of thinking, it forms new neural pathways and connections. This means that even for those of us who have suffered from low self-worth throughout our lives, we have the ability to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and, with time and repetition, these new patterns become habit.
Although of course I cannot disclose names, I will provide examples of how two of my clients transformed themselves from living with low self-worth to building an inner core of strength, resilience, inner trust, self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Client A: When we first met, client A’s only goal was to lose weight. She hated her body and felt deeply ashamed about giving up on her goals after countless attempts to shed weight. These included years of working with personal trainers, nutritionists, dietitians, and therapists.
Client A believed she was undisciplined and lazy.
Once we were familiar with one another, I suggested that perhaps the challenges she had encountered with her weight were of a different nature. As intelligent as Client A is, she could not clearly or objectively recognize that her battle with weight was deeper than lack of discipline.
Client A’s erratic eating habits were the symptom of deeper issues that she had not yet addressed. Therefore, she had been berating herself for decades for the entirely wrong reasons.
Although my client refused to accept this premise at first, within a short period of time, she identified an ongoing traumatic event in her life during which she was verbally abused and bullied. She had been living with overwhelming feelings of distrust and believing she was unlovable since her childhood. Although on a conscious level, she realized that her childhood was unstable, subconsciously she somehow believed she deserved what she endured.
After some additional work together, jointly with her psychologist, my client was able to redirect her energy to the real cause of her inability to lose weight. Within a matter of weeks, she was practicing self-compassion and self-awareness, and was able to recognize self-defeating thoughts as they entered her brain.
By learning to replace these thoughts with affirming, uplifting ones, her mind was able to release the heavy burden she’d been holding onto for her entire life. She adopted practices into her daily routine that enabled her to make conscious decisions that led to healthier habits. Understanding the source of her internal discomfort freed her to adopt a healthy exercise and eating plan. Within a few more weeks, her attitude transformed, and she had much greater confidence and comfort about herself. She lost thirty pounds and has continued to maintain her healthy weight.
Client B: Working with this client was a fascinating case study of why people do not permit themselves to change. Client B is a brilliant woman and one of the most resourceful individuals I’ve ever known. She is well aware of her capabilities. I quickly sensed that she was a like a turtle—she had a hard shell under which she would hide her true inner thoughts and emotions. What you saw was not who she truly was internally.
Despite all of her success, this client was riddled with tremendous self-doubt. She explained that she had an intensely dysfunctional relationship with her parents, especially with her father who used to beat her with his belt when he was drunk. By the age of fifteen, she escaped the abuse and left her home with nothing. She had a baby when she was only sixteen. Client B never had the chance to bond with anyone until she had her baby. She grew up without any security and with tremendous fear.
As I learned from researching Carl Rogers, the founder of Humanistic Psychology, people who are suffering need to feel a sense of trust before they can heal. My first priority with every client is to create an atmosphere of safety and comfort. Not until a person feels safe will they allow themselves to be open to new ideas. Developing trust is the most important tenet of self-worth and trusting yourself is vital to healing and transformation.
At the end of week one, Client B let her militant guard down and permitted me into her heavily guarded vault of thoughts and emotions. She told me that just verbalizing her “junk,” as she put it, was a major catharsis. It was difficult for her to comprehend that she had lived her entire life with tremendous, jarring self-doubt.
Our initial work together entailed a process that enabled her to accept her volatile past, as painful as it was, and realize that her past was over. An important step was for her to learn how to be compassionate and loving toward herself, rather than stern and critical—these were passed down to her through her childhood. She understood after a few weeks that her self-doubt was a result of the deeply stored resentment she’d held onto for years toward her parents.
Essentially, we had to declutter her mind of the toxic thoughts and replace them with uplifting ones. This is similar to learning a new language, and for Client B, it was not only learning a new language about herself, but also retraining her brain to fully accept and respect herself. We worked on a concept I developed for my clients known as The Language of Self-Worth. This is a process that involves three basic steps.
