Monday, March 11, 2013

The Elusiveness of Self-Esteem

Self -esteem or self-worth by whichever moniker you prefer is defined by the Online Merriam Webster Dictionary as:
 "A confidence and satisfaction in oneself." 
In the user defined Wikipedia, self-esteem is described as:
"Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgement of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self."
Now, I think most people have a fairly decent self-regard but for some of us, for whatever reason, we don't have that positive self-image although some and even many around us may see us as being some kind of outstanding person in whatever aspect of or even our whole lives. Today a friend posted this status on one of the social networks:
"I need to see myself the way other people see me."  
I saw that and the first thing I thought was that I could just relate so much to that statement. The young lady who posted that statement has gone through a remarkable journey and I would love to know that she feels really good about what she has accomplished so far and what she will continue to accomplish in the future, but like I said...I can totally relate to how she is likely feeling.

Prior to my bipolar diagnosis, you could say that I have a very strong sense of self-worth/self-esteem. In my late teens and early 20's I felt, for the most, part that I could tackle the world and get out of it what I wanted. Then my symptomology for the bipolar started started to creep into the fold. My ability to handle stressful situations declined dramatically, I began questioning myself in many different aspects of my life. My diagnosis came at a huge juncture in my life. I was just getting ready to finish my master's degree in nursing when an overwhelming depression, suicidality and a lack of interest in life hit me. I struggled through and managed to finish my degree but had to drop my optional thesis which I had done a lot of work on already and because of the new diagnosis and of losing trust in my own decision making I never applied for my family nurse practitioner license although I had passed the national certification testing. I think it was at this point that my once strong self-esteem/worth went to pot. This was the first time that I had felt like a true and complete failure.

Since that time I have found it difficult to be proud of whatever accomplishment that others say I have done. I never feel that I have done enough to earn any recognition and truthfully, recognition stresses me out so badly that I usually end up in a deep, if not suicidal, depression. Case in point, I was working in the clinic of the local base and my supervisor put me in for civilian of the quarter which I won, then won the squadron civilian of the year, followed by base civilian of the year and then went to 8th Air Force competition. At the beginning of this process I had literally begged my supervisor not to put my name in the hat, but he did anyway. All I could do is smile through all the "'Atta girls" and pats on the back while all I could think was that I didn't deserve any of it and that they were making a huge mistake. This triggered a massive, suicidal depression and within months I had resigned from that position and thought about leaving nursing for good.

You would think that someone who got these commendations would be proud, but instead it just caused me such anxiety because I didn't believe all the good things that they said about me were true. To this day I don't want to be commended for anything I do. Just let me do what I'm expected to do and leave it there. Bringing attention to me just makes for bigger problems for me.

My self-worth/self-loathing (okay, maybe loathing is a strong word, but it's the only one I can think of right now) took an especially big hit in 2009 when I again hit a massive, suicidal depression after beginning work on a PhD in nursing as well as being just two semesters shy of graduating with a second master's degree in nursing...this time as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I had started my PhD that summer in the midst of a grand hypomanic phase when I was barely sleeping and had loads of energy to spare, but by the end of summer that depression hit and I could barely function on a day to day basis let alone as a student in two concurrent programs. That was the point that I gave up my academic dreams and my self-esteem dropped to all time lows. Again all I saw myself as was a complete failure.

Now I try to avoid anything that will draw massive attention to me. Sure I'll jump in to organize things, but I'm happiest lurking in the background where no one will hopefully notice me. If nobody notices me then I don't have to worry about meeting other people's expectations...let alone my own. I've really learned to hide my lack of self-esteem/worth. What can I many people with mood disorders...I've learned to wear a mask a lot of the time so people don't really see how much I'm hurting.

I'm hopeful that one day I'll be able to see in me what others seem to see in me. But until that time, I just continue to struggle with my idea of my lack of worth and will hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel one day and come to see myself in a more positive vein.

Hopefully this works!

  • How's your self-esteem/self-worth?
  • What do you do to boost you self-esteem/self-worth that helps you?


  1. My parents never really told us that they were proud of us. They didn't really encourage us to do anything to instill a sense of pride in ourselves either. They were content being mediocre or status quo. They never encouraged us to try to succeed at anything. I've finally figured out over the past 10 years how to love myself and be proud of myself. Losing 60+ pounds and becoming a runner has helped that tremendously. :-)

  2. Congrats on your journey Theresa! I came from the other end of the spectrum...too much pressure which I caved to until I was a junior in high school. Rebelled against my mother making me get my GED and start college a year early. Ended up registering for classes but never went. Signed up for the USAF just to piss her off and went back to high school for my last semester (only 2 classes) so I could walk with my friends at graduation. It wasn't until after I got away from her that I set my own goals and such and felt empowered...then the bipolar hit and has taken much of that self confidence away. Running has also helped me quite a bit and has given me a new goal/outlook that, while not the cure to my disorder, keeps me focused and reaching for things that I never would have tried before. Thanks for you comment! :D

  3. Hi Mouse, I can empathise with much of what you have written. I also have a bipolar 2 diagnosis and have gone through many years of self sabotage which I can't understand. It was interesting to read how you reacted when you were initially diagnosed. My diagnosis was only 3 months ago and my symptoms seems to have become more pronounced which I don't understand. Anyway, thanks for putting your thoughts down, they have helped me join a few more dots in my own journey. Warren