Until fear of failure can be moderated, a woman who fears that she isn’t or won’t be good enough will not be able to take pleasure in living.
Women affected by low self-esteem and low self-confidence experience recurring self-doubts, negative self-talk, perfectionism, comparison, people pleasing, lack of boundaries, fear of rejection, search for constant approval, difficulties in saying no, recurring worry about what others may think, and so on. The impact of these behaviours create consequences that keep confirming what they ultimately believe about themselves: that they’re not good enough — no matter their achievements.
Low self-esteem and low self-confidence are two of the main and common reasons behind many experiences of struggle for women. These two issues alone are the root of many problems that manifest themselves under the surface and impact the quality of life, well-being, and personal and professional satisfaction, besides being the reason why many women don’t set and achieve their goals in life.
In the process of overcoming these issues and moving from self-doubt to self-confidence, there are some typical phases I observed in the last few years while working with women who decided to overcome their problems once and for all. Increasing your self-awareness, challenging your self-beliefs, becoming clear about your self-identity (what you believe to be true about yourself), and your evaluation of it (your self-esteem) are all part of it.
In this letter I explain my point of view to help you get more clarity about the problem, how you can overcome it, and to see if I’m a match for you so I can accompany you in achieving the self-confidence you desire.
From self-doubt to self-confidence and fulfilment.
I believe there’s more for women than constantly wondering if they’re good enough, exchanging their happiness for a bit of gratitude, and pleasing people to feel they’re worthy of love and belonging. I believe achieving self-confidence and everything else that comes with it is about making a conscious choice and working for it.
Low self-esteem and low self-confidence are some of the main reasons behind many life-limiting experiences for women. For many, the issue shows up as the feeling of never being good enough — no matter your achievements or physical size. It’s important to know that this is pretty common. Indeed, there are some typical signs of low self-confidence that are common between all women who struggle with it. This also means that when you hold yourself back, play small, and don’t believe in yourself it’s not about who you are, it’s about what low self-confidence is.
Before talking more about low self-confidence and low self-esteem, there’s a clear distinction between the two that I want to clarify.
Low self-esteem can be summed up as inner conflict. It’s based on the self-belief that you’re not worth enough to be loved and to belong as you are. When you believe you’re not enough, you buy into the idea that you’re missing something, hence you have to be, do, or have something different in order to be recognised as having value, worth, and ultimately, being liked and loved as you are.
Low self-confidence is also based on a self-belief, but a different one. It is not a belief about your identity (who you are) but about your competencies (what you’re capable of doing). It can be summed up as not believing that you have what it takes — in terms of strengths and skills — to achieve your goals and purpose. So if self-esteem means “I’m good”, self-confidence means “I’m able to”. It’s also important to know that often — but not always — low self-confidence hides a deeper issue with low self-esteem.
Women with low self-esteem usually believe the problem is they’re not good enough and need to change something about themselves. The actual problem is thinking that we’re missing something and that being loved, liked, and appreciated (what we long for) depend on specific standards and conditions. Once we achieve them, then we will be loved. When we are stuck in this way of thinking, we create an artificial image of perfection that is neither clear nor realistic. This ideal version is used as motivation to then make efforts towards achieving this image. In reality, we struggle to fit into a model and in this we can’t find any relief from the pain of thinking that we don’t deserve to be loved as we are.
If you find yourself stuck there, I’d like you to know that believing you need to be, do, or have more to love yourself and be loved is just one option. That belief keeps you running after a model of never enough. Towards an idealised final result, which is created specifically to be unattainable and to keep confirming to yourself that you aren’t good enough. But good enough, you’ll notice, does not have such a clear, precise unit of measure. And you can choose a different option.
Perfectionism is another aspect of low self-confidence. It’s there setting your internal bar way too high and creating those hard, unattainable expectations that ultimately gives you confirmation that you’re not good enough. But in reality, those standards are self-imposed; they don’t come from outside. You are already enough as you are, right now. You do deserve love and belonging and don’t need to perform and be perfect for it. It’s a matter of overcoming that kind of mindset. Once you overcome it, your worth and value won’t depend on your performances, physical standards, expected behaviours, etc., anymore. You’ll be able to stop taking things personally and being hurt by comments on the quality of your work because your worth won’t depend on it anymore.
The path to overcome low self-esteem and low self-confidence is made of self-work. Increasing your self-awareness, challenging your self-beliefs, becoming clear about your self-identity (what you believe to be true about yourself), and your evaluation of it (your self-esteem) are all part of it. This work will help you get clear about your expectations and your judgements on yourself, your performances, and how you derive self-worth from them.
This is how the mechanism works:
- Belief of not being good enough = self-rejection.
- Perfectionism (setting unrealistic expectations to derive self-worth from it) + comparing expectations with reality = falling short → hard self-judgements → lowering self-esteem, and getting more confirmation about your belief of not being good enough.
It’s important to know how it works in order to recognise it and be able to act when the mechanism is in place.
The main reason why this journey is so hard is because there’s an active effort that women do to reject themselves as they are and this comes from having internalised the judgement of others and believing that they’re true. Self-rejection creates the perfect environment for perfectionism to settle in.
At its heart my work is about guiding you through this path to solve the inner conflict that generates all the self-doubts that create all the others problems showing up in your work, relationships, inner peace, health, and so on. I believe that to make a difference in this area, women should focus on accepting themselves and ban perfectionism from their lives, replacing hard judgements with self-compassion.
The three most critical elements in the journey from self-doubt to self-confidence are self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. And it all starts with self because it depends on you (which is great news).
Many women are scared to even start this journey because they don’t believe it’s possible to overcome low self-confidence, or because they’re concerned about getting lost in pain if they get closer to past wounds. There’s something important to know at this point: if there are open wounds, they need to be healed and we all have the ability to heal our wounds. The other option (ignoring them) doesn’t lead to anything good: the wounds will keep hurting, keep us stuck in repetitive, hurtful patterns and behaviours, and consume much of our energy. In the long term, ignoring our feelings and past can lead us very far from ourselves and can even contribute to a major life crisis.
This is why it’s important to address the real underlying issues creating low self-confidence and low self-esteem, because otherwise the habit of coping mechanisms and repetitive patterns will stay in place. This is also why learning new skills can help but can’t solve the main problem because learning new skills increases your competencies (which helps), but more competencies don’t necessarily translate into more confidence. You can have a lot of competence and still feel low in confidence, as it happens with the impostor syndrome.
Concretely, the first step in this journey is to find clarity. There are many misconceptions around self-esteem and self-confidence and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. There’s confusion and many quick fix solutions that promise unrealistic results without actually digging into the problem. As a first step, it’s important to make an assessment and understand if you’re facing low self-confidence, low self-esteem, or impostor syndrome. In my experience, putting names on things helps a lot. Understanding where in your life you’re affected by low self-confidence is also very important.
The second step is to increase your self-awareness and have clarity about your self-identity. Your identity is made of all the parts that comprise who you are, and when you’re stuck wondering if you’re good enough, you struggle to acknowledge your strengths and skills and instead focus on the so-called flaws. Digging into your self-identity means to get more information about your roles and how you perceive yourself to be according to the roles you have in your life. This way, you’ll know yourself better, become aware of how you judge yourself, and challenge that. Beliefs are just beliefs; they’re not necessarily true and you can get rid of all the ones that don’t serve you anymore. You can replace them with new and supportive ones. Your self-image is the mental picture you have about yourself and it’s at the base of your self-esteem. Basically you have an image that you compare with an idealised version of yourself and if that creates a gap, you’ll have low self-esteem. Your self-image is quite resistant to change and you’ll find yourself saying things like “this is who I am” while actually describing only a behaviour. In this phase it’s important that you become aware of all aspects that define your identity, not only the ones that are visible but also the things you have learnt about yourself, either from personal experiences or by internalising the judgement of others.
The third step is about self-esteem. This part is about understanding how you judge and value yourself. It’s important to know that this is completely subjective and not related to how others see you. It’s your unit of measure we’re talking about, your expectations, your judgement about whether this is enough or not. The hard, self-inflicted judgements create much of the pain. You’ll notice that your attitude towards yourself is pretty judgemental and the expectations you set are very hard, harder than the ones you set for others. There’s one thing that is very important to understand here: the standards you compare yourself to are self-imposed. They aren’t a universal truth. They are there to make the mechanism work in a way that keeps confirming what you already believe about yourself. This mechanism consumes a lot of energy and effort and keeps you stuck in a vicious circle where you can never experience a good and satisfying life — not even at the mention of achieving your dreams and purpose. In this phase, you’ll notice how much negative self-talk you experience and how this prevents you from moving forward. The goal here is to learn how to reframe the negative self-talk, challenge it, and ultimately reduce the impact it has on your life (while you gain power over it).
Working on your self-esteem will make you move towards self-acceptance and you can reasonably expect to experience some strong resistance, which can also show up in terms of procrastination. It’s normal, you’re facing the biggest obstacle in achieving great self-esteem. Changing the way you’ve seen and judged yourself for your whole life can be scary and surely it has consequences. Many women ignore how scared they are of becoming confident. Many of them are scared of being rejected, of becoming arrogant, of having the pressure to guarantee high performances every time, of becoming independent, and so on. Learnt beliefs about what it means to be a woman and what women are supposed to do and be will show up. It’s normal and I invite you to focus on how much freedom redefining your standards and choosing your options will give you.
