Women and Self-Esteem


Why is low self-esteem such a serious issue for women? Why is it important that we work to cultivate a more positive self-image?

Self esteem is your own emotional estimate that you are worthy of pursuing your happiness and capable of functioning well in the world. Or, as Ayn Rand put it, "Self-esteem, [is your] inviolate certainty that [your] mind is competent to think and [your] person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living."

Many women feel insecure, or are perhaps drowning in self doubt. Why? It's likely that they have learned that being a good person means self-sacrifice (being the "good wife," the "good neighbor," the "good daughter" — the saint or the martyr). They've learned, from countless sources, that morality entails giving up their desires, their dreams, their goals — for others. Given such selfless (altruistic) standards, it's no wonder that the more they strive to be "moral" (giving up their values), the more unhappy they become. They find themselves in a bind: being a doormat in life should bring satisfaction, but in truth, it brings resentment and low self-esteem. Many try to "put on a happy face" while privately suffering. They feel trapped and are faced with the monstrous choice: be moral (sacrifice) or be happy (selfish).

Consequently, such women often feel guilty even thinking about important personal values. I've worked with many a woman (young and old) who has said with exasperation "I've spent my whole life catering to my parents, my kids, my husband, . . .. I feel there is no "me" anymore!" When asked what they would like to do if they owned their own life, I often hear, "I never allowed myself to think about that. It would be selfish!"

And that raises the question: Is a proper focus on your self bad and immoral — or is it the foundation for building genuine self esteem? Are the people we typically call "selfish" (the liar, the cheat, the scoundrel, the narcissist) truly focusing on valuing themselves or would it be more accurate to describe them as self destructive?

To truly liberate yourself, discover that properly valuing your self is essential to your happiness, short range and longer range. Discover a rational moral standard by which to judge yourself. If you want that wonderful feeling of waking up in the morning to another exciting day in your life, then you'll want to make yourself into a person you admire. That involves, among other skills, building good moral character and self esteem (e.g., being honest, thinking for yourself, being productive, having integrity, learning to take pride in your strengths and in your achievements).

You might take a look at your moral code. Do you have a moral code that promotes selflessness, low self-esteem? Or one that promotes a "my way or the highway" view of life? Neither an altruistic (selfless) moral code, nor a narcissistic one will achieve genuine happiness.

But discovering a rational moral code that views you as your highest value will give you the ability to unapologetically make your life rich with your values (e.g., in romance, in your career, in your personal hobbies, and with special friends and family members you love). You can then pursue your dreams (provided you never take advantage of anyone else). When you discover a rational (reality-based) code that clearly shows that you have a moral right to pursue your own personal happiness, you will be free of being a doormat in life. You will have the best chance to live happily and successfully. As Ayn Rand has said, "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." And cultivating your self esteem on a healthy foundation is the key to happiness.

What is one concrete tip - something a woman could do right now - to improve her self-esteem?

One tip is to nurture yourself by starting a journal and writing about your personal desires, dreams and goals in four important areas. Spend 3 minutes (or more) on each of the following questions:

  1. Career: What career(s) or job(s) would I most enjoy?
  2. Romance: What would make my romantic life better? (e.g., learning how to search for a partner, learning how to be more assertive with a partner).
  3. Hobbies/leisure: What hobbies or leisure activities bring me the most pleasure?
  4. Friends/family members: Who do I feel closest to and how can I let them know that--and spend more time with them?

Some excellent (and easy to follow) resources
In my book (The Selfish Path to Romance: How to love with passion and reason) Dr. Locke and I have short chapters that cover these topics.

  • Ch. 2 Altruism and Narcissism: Two approaches to love that do not work
  • Part II: Making Yourself lovable
  • Ch. 5 Building moral character
  • Ch. 6 Developing genuine self-esteem