I spent the first third of my life basing my self worth on what I imagined other people thought of me. When I was in a great relationship, I felt great. I felt pretty, smart, and happy. When I wasn’t, I felt ugly, stupid and insecure. I felt irrelevant. That’s about the gist of it, in plain English.
More than just a mom or a milk making machine
I remember at a low point making an appointment at a plastic surgeon’s office. I had just stopped nursing my second child, and I was feeling very tired and disconnected from everyone around me, except for the kids.
The doctor had me undress with the nurse. They took pictures of every angle. I started to silently cry. I was there to see if a breast augmentation would help me feel pretty again. Desirable. More than just a mom or a milk making machine.
Did he cut her up and sew her back together again?
I got dressed and the nurse smiled, a knowing smile. I saw the doctor’s wedding pictures and pictures of his children on the desk behind him and wanted to ask him if his beautiful wife ever felt like I did. It all looked so perfect. And what the hell did she do to feel better? Did he cut her up and sew her back together again?
He looked at me and glanced at the nurse and said, “Razi, you’re not a candidate for the surgery. You are a healthy woman and I won’t do the operation on you.” My first reaction was…. I felt rejected! That’s how low I was! I thought, “I’m not even worthy of having the surgery and feeling sexy! I’m not worthy of the attention!”
He continued to say that considering my occupation and natural lifestyle, that in the end, I wouldn’t be happy with the results, especially long term. He said it couldn’t be undone and if I wanted the augmentation that badly, that I’d have to find another surgeon.
It took me a few months to get reacquainted with her, the new ‘me’
It took me a few months post weaning to get back into a regular routine and start to recognize my body again. To get reacquainted with her. To get acquainted with the new one. To fall in love with her and all of her flaws–and there are lots of flaws! Now, I’m not against surgery provided it’s for the right reasons. But looking back, I’m forever grateful to that surgeon because it really was the right decision for me. He forced me to think about who I really was and then it motivated me to do the work. More on that later in the article, but it’s a reminder of how we can affect the self esteem of others in small and profound ways.
How we Affect the Self Esteem of Others and Vice Versa
Anyone who has ever been in a long-term committed relationship can attest that it’s not all sunshine and roses. A couple is made up of two people…both of whom come with their own individual problems that can arise at any time in the relationship. Times of stress and depression don’t always bring out the best in people, and when you’re in a committed relationship it can seem really difficult to give your partner the support they need.
Studies show supporting a partner with low self-esteem can increase your own self-esteem and improve your relationship.
Supporting Your Partner When They Need it the Most
According to a research study published in 2017, when your partner is depressed or suffering from bouts of low self-esteem they need your support the most. As much as you may want to pull back or run the other way, helping them through these “darker” times doesn’t only help their mental health in the future, but can also help improve your own mental health and similarly strengthen the relationship.
Matthew Johnson, Relationship researcher and professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agriculture, Life, and Environmental Sciences headed the 2017 study that was published in Developmental Psychology. According to Johnson, “When we experience stress, especially high levels of stress, we are particularly vulnerable and perhaps that’s why partner support in those times is so impactful and long-lasting.”
In the study, 1,407 couples were surveyed annually for 6 years regarding self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and support during times of stress. Results found that levels of self-esteem to be a predictor for future symptoms of depression. The study points out that low self-esteem in men, for example, has shown to be a risk factor for future depression.
The study also found that there is what’s known as “partner association” regarding depression. When one partner had higher symptoms of depression, there were higher levels of depression in the other partner one year later.
Getting support from your partner can change this, though. Women who participated in the study who received emotional support from their partner, for example, showed decreased symptoms of depression and increased feelings of self-esteem in the future. Studies have shown that positive emotions can be essential for optimizing psychological function. In this case, giving emotional support (which is an extremely positive action in a relationship) to a depressed partner, ultimately increases feelings of positivity and self-worth.
Something else the study found was that women with higher initial levels of self-esteem received more support from their partners during times of stress. This also showed to help decrease depression among female partners in the future, as well as increase their self-esteem. What’s more is that male partners who showed higher initial levels of depression received less support from their partners, which ultimately led to increased depression in the future.
“Those who have better mental health to start with,” says Johnson, “may have the capacity to reach out for support when needed and are better able to manage stress on their own, but they are not likely the people who would benefit most from a partner’s help.”
