“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” — Lucille Ball
Did you know that we think 70,000 thoughts in a day, 80% of these are the same thoughts we got yesterday and 98% of those 80% are negative thoughts.
Your thoughts make you who you are. With so many of them being negative, do you think you can feel good about yourself? No. Then how do they make you feel?
Negatively. Women are known to assess themselves poorly on 19 out of 24 skills. This is based on research of 30,000 performance ratings. The skills range from ‘decision taking’ and ‘critical thinking’ to ‘strategy’ and ‘team building’. The most staggering gap was found in ‘developing others’, where 36 per cent more women than men evaluated themselves far worse than men.
Additionally, women in the age group of 18 to 60, report that their self-hatred arises most from “You’re too fat.” “Your hair is a mess” and “Your belly looks big.” The list goes on to include “You wish you were as photogenic as other women on social media” and “You’re not wearing enough makeup.”
All in all, women are far more self-critical and self-depreciating than men. In other words, they have a lower self-worth.
This female self-confidence challenge is also described as the “imposter syndrome”. Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from a lot of self-doubt and a strong sense of being a fraud intellectually that overshadows their feelings of success and any external ratification they get of their achievements. Women often express that they do not feel they deserve their job and are “imposters” who will be discovered and labelled at any moment. It is a constant threat that they have created and live with throughout their work lives. Women are constantly anxious and stressed about being disliked, not being attractive, being in the limelight and doing better than others.
Men succumb to self-doubt too— the difference though is that they do not let them become big enough to ever stop in their paths. They do not take them that seriously. Women will not apply for a promotion until they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications for the job whereas men will apply even if they feel they meet up to 60%. This data comes from a study that was conducted at Hewlett Packard. The downfall for women is not in not having the abilities but that they lose the will to try.
What is Self-Worth? Self-Worth is defined as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.”
Why do women have lower self-worth compared to men? The answer lies in looking at the early growth years, societal norms and understanding the cumulative negative impact of it all.
The Early Growth Years
Like most of the things of our personality even the foundations of self-worth are formed early on in our lives when we are adolescents growing into children. We are shaped by our early experiences with our primary care givers, our parents, and other family members around us. Mothers have a key role in helping children shape their inner world, thus the way they see themselves in relation to the outside world plays has a significant impact.
By learning to moderate and understand your emotions effectively you learn to build a foundation of self-worth that then increase your cognitive abilities to deal with emotions and channelize them in a healthy manner. Once that happens, we can step back and start understanding our experiences dispassionately without personalizing everything. That leads to developing an internal strength, resilience and understanding which helps us believe in our competencies and create a self-identify that is strongly rooted in our strengths and values.
Unfortunately, most of us do not receive a highly nurturing secure environment for blooming into adults with a high level of self-worth. More than 50% of us on the other hand face indecisive parenting and insecure environment leading to undeveloped sense of self-worth and lack of a strong cognitive ability to regulate and rationalize emotions.
While the above holds true for both girls and boys but unfortunately biology does not favor girls here. We are tuned to have an inherent bias of being more sensitive and experience negative feelings like rejection with a far greater intensity. As those experiences multiply so does the rumination and long periods of thinking about why did it happen to me? Such a negative spiral builds into a faulty cognitive circuit which points the finger back at one’s self saying something is wrong with you or you are not good enough.
The Societal Norms & Pressures
As shaky as the foundation years can be the next phase that is when as a young adult a girl has to start interacting with the society and make sense of how she is placed in the larger scheme of things, can be brutal. Subtly or directly, knowingly or unknowingly the cues as a girl you get are mostly around “do’s ”and don’ts “what is allowed “and not allowed “what is considered “good girl behavior “bad girl behavior”.
To fall in the category of good, unlike boys the girls from the very beginning do not have the freedom to explore their true personalities. They are expected to maintain harmony so they cannot be loud or aggressive or voice their opinion. They are supposed to be the compromising ones who sacrifice for greater good. It is a double whammy. Either ways they lose. If they act in accordance with gender stereotypes, they are perceived to be not good enough. On the other hand, when they act in ways that are inconsistent with these stereotypes, they are considered the odd one out, unfeminine, and misfits.
