Self Esteem and Self Image effect Anxiety, Agoraphobia, Panic, and Phobias a lot. I felt awful about myself throughout most of the fifteen years I suffered from anxiety and panic. Everything I did manage to do seemed to be second or third best, I seemed to be limited in all areas of my life. Equally everyone else seemed to be living life in the fast lane, travelling, partying, being successful, being popular, and being interesting. I had some girlfriends but I was a poor partner, my anxiety left me almost housebound and my low self confidence made my bedroom performance a bit lacklustre. I felt constantly tired yet could barely sleep, I was irritable and angry and lost friends. I believe a low feeling of self-worth was at least a partial cause of my anxiety in the first place, and my nose-diving self esteem, unsurprisingly, made my anxiety worse. It was, to coin a cliché, a vicious circle.
There were two issues to deal with. The low self esteem that was causal to my anxiety and therefore potentially still part of the problem, and the low self esteem which was caused by my anxiety. Both had to change.You tend to reap what you sow. If you feel nervous, unworthy, or un-cool you tend to give that impression to the people around you. Unsurprisingly, they treat you as though you were boring, because you are too tongue-tied to say anything interesting or funny, they look down their noses at you because they think you are unworthy, and they prefer to speak to cooler people. You largely chose how people react to you.
1) Most of what we feel, and most of what happens to us, is chosen by us. It is almost entirely in our control. Understanding this and keeping an eye out for the subtle choices you make all the time is highly important.
So when I had recognised that how people reacted to me was largely a self-fulfilling prophecy I had to chose how I wanted them to react to me. Although it may seem negative and unpleasant one thing I did was to bring them down to my level. Instead of looking at them as perfect and me as flawed I looked at us as both flawed. For example I said to myself “I may have anxiety, but he is so arrogant everyone is rude about him behind his back.” Or “He has been round the world but now he’s starting a career in management consultancy, what a dull boy. At least I am an interesting person inside.” In this way I met people as equals, and eventually with a healthy feeling of superiority. Of course when you have low self esteem you want to be liked, even need to be liked. The more people don’t instantly take to you, the more you want them to and the less they do. You are liked most when you are being yourself without a care in the world. In order to achieve this I made a list of all the people I could think of whom I disliked or felt neutral to at first sight, but grew to like or even love over time. The list was massive. I made an equally long list of people I liked instantly and grew to hate or fear. First impressions DON’Tcount! Relationships between friends, colleagues and lovers evolve and grow naturally. “First impressions count” is a mantra repeated by companies which sell shampoo and deodorant. Don’t give too much to soon, people like to earn respect. I, like almost everyone else, am wary of people who are desperate to be loved and try too hard. No one is universally liked, unless they are very false and tell everyone what they what to here. If someone doesn’t like you it doesn’t matter. Maybe they will grow to like you or maybe they won’t. Either way you will still be you.
People often say they wished they were someone else. I felt like that. When I stopped to think about it though I was wrong, I wanted to be me, even at my lowest ebb. Sometimes you want to be as good looking as someone, as clever as someone else, as rich as a third person. I wracked my brains about every person I considered successful and offered myself the opportunity to take on no just the parts I liked but their whole being. There was not a single person I would have rather been. I didn’t want their parents, their looks, their troubled past, their annoying voice, their premature grey hair or yellow teeth. Statistics say that only one-in-five successful entrepreneurs had both parents alive through their childhood. So they may be rich, but their toughness is built of grief and hardship. It’s all very well envying their wealth, but would you really want to be them? Try making your own lists of people you did and didn’t like at first sight. Think about the people you envy and assess how much you would like to actually be them, warts and all.Often self esteem issues stem from childhood and how parents and care-givers react to you and around you. In extreme cases the way an anxiety sufferer was treated as a child might constitute abuse and cruelty. More likely as children, like me, the average sufferer felt scared and unloved. It is helpful for both now and dealing with the past to understand how people treated you. The truth is that as children we are all a little self obsessive. We believe the world is run for us and that everything is to do with us. We also tend to blame ourselves for how people respond to us and treat us. What we often forget or don’t know is that people have their own personalities and trains of thought which might well be far more complex than we can guess. The reasons they react as they do are not then because of us, even if they appear to be reacting to something we’ve done. Those people, such as parents, give off their own personalities in all directions for a whole range of reasons to do with what is going on in their life, or has happened to them in the past.3) I started to see that when people were angry or offish with me, they were giving that negative vibe off in all directions, and that it was affecting all people around them. This did not mean I could wash my hands of something I had done which deserved atonement. It did mean that I could understand that my parents were not uncaring to me; they were generally emotionally distant in all areas of their lives. It hadn’t been my fault. The diagram below illustrates this. Try drawing your own.4) You are not as crap as you think. While you have been suffering from panic attacks and anxiety you, like I, may have felt that you have missed out a lot, let life pass you by, or are growing old without having achieved your full potential. Like before it is easy to look at others and see them as so much more successful than you. In my case my achievements had certainly not been so obvious; I had not been round the world, been for a night out in London or been offered a job by a top city company. I had done many things though, and I illustrated this to myself by writing a list of them. I have included my list here. As you can see, they show that I was a unique, interesting human being with a life going on around them in which I play a full roll. Try writing your own list to see how much you have achieved. And remember that you will achieve more and more as you recover. You self esteem may not magically rise, but bit by bit you can respect yourself more, and as you respect yourself more you will achieve more.