Self esteem and eating disorders

What do we mean by self esteem?

We are referring to the person's reputation with themselves. It is linked to self image, self confidence and self worth. It includes the way they see themselves and the way they think about their body and personality. People with high self esteem have inner self confidence, feel good about themselves and think they are able to accomplish most tasks which confront them. They are able to accept that we are all different and that no-one is perfect.

How do we get self esteem?

Self esteem has its roots in our early experiences and continues to grow throughout our lives as we achieve competency in areas which are important to us. It comes from feedback from others - friends, family, school, work colleagues - who can help us feel worthwhile and competent in mastering the tasks of life. It comes from messages we pick up from society, the media and magazines about how we are expected to be.

Particularly around the time of adolescence people start to depend more on a sense of belonging to their peers rather than family and think about issues such as:

  • What am I like?
  • What do others  want me to be like?
  • How different am I from how others want me to be?
  • How much of myself am I willing to give up in order to fit in?
  • Can I find a way of fitting in, yet be able to say "no"?
  • If I give up too much I will lose my sense of self, but if I don't give up enough then I risk abandonment, rejection, loneliness.

People with eating disorders believe that if they lose weight, they will be happier, more popular and more successful. They weigh their self esteem.

However, losing weight is not the answer. Feeling good doesn't come from beating yourself up when you perceive yourself to be a failure. It comes from self acceptance. It comes from changing your attitude and focusing on your strengths, your individuality, from celebrating your difference.

Low self esteem affects our entire life. Life is never simple and straightforward and as the going gets rougher on the outside, we need a greater degree of self worth and self acceptance inside.

When a person has low self esteem they:

  • Need approval from others.
  • Become dependent.
  • Feel helpless and powerless.
  • Become anxious and depressed.
  • Feel negative about themselves, others, life.
  • Don’t believe in themselves or their ability to succeed.

So they…..

  • Have a great need for approval.
  • Avoid problems.
  • Become overconcerned about pleasing and getting things right.
  • Are perfectionists.

Some young people who have low self esteem are very vulnerable to the views of others and images projected by the media. They develop a false belief that if they manage their weight, that will give them self esteem.

An eating disorder is a crisis of low self esteem.

When a person has high self esteem they:

  • Are more accepting of themselves and others.
  • Are less sensitive to criticism and the judgments of others.
  • Are aware of their feelings and needs and communicate clearly.
  • Are assertive.

How can you improve your self esteem?

It helps if you try things. Only by taking a risk and having a go can you learn.

What sort of thoughts hold you back?
"That might hurt someone's feelings."
"No-one will be interested in what I have to say."
"Someone might not like that."
"If I can't do that well enough I'll feel stupid."

These are irrational thoughts. If your intention is respectful and you do your best, that's all anyone can ask of you. Remember, no-one can put you down without your permission. Mistakes are not failures. They are learning opportunities. Our learning is enhanced by feedback from others, so ask them. You can't raise your self esteem by yourself, but you alone can raise it.