Three Steps to Master A New Vocabulary of Self-Worth
- Be attentive/aware of your thoughts: Pay attention to what you are thinking. Without knowing and being aware of what you are thinking, it is impossible to change. Catch yourself when you think demeaning thoughts about yourself and consider why you are doing this. Remind yourself that self-defeating thoughts are just thoughts, not facts or the truth. They are ideas you have stored in your brain due to injurious or painful events during your life. For example, if you catch yourself thinking thoughts such as, “I am so bad at ___,” “I will never be able to ___,” or “I hate myself,” you can change those to thoughts such as “I am improving,” “I will strive to ___,” and “I am learning to like myself.”
- Practice your new language: Use it throughout the day, especially during stressful or taxing situations. When you feel compelled to think negative thoughts like, “I am terrible at public speaking,” instead tell yourself: “Even if I make a few mistakes during my speech, I will be okay with the outcome. I know that it is human to err, but it is superhuman to believe in myself when I make mistakes.”
- Immerse yourself: One of the best ways to become fluent in a new language it to immerse yourself in the culture from which it springs. Build a vocabulary of uplifting words and phrases. Surround yourself with people who speak this language and build others up. Emulate their praise in your own thoughts and words. Use your new language as a baseline for every thought, emotion, interaction, relationship, and action.
Anyone can develop healthy self-worth at any age or stage of life. The science of neuroplasticity, our brain’s capacity to form new neural pathways at any age or stage of life, permits us to change ourselves as soon as we are ready.
What help do you seek to provide in your new book, A Human Mosaic: Heal, Renew & Develop Self-Worth?
A Human Mosaic is a foundational book about the process to self-understanding, self-acceptance, self-trust, and self-love, all of which are tenets of self-worth. Learning to fully accept and like/love yourself is the key to living the healthiest, most meaningful life possible. My objective is to educate people on the enormous impact low self-worth plays in our lives and to help others realize that they can change themselves by eliminating self-deprecating thoughts and retraining their brain. I am a huge advocate of becoming your own biggest fan and closest friend as a lifeline to long-term sustenance.
What is your best advice to women who suffer from low self-esteem? What’s one first step they can take to improve their self-worth?
Again, self-esteem and self-worth are different issues, even though they both are about who we are. If you are referring to self-esteem, our confidence in what we do, then it is most valuable to evaluate where you are in your career and goals. If you are unfulfilled and discontent, it is valuable to develop a vision for how you wish your life to be, then create an action plan with attainable steps to uproot your current situation. You would develop new template for your life, which is invigorating and exciting! I go into detail about how to do this in my book.
Other important steps include:
Positive self-talk—which all high-performing individuals use to inspire and motivate themselves—consistently throughout every single day.
Action: Take a step forward. Small steps each day become big steps with time and repetition. Action, even if it does not yield the outcome you desired, is better than no action.
Journaling: Write about what you want to do and where you dream to be, as putting your thoughts on paper concretizes them and brings them to life.
If you are referring to self-worth, your inner value and belief about yourself, begin by choosing to change. Making a commitment is the very first step. Too many people give up on themselves. So be passionate. Invest in personal transformation as a change agent for your life.
Practice the following:
Self-Awareness: We are such busy people that we do not take time to be aware of our thoughts and emotions. Without understanding what you are thinking or feeling, change is not possible. Observe your thoughts.
Your Brain Thrives on Optimism: An Optimistic Mindset Promotes Holistic Health and Wellbeing. Flip the script in your brain as soon as you feel negative thoughts rising within you. Optimism is the key to any sustainable change. The brilliance of an optimistic mindset is that when you are confronted with challenges—the twists and turns, highs and lows of life—you will have trust in your ability to manage them, along with the resilience to recover and renew.
There are also numerous amazing physical, emotional, and mental benefits to maintaining an optimistic mindset.
