I was participating in one of the therapeutic workshops that my life seems to consist of these days when we began discussing low self esteem. It came as quite a shock to me to realise that I suffer from it. You may scoff and think “Laylah Beattie? Low self esteem? Bitch where?” And I would have thought the same. But when I heard the details of this particular affliction, I realised that I really do fit the bill.
I’m confident and I’m secure, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have low self esteem. This is a relatively new concept to me but I suppose it does make sense. Although they seem to be quite similar, confidence and low self esteem don’t really have a correlation with one another. What does anyone say to you when you wish to be more confident? Fake it until you make it. So although I’ve always faked confidence (and I’ve succeeded at it as well don’t get me wrong), it doesn’t mean that my self esteem levels were ever extremely high.
Like many things, low self-esteem is rooted in our early experiences. The events, relationships and living conditions that we experience develop our ideas about ourselves. During my youth, I would have often felt like the odd one out. In social circles and unfortunately in my family too. My family did nothing to make me feel this way, but my intense confusion and heartache kept me a little bit separated from them. Something which saddens me to my core. Thus my low self-esteem began to develop at an early age.
My conclusion about myself is one that I’ve only recently realised has been at the back of my mind all this time. It’s been quiet, a lot quieter than when I was a teenager, but it’s been there. From my childhood, I concluded that I was not good enough. This has impacted on my behaviours and my standards in an incredibly significant manner. It may or may not be obvious to my readers, but I have highly perfectionistic tendencies.
There have been two stages, if you like, to this perfectionism. In school I purposely under-performed. The leaving cert is a scary, scary thing and something that’s near impossible to achieve the perfect grade in (600 points, or whatever it is these days). I believed that if I tried to challenge myself and achieve that goal, I would fail. So I didn’t. I did the minimum amount of work that I needed to do to complete school, never feeling an extreme amount of enthusiasm for my subjects. Because failure wasn’t something I could have lived with. I already believed that I wasn’t good enough.
But then I found something that I was good at. Something that I really believed I could excel at. My work. Writing, modelling, media appearances. I had excellent skills in these things and I knew I could go far (see why the whole low self esteem thing is confusing when I’m able to give myself such high praise?) I put in extreme efforts in this area of my life. I became unhealthily obsessed with working towards these goals. I believed that unless I did it to the highest possible standard, I would achieve nothing. In my leisure time, I felt that I didn’t really deserve to feel relaxed. I used to be haunted by my modest follower count, or my YouTube videos with low views. These were the things that kept me up at night. These were the things that I believed I must change. I’m still trying to find that all important balance between work, leisure and self-care.
I’ve really struggled with my emotions. At times, I’ve felt a crippling shame. Of what? I’m not sure. The fact that I felt different. Being born in the wrong body. Being, I believed, a lot more sensitive than others. This shame was so intense that it was just easier to suppress it. Easier to put my energy into more useful ventures than to attempt to overcome or to work through this shame. This worked really well. Until it lead to a nervous breakdown. Which brings us up to now.
This core belief about myself, that I must be amazing in order for people to approve of me, is false. I know that now. But adjusting the patterns of behaviour and thoughts that I’m so accustomed to is going to take a long time. Learning that I have low self esteem was the first step and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to move past this belief.
I thought that it was important to admit this today because I was really struck by the impact that my low self esteem has had on my life and I’m aware that many young women read my essays. My advice is to dig deep. Ask yourself are there irrational beliefs at the back of your mind that are dictating your choices and behaviours? So many of my current problems are a result of my need to hold myself to near impossible standards. So many of my current problems are a result of my low self esteem.
Read about the representations of transgender people that I witnessed as a child here.
Watch how I’m honest in my writing below: