This week I’ve had one of those ‘ground open up and swallow me’ moments that was very much related to my book. Meaning well but obviously wanting to challenge me a little I was asked (by a supporter I must add):
‘Was it difficult to write a story about self esteem when you’re not exactly ugly?’
‘But do you reeeeally understand the challenges being faced by children and young people who are struggling with these issues?’
Quite a bit of awkward ‘ummming’ and ‘aaaahing’ followed and then some squirming and since then a general feeling of being quite uncomfortable has hung over me a little. So I’ve decided to tackle these questions head on. I guess if one person is bold enough to ask, others must be wondering.
Anyone can suffer from the demons of low self-esteem whether they are the most minted billionaire, the most beautifully stunningly attractive model type or the most loved celeb. (Surely we’ve learnt that much from Heat magazine?!) Self-esteem isn’t about how a person looks, it’s about the way they feel about themselves and their abilities. However pleasing one is to the eye, if they have a negative view of themselves, if they feel ugly, have little belief in their abilities or feel stupid it’s pretty certain to say that they are going to lack confidence and self-esteem. The challenges of life will be much harder for them and they are more likely to find life’s lows a source of deep anxiety.
Self-esteem can change too. A major life event – a new school, a bereavement, a redundancy, a change in family circumstance can lower the self-esteem of even the most upbeat, resilient and positive character. Equally, you don’t need to search far to find a self help checklist/ guide / article or website devoted to overcoming the inner demon so flipping the negative on it’s head is a possibility too, at least temporarily. However, the patterns of self-esteem start young and as with most things, are harder to overcome in adulthood. A child with low self-esteem is more likely to experience depression, anxiety and other obstacles related to mental health including self-harm and eating disorders. They may find it difficult to make and maintain friendships and will find new experiences difficult – to the point of avoiding them. Not a good place to be and not a sturdy foundation on which to build a fulfilling life.
So in answer to the first question, when writing my book I was probably faced with similar quandaries as any other author, days when I was ‘stuck’, others when I really wasn’t motivated, and many more when I really didn’t think it was any good so what was the point, and none of them have anything to do with the way I look. And whilst my book isn’t explicitly about self-esteem I do hope it could be a useful mechanism in introducing and exploring issues of self-esteem with children, particularly those who may be struggling with the way they look, their abilities or aspects of their personality.
I was quite a fretful youngster, doubtful of myself and my abilities, heavily critical of myself, permanently apologetic. I clearly remember some of the anxieties I carried as a child and a teen, I remember being sick before school because I was so worried about having hairy arms and being told yet again that I looked like a gorilla, I remember the feeling of being followed from the school bus like it was yesterday, my neighbourhood peers shouting ‘eeeuuuugh’ at me like I was a piece of sh*it on their shoe… and I also remember my attempts at shifting this power balance and being pretty bloomin’ nasty to a couple of my fellow school mates too – getting me nowhere other than making us all feel rotten. Of course I also worried incessantly about my Mum, a bright, lively woman weakened in all aspects of her being by Multiple Sclerosis. In the grand scheme of things my upbringing was privileged in comparison to the horrors that some youngsters live through but it was all very real then and ghastly at times, and I do remember the feeling of vulnerability I sometimes felt as a child extremely vividly.
I may not fully understand the challenges faced by the children of today’s society for I was not a child growing up in this image obsessed world striving for perfection on every level at every turn. But I do see the pressures of society on a different level: I’m an adult, a mother, a wife, a professional, a woman with a circle of extremely driven and successful friends… it takes a great deal of self discipline at times to remind myself and accept that I can’t tick every box and on some days I’ll be lucky to tick one or two. Transport my childhood scenario to a child today who has yet to learn to be kind to themselves, throw into the mix social media, the modern day pressures to be permanently-perfectly-amazing, and the other factors facing a vast percentage of the population – family breakdown, illness, poverty and more… and you have the perfect breeding ground for a low self-esteem. That much I do understand.
Taking time to talk and to listen to our children about their emotional wellbeing can help them feel heard, feel important, valued and loved. What better way to contribute to the development of a positive, blossoming self-esteem? And what better starting point for that discussion than a book?
You can pre-order ‘Worm, Slug, Maggot & Leech and their Troublesome Transformation’ at www.britainsnextbestseller.co.uk.
I promise a little more cheer in my next blog so please stick with me! Thank you again for reading.