How to Be There for Your Partner When They’re Stressed, Depressed, or Suffering from Low Self-Esteem
Anyone who has ever lived with a partner who suffers from depression or insecurity knows just how difficult it can truly be. Depression can make a person feel hopeless and discouraged. Feeling sad becomes encompassing. Social withdrawal is common. So is lack of interest in activities that once brought that person immense joy. Anger is another common symptom of depression that can result in ugly outbursts and cause a person to place blame on others.
Living with someone who has depression isn’t easy. Especially when its your partner or spouse. Yes, it’s difficult to watch someone you love so much suffer. But it can also become extremely frustrating and confusing, leading to anger and even resentment. And as the study points out, a partner’s depression can ultimately lead to the other partner feeling depressed.
As helpless as you might feel, there are ways to help your partner and yourself in the long run. Johnson says that when you experience this negativity with your partner that offering “invisible support” is one of the best things you can possibly do.
“Studies suggest,” says Johnson, “offering support your partner may not even be aware of, but would still be a helpful gesture, like taking care of a sink full of dirty dishes that they haven’t yet seen. You can offer support, just don’t draw attention to it.”
He contends that people with low self-worth or depression can lash out. When a partner tries to offer support, it can simply reaffirm the other partner’s negative feelings or that they feel like they have to pick up the slack.
By offering support without drawing attention to it, feelings of depression aren’t reaffirmed. It’s simply a thoughtful act that can help support your partner without pointing out any negative emotions that might make them feel worse.
Some other ways you can help support your partner
If they ever want to express their feelings, listen empathetically without passing any judgement or telling them how their depression makes you feel. Johnson also says that “handling the logistics of daily life by offering to take on tasks that aren’t normally yours” can make a world of difference.
Is your partner feeling low? Offer invisible support where you can. Take out the trash. Make a meal plan for the week. Take the kids to school and let your partner sleep in. Walk the dog or feed the cat. Fill up their gas tank. These little things really do add up and can make a huge difference in the way your partner feels. Engaging in these activities can help your partner feel supported without making them feel worseandmake you both feel better in the long run.
Many teachings say to let go of expectations of others in relationships, and I think that’s wrong, too. As adults, we should set the boundaries of what the relationship is going to be, and how it will function. No two relationships are the same and there is no right or wrong as long as everyone is in joyful agreement. It’s healthy hold each other accountable to those agreements with loving communication. If at any time someone wants to change those dynamics, it should be done with respectful and loving communication so each partner can reassess.
One reason why your self esteem may not be optimal
Relying on other people to shape your self concept is a dangerous game. The problem being that the only person you can control the thoughts or actions of is yourself.
Low self esteem in relationships often arises from the following:
1) Your partner is functioning outside of the established boundaries and there is no authentic communication about it so you blame yourself.
2) You’re not practicing self care and aren’t meeting your own healthy expectations.
3) You have unresolved trauma that needs to be processed in a healthy manner.
4) You are attempting to resolve trauma in unhealthy ways. See number 2.
5) You aren’t eating, moving, sleeping and relating in ways to support your best version of you. See number 2
Our bodies and minds work as one so if one aspect is out of balance, it will affect the others. It is is a law of nature. The best way to feel good emotionally is to feel good physically, not comparing yourself to anyone other than yourself.
How to Boost Your Own Self Esteem
When the surgeon rejected me for surgery, he handed me a key by looking at me as an individual and not just another patient walking in the door.
And that’s the golden key to building healthy self esteem…knowing yourself.
I ask myself these questions:
- Am I taking care of myself, including my body, as I would care for someone or something I love?
- Am I being me, or trying to be someone else?
- Am I telling myself the truth? Really?
- Am I avoiding any feelings and therefore blocking FEELING ALIVE?
- Am I afraid to ask for what I want or need?
- Am I willing to accept, without manipulation, that someone else might not give me what I want or need?
- Do I accept that true forgiveness does not include remaining a victim in any way?
- Do I look for joy in every moment and the gift in the darker moments?
- Am I always working on something creative? A project, poem, recipe, new language, rearranging furniture, etc?
- Do I seek ways to appreciate the beauty and gifts of others and feel grateful that I can experience them?
These questions lead to self love, because you are your most precious belonging. A cherished heirloom from your ancestors’ past.
Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry , join her Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health, and find more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.