To complicate it further, there is collusion at every level. Media, people, family, men & women all join hands to feed this image of a perfect daughter, perfect mother, and perfect wife. Whether it is the physical appearance or characteristics of a good cook, homemaker, or a career woman there is an increasing amount of pressure with clear parameters defined by the world on how to perform each role. No surprise that most women find themselves inadequate. They can keep trying hard and harder, but it is unlikely they will ever fit into the image of perfection.
The most unfortunate part is that even after becoming a super woman by putting in a lot of hard work just so that they can “prove their worth,” they cannot openly celebrate their achievements. They need to downplay be humble and modest and pretend they are average. As else the consequences are grave. They will be labelled as women who boast and are not to taken seriously as they are simple braggers. Young men on the other hand who talk about their achievements and accomplishments are looked upon in particularly good light. They are bright confident and seen to have a great future. No wonder so many women go through the Imposter Syndrome, totally oblivious of and unwilling to accept their own inherent capabilities.
A Cumulative Negative Spiral
Imposing so many norms and pressures on women implies that they are devoid of experiential learning. This type of learning is the most critical aspect of developing a strong sense of self-worth. As we experience situations and develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, it results in rewiring our brains cognitively to develop more confidence and a stronger sense of self-worth and ability. Therefore, boys can reorganize whatever internal working mechanisms they developed in their formative years, while girls continue to struggle and remain relatively underconfident.
People who have a high self-esteem can deal with failure a lot better. They are immune to the intense negative effects of feeling dejected and rejected. They learn from the experience and do not quit. Instead many times they come forward stronger with greater determination and commitment to succeed. Whereas if you have a low self-worth, any failure will pull you down even further as you tend to internalize the negativity and take it personally increasing the sense of shame and humiliation.
Because women don’t get the same learning experiences that men get, which would allow them to build courage and boldness and an increased sense of confidence in their own abilities. Over time they get so caught up in the negative spiral that they are imprisoned by their own negative sense of self-worth.
Over time this naturally creates a gap between men and women. Men increasingly become more skilled and confident rising to higher levels and earning more money and becoming leaders in their field. Women on the other hand keep doubting themselves and shrink further int their own cocoons.
How to improve your Self-Worth?
If you are interested in determining your own self-worth you can try this scale
There are 4 steps to improving self-worth:
Step 1: Awareness- understanding what lowers your self-worth. Occurrences of what incidents causes you to feel less about yourself.
Step 2: Identifying the negative thoughts and feelings associated with those incidents. At this stage you will step back and listen to the negative inner chatter that goes in your mind that makes you feel powerless. Write down on a paper or reflect on what are you telling yourself.
Step3: Challenge these negative thoughts and beliefs by examining them up close. You can do this by first applying these filters:
- How many should and must statements do you have in there? – Having such strong definitive words can make you feel disempowered. There is nothing like should or must. We just make it so in the way we think about things. Kindly remove these words from your thinking and slowly from your vocabulary. This will considerably ease up the negative pressure that you are putting on yourself.
- All or nothing thinking: This is classic negative thinking patterns where you tend to think if you do not have it all than you have nothing. For example, if I am overweight, I am ugly or if I fail in this one task then I am no good. Identify any such statements and conclusions you are drawing for yourself and stop them right there. It is never all or none. It is about a few and some thigs that are important to you which you work on and grow and nourish. Striving for perfection is unreal and causes unhealthy stress.
- Jumping to negative conclusions: If you have not heard back from your boss assuming he is upset with you is an example. Do not jump to any conclusions and create the space for yourself where you are not always worried about outcomes.
Step 4: At this stage appreciate yourself for getting so far and continue to maintain your self-understanding, self-acceptance, self-love, and self-worth.
- Your job is not to please other people.
- You control how you feel. Irrespective of what happens in your environment you can control your thoughts and emotions to feel strong and positive.
- You do not need external validation. Your true value comes from inside. Your self-awareness understanding and love is what defines you.