Check in with Yourself. Make it a habit to “take your temperature,” or check in with yourself throughout the day to adjust your thinking. Changing your brain is a conscious and conscientious process. In the beginning, it might feel difficult or even awkward, however, with time and repetition, your brain will develop new neural pathways. Just as you learned to brush your teeth and tie your shoes, your positive thoughts will become second nature.
Be Mindful of Negative Triggers. A trigger is a stimulus that evokes a particular thought or emotion from the past. A trigger can derail the best of intentions. A trigger is a specific word, song, location, person, season, any cue in the environment that induces a specific feeling within you. As you gain familiarity with the issues that cause you distress, you will be able to adjust them.
Give Yourself Inspiration through Positive Self-Talk. Positive self-talk is a powerful way to flip the script in your brain from negative to positive. Athletes use positive self-talk as a part of their training as a force for motivation and performance.
Do the Opposite. Cold Turkey. Sounds familiar? There are instances when it is in our best interest to simply stop thinking and behaving in a manner that causes distress. Stop, pause, breathe, and eliminate those negative thoughts as soon as they appear.
My book, A Human Mosaic, offers numerous practices that guide a person to eliminate doubt and fears and learn to believe in themselves. The key is the desire and the long-term commitment because changing your thoughts and behavior is not instantaneous. It takes time, but you are worth it!
What resources do you recommend for those with low self-esteems?
There are a number of Ted Talks that cover topics around confidence, such as these:
Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
Brittany Packnett: How to Build Your Confidence—and Spark It in Others
Mike Kinney: A Pro Wrestler’s Guide to Confidence
Guy Winch: Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid
Joining groups is always a fabulous way to begin the process of self-care and self-change. Contact programs provided by hospitals, churches, or other institutions. If one is suffering from serious low self-worth and depression, they should contact a psychologist specializing in this area.
Connect with Anne Ockene Boudreau
Contact form: https://www.anneoboudreau.com/contact
Book: A Human Mosaic: Heal, Renew & Develop Self-Worth
Podcast interviews with Anne:
Self-Respect, Self-Love & Self-Worth
A Human Mosaic
Anne Ockene Boudreau is an inspirational author, coach, and executive who is devoted to helping others develop healthy self-worth. In her new book, “A Human Mosaic: Heal, Renew & Develop Self-Worth,” she reveals how self-worth is a critical element for sustainable personal change.
Anne’s desire to focus on the topic of self-worth is derived from her lifelong passion to address the array of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual issues that impede a person’s ability to feel fulfilled and enjoy inner peace. As she learned during her own challenging early years, low self-worth is a root cause of negativity, fear, anger, hatred, violence, bullying, and bigotry.
After years of research and study, Anne developed a unique niche in coaching others to build self-worth that is predicated on neuroplasticity — changing one’s brain through learning new thoughts and behavior. Her comprehensive knowledge of the science of neuroplasticity has been instrumental to mentoring and teaching sustainable self-change. Through creating new neural pathways in the brain, anyone at any age or stage of life can transform themselves to live with healthy self-worth and live the life they have dreamed.
Prior to her career as a writer, Anne served as director of marketing and communications for numerous global corporations. During her 22 years as a business executive, she created programs to enhance staff morale, increase internal communications, and train staff on winning client service practices.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Anne has lived in South America and Europe, traveled extensively and is multilingual. She is a graduate of Northwestern University in English and writing. Through broad exposure to many cultures, she has gained a profound understanding of the importance of spreading acceptance, compassion, respect, peace, and love.
A Human Mosaic: Heal, Renew & Develop Self-Worth is foundational to the genre of self-improvement. The capacity to lean inwardly for strength, courage, and compassion has never mattered more than in our current volatile world.
Anne lives in Atlanta with her husband, three spirited children, and three attention-hungry canines who rarely leave her side. Learn more at www.LanguageOfSelfWorth.com.