Until self-acceptance is achieved, you’ll still experience self-rejection, which is believing you’re not good enough. Self-rejection leads to a lack of self-love and looking for constant approval, so it creates behaviours such as people pleasing, fitting in, posturing, not expressing your opinion, and making a lot of effort for temporary approval (which in turn, will never be enough). In this phase, you can also expect some past wounds to show up. It’s normal and the process of healing will take place. In order to accept yourself, you’ll have to learn self-compassion. Self-compassion will make you stop being overly judgemental with yourself and start being curious about yourself. Being curious means to be willing to listen, see what’s there, and take it as powerful information. These are all parts of you and the better you know yourself, the more you can be aligned with whom your are and what makes you happy.
For many women it feels counter-intuitive to accept who they are because they believe perfectionism is the key to self-improvement. Actually, it’s not. Perfectionism creates the pain. There’s no self-improvement without self-acceptance first. Once your worth is no longer in discussion, you can stop taking things personally — as information on your worth —and deducing your worth from your own performances or supposed level of perfection. In the next phase, new standards will be set and this time they’ll be the right ones for you.
The fourth step is about self-confidence. As we said, self-confidence is about believing you’re able to achieve your goals and succeed in your projects. The first thing is defining in which areas or activities in your life you want to feel confident. It’s up to you to define your standard, what you call success and failure, and therefore, what will reinforce or weaken your self-confidence. Redefining standards is key here as well as reframing expectations and letting go of perfectionism. Perfectionism tells you that you need to feel confident in every single thing you do, while self-compassion helps you to be realistic and know that nobody can be perfect in everything but we can all be great at something. Anyone can achieve great results with a realistic plan, perseverance, and patience. New boundaries will be set for you and a phase of exploration will start. This is when it makes sense to assess your competencies and see if it makes sense to increase them to achieve your goals. Any work on increasing competencies that is done before this phase will not solve the self-confidence issue because it’s an internal thing. Once you set realistic goals and work towards them, you can feel confident and legitimate in what you do. With this new mindset, a learnt resilience and a new set of beliefs will move you towards your goal with the idea of learning and being curious, open, and willing to learn.
The fifth step is about self-love. You have learnt a lot about yourself, who you are, what you value, etc., during this journey. At this point, it’s time to learn to value yourself — because you decide what’s valuable for you. Practising self-love and self-care, setting boundaries to protect yourself, and learning to put all chances on your side to succeed are part of this phase. Once you rise strong inside, you’ll feel more solid and confident and you won’t question your worth all the time. So now it’s time to look at the outside.
The sixth step is about fulfilment. At this point of the journey things will be very different for you. Your relationship with yourself will be different and you have the tools to deal with obstacles in case they show up again. You faced the main obstacles that prevented you from feeling good in your skin, believing in your abilities, and trusting your ability to achieve your goals. It’s time to work on the outside, make plans, use the resources you have, and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you. You’re now ready to work on your purpose and finally move towards fulfilment. This looks like the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one. Fulfilment means very different things to different people, so your next project will depend on what you decide.
This is my POINT OF VIEW and take on things, hence the journey I suggest. Consider that the more you’re open in discovering who you are and doing the work on yourself, the quicker you’ll get results. Results here means a powerful transformation. I believe that many approaches to self-esteem and self-confidence fail because they don’t address the real underlying problem and don’t set the right expectations. Working on your self-esteem and self-confidence is not going to be a quick fix. You can expect a transformation in 3-6 months and a big change in your life in the space of one year. It’s also important to know that you have to keep practising after the end of the program and to make sure that you integrate the new habits and positive responses in your life. It’s like going to the gym, but it’s just a different kind of exercise.
I don’t like the quick fix solutions because they tend to make things worst. They steal hope from women. For many women reading some books and trying something that didn’t work end up making them believe that there’s nothing they can do and that they have to live with that. It’s not true.
If you keep just one piece of information from this letter, let it be this: working on ourselves is not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
- I believe in vulnerability and kindness as true strengths in life.
- I believe that self-compassion is one of the most beautiful versions of courage.
- I believe curiosity is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
- I believe that success is self-defined because only you can know what makes you truly happy.
- I believe emotions are one of the most powerful sources of life. I believe we need to let them be. They’re precious.
- I believe that we’re human and reconnecting with our humanity will allow us to be wonderfully connected with others.
- I believe that life doesn’t happen to us — things happen and life is what we make out of them. Taking responsibility over our lives is key.
- I believe we need new models based on honesty, authenticity, and real work. When we are real, we truly exist in this world and we’re able to make a difference.
- Ultimately I believe that we have all the answers inside and our job is to listen and make space for ourselves, which is the only way we can make space for others and for more beauty in this world.