Little Jeanette was similar to the current iteration of me in many ways. She was determined, motivated, curious, confident and smart. Little me had no reason not to love and respect herself. She had a loving family, enough food, a warm house, no neglect or abuse. And then she went to school.
After thirteen years of being given negative messaging about who I was by many of the other kids at school, pretty much constantly and then enduring sexual violence as a teen, I started to hate myself. In fact, at twenty years-old I was so negatively focussed that I actually wanted bad things to happen to me. I went through life deliberately making stupid mistakes and poor choices, mixing with criminals and drug addicts and trying to make life worse for myself. It was almost as if I had some kind of Stockholm syndrome from the ongoing abuse and invalidation and wanted to help out the bullies and abusers in their quest to make my life unpleasant.
Thankfully negative me got to a point where I realised the options had narrowed to either keep going on the path I was on and die or make some changes. A positive attitude is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of wellbeing and self-worth and I was soon achieving success in academia and then work. I den’t start valuing myself straight away but once I started seeking out good things, I gradually built up my self-worth.
I have noticed a few things about self-esteem and self-confidence during my journey. These are:
- Self-confidence and self-esteem are actually a very strong protective factor against bullying and discrimination. When I was young and didn’t like or value myself, whenever someone bullied me I took their words on board and felt worse about myself. It becomes a bit of a vicious circle and resulted in my sense of my own value getting lower and lower. I also found that I cared what the bullies thought. However, my current, self-confident self firstly isn’t bothered by some stupid hostile opinion about me and I also don’t really care what some pathetic bully thinks of me.
- Autistic people can suffer from low self-esteem which is not only reinforced by things like bullying and discrimination but also by prevalent attitudes around Autism being about deficits and ‘disorders.’
- If you like, involve yourself in Autistic self advocacy (or self-advocacy for mental health issues, physical disability, MS or whatever relates to you). This will help you see the amazing achievements of Autistic others and will build your sense of pride in yourself and your community.
- Low self-esteem can perpetuate itself when we internalise negative thoughts and comments. If you find yourself saying derogatory things about yourself then take yourself to task. Make a project of turning negative thoughts and words about yourself into positive ones. This can be hard to achieve because we often put ourselves down without even thinking about it. You can ask a friend, partner or trusted someone to point out when you do it if you have trouble spotting it.
- If you have people in your life who put you down or disrespect you, maybe consider evicting them and their thoughts from your life and your mind.
- You deserve love and respect. Remind yourself of this.
- Reflect on the good things you do – your positive attributes, achievements and qualities. And I don’t believe you if you say you don’t have any!
- Do something nice for yourself every day. It doesn’t need to be a big thing – it could be just making yourself a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate and taking out some time to yourself to drink it.
Self esteem is an amazing thing which can change your world. While it can be hard to achieve, it is very useful. And to report on my own self-esteem journey, I reached a bit of a milestone when I turned forty. I no longer care what rude, abusive bullies think of me, I am happy to buy myself nice things (and only feel a little bit guilty) and I started a job in an area I knew nothing about last year and didn’t get anxious about it (and I’ve been there a year and I rock at it!!) So it can definitely be done. I wish everyone this amazing quality of self-worth.
About Yenn Purkis
Yenn Purkis (formally Jeanette) is an author, presenter, autism advocate and community leader. Yenn is the author of six published books on elements of autism and has contributed to a large number of journals, books and websites. Yenn is a presenter and facilitator and regularly gives keynote presentations including at the 2013 TEDx Canberra conference. Yenn is a member of a number of committees and reference groups and is has a number of awards for leadership in the community, including the 2016 ACT Volunteer of the Year.