feelings · mental health

Get real

I recently went on a bit of a rant with a friend, complaining about people who are not transparent or open, and how I’m just authentic to a fault and it’s important to me but maybe not to everyone else. But what I’ve learnt though, in the last few months, is the importance of authenticity within your mental health journey.

It was in a moment where I was joking with a colleague (followed by me questioning why I was oversharing to such a degree), about how I keep myself so busy to avoid my feelings. And then my psychologist red-carded me for doing the same with my therapy. So there it was. I avoid my feelings. And that is one of the things that was making my mental health journey inauthentic and stagnated.

I put a lot of work into my self-esteem and self-love journey, but for me to start healing in a big way, I need to stop running and start acknowledging those feelings.

Cartoon of characters representing different emotions in Inside Out movie.
Inside Out movie

We always hear how we have to be true to ourselves, but what exactly does that even mean? I was called out for not have “self-integrity” and while I consider myself to have a lot of integrity in normal everyday life, I was forced to admit that that was true.

It comes from being a people pleaser. We do and say whatever we think the other person wants to hear. And we deny ourselves. Zero integrity for self. Because what if what they are saying is against your values? What if it’s in direct contravention of your beliefs? Why are you not standing up for what you believe in?

And when it comes to your feelings, and your needs – are you denying these? Are you allowing the feelings and needs of others to be more important to yours, and thereby, denying yourself feeling your feelings? Are your behaviours in line with your values, and what you believe in and your needs and feelings?

For example, I hurt my wrist recently, and instead of resting, I have been doing all the things, because I don’t want people to think that I’m lazy or unhelpful. But the reality is, I am denying myself the healing process.

Woman posing with flowing dress.
What depression looks like – me looking happy just before a psychiatric clinic admission

And it’s the same with being our authentic selves and staying true to what we need. If we go against what we truly need in a moment, we are not being authentic towards ourselves. We are denying ourselves. And we don’t always consciously do it, sometimes, we do it out of habit, fears of rocking the boat, fears of not being liked. But if it costs our mental health, it’s not worth it.

And it’s not about being mean, or cruel, or hurting others – it’s just about staying true to yourself. So, if you need to rest on the weekend, and a friend invites you out, say that you cannot join, because your need is for rest and recovery. And that is more important than doing something for someone else’s reasons, and neglecting yourself.

A couple of years ago, a movie poster had the subtitle, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, and while it’s a cliché, I’ve never forgotten it. I was forced to remember it in this moment where I realized that the people pleaser within me was falling for anything. And for someone who has convictions as strong as I do, that was a hard pill to swallow.

Standing up for ourselves feels mean to us, because we spent our entire lives being mean to ourselves, by not standing up for ourselves.

I am pledging to look after my own needs and emotions. If I feel down, I am going to allow myself the space to feel that emotion, even though it may not be accepted by the people around me. I am not going to pretend to be happy just to appease everyone else. I need to experience the emotion to work through it.

I pledge to be truly authentic.

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Don’t stop believing… in yourself

It’s self-esteem month, and there are a lot of tips and activities, with suggestions of how to boost your self-esteem, and these are all great. I believe in gratitude lists, and reminding yourself of what you have done well, and all the other activities that are out there to boost your self-esteem, although I am also a firm believer in the journey of building your self-esteem. And it’s a lot longer than a month.

Woman hugging herself

Throughout my healing journey, I have a learnt a lot about myself, and what is truly part of my character, and what is a symptom of trauma, or low self-esteem or mental illness. One of the most challenging parts of my therapeutic journey has been the work I have put into building my self-esteem.

Self-knowledge. The first step of the self-esteem journey. I spent a large part of my life pretending to be someone I’m not, and not knowing who I really am. Listening to music, influenced by my friends and family. Reading books that were also influenced by my friends. Watching movies that were revered by the industry bodies. I had to work on the idea that I might like books that are labelled as “holiday reading”, even though some of my friends would look down on books like these, because they are never going to be in the running for a Nobel prize. Or watching TV shows and movies that bear no intellectual message, or are not beautifully crafted independent films, with a deeper meaning. It is ok to watch movies and TV, purely for entertainment value. I had to re-learn what I liked, whether or not it would get outside approval.

Self-acceptance. The next part of the journey, might be the hardest part for me, and if I’m honest, I’m probably still building on this phase of my self-esteem journey. Now that you know who you are, regardless of what others think, or whether there is anyone with similar interests to you, it’s time to accept that this is who you are. And that others might not accept you, for who you are. Others might think that the things you enjoy are silly, or childish, or unintelligent, or nerdy, or lame. But the most important thing to remember, that this is who you are, and as long as you know that about yourself, and you can accept these aspects of who you are. No one else needs to.

Self-love. Knowing who you are, accepting who that is, but then loving that person. Being ok with your stuff, with who you are, with what you like, what you enjoy doing, and believing that that person is ok, and deserving of love, and then loving that person. The belief that you are good enough. Coupled with the knowledge that others out in the world may not agree, and may not love you, and may judge who you are, but to know that you are ok just the way you are. Sure, we could all use some personal development, but it doesn’t mean a regression to self-hatred. You can have a high self-esteem and self-love, while still acknowledging that you are not perfect, and there are aspects of yourself that you want to improve.

Self-knowledge to self-love

Although all of this is the long game. In our day-to-day lives, there are little things that you can do to boost your self-esteem.

  1. Exercise – gives you a boost of endorphins, and if you can get outside, that is even better, because you can boost your mental wellness by being outside, which inevitably boosts your self-esteem, and Vitamin D, from spending time in the sun, does wonders for your mental health.
  2. Start a compliment jar. For yourself. Write down compliments about who you are, good things you have done, positive notes for yourself. You can always return to this when your self-esteem is a bit low, to remind yourself that you are good enough.
  3. Mindfulness. A lot of our low self-esteem issues, stems from our comparison to others, and to our future or past selves, and feeling like a failure for having not achieved “what we’re supposed” to have achieved at this point in our lives. But if we stop, and focus on the here and now, and the person we are in this moment, and the things we have achieved today, even if it’s just getting out of bed, or washing your hair, getting to work on time, remembering a friend’s birthday. It also helps, when you have a negative thought, to stop and think about it, what it means, why you think you’re having it. Try and imagine you are talking to a friend who’s just said something negative about themselves, and how you would respond to them.
  4. Meditate. Meditation has been proven to change the structure of the brain. Spending some time in meditation, even if it’s just for five minutes a day, can be an excellent source of mental wellbeing and self-esteem boosting
  5. Stretch your body. We carry a lot of tension in our bodies, and we cannot feel positive about ourselves if our bodies are aching. So spend a few minutes a day stretching. There are some great youtube yoga videos (ranging from 5 minutes to an hour, whatever your needs and time allow for)
  6. Journal. Spend some time getting those negative thoughts you’re having about yourself out onto the page, and inevitably, you will critique them and work through them. It can be a way of challenging your negative self-talk.
Woman patching broken mirror with plaster.

Low self-esteem can lead to many challenges in your work, home life, and personal relationships, and can lead to depression and anxiety. But focusing on yourself, and reminding yourself of your value, and why you are good enough, can boost your self-esteem. Good luck on your journey!