Fighting the War Within: Ferial Youakim on Self-Esteem
Some experts believe low self-esteem is a factor in such widespread and varied problems. These include bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, poor academic achievement, teenage pregnancy, crime, violence and aggressiveness (Robert W. Reasoner of the International Council for Self-Esteem). Whether or not self esteem issues can be blamed for so many of society’s ills, the truth is that, low self esteem can incapacitate and restrict how we live our lives, the way we act, and the choices we make.
What is Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem is best described as having an overall negative opinion of yourself or judging yourself as being worthless or unlovable.
Do you ever feel you are inferior to other people? Do you think you’re unattractive, lacking in intelligence or just not good enough? Are you often disappointed with yourself or consider yourself a failure? You are not alone. Even the rich and famous have bouts of lingering doubts about themselves. Actor Kate Winslet has admitted that before going off to a movie shoot she sometimes thinks, “I’m a fraud and they’re going to fire me. I’m fat and ugly” (Interview Magazine Nov. 2000).
Part of the human experience is having occasional self-doubt, but when negative self-talk overshadows your thinking, it may be time to look at methods others have used successfully to improve their self-esteem.
Ferial Youakim is a highly respected businesswoman who has achieved both personal and professional success. These accomplishments include building her own business, launching a notable charitable organization, and raising three children while thriving in a loving marriage for 30 years. Would it surprise you to learn that this same woman was able to accomplish all of this in spite of struggling with self-esteem issues?
The Hopeful Truths of Low Self-Esteem
Drawing on her own experience and the insights of those she’s helped, self imageYouakim offers valuable methods for identifying low self esteem. She has identified powerful and practical tools for improving aself-imagethrough positive action. Youakim’s solution lies in five simple truths: Awareness, Acceptance, Attitude, Appearance, Assurance.
Youakim’s feelings of low self esteem began when she was a young girl living in a refugee camp. She was an extremely intelligent child and her grandmother, who supported her by cleaning houses, wanted her to be able to go to school. She was able to get into an exclusive school attended by children from wealthier homes. The experience might have been a positive one, except that the other children made her feel inferior. The young Youakim wanted so badly to be accepted by the others. She would go out of her way to please everyone just so they would like her. But by putting herself second just to make others happy, she ignored her own needs and feelings. Her self-image of being “less than” would follow her as she grew up. But instead of letting them destroy her, she learned positive methods of turning that self-doubt around.
As with any process that requires a personal change, awareness of the problem is the crucial first step. By briefly looking at the origins of our self-doubt, we often find our low self esteem is the result of how we are conditioned by other people, especially during our childhood. If, like Youakim, you were systematically insulted, criticized or bullied when you were younger, then you are more likely to have absorbed negative messages about yourself. People who suffered physical or sexual abuse as children are especially at risk for experiencing low self esteem.
“If you do have these feelings of low self worth, dig deep to see where it came from. When you feel bad about yourself take a moment to ask yourself if the negative voice in your head is coming from the abusive people in your past. Once you face the reasons why you feel this way it is easier to work through it and to recognize that you are a valuable person and you can start to hear a kinder, more reasonable voice about yourself,” said Youakim.
Accepting ourselves for who we are and not who others want us to be is the next step. Low self-esteem thinking tends to be very all-or-nothing but no one can be 100% perfect so trying to be perfect sets us up for failure.
Youakim’s advice is to stop looking at the superficial images you see of air-brushed models in magazines. “Start accepting the god-made image instead. It’s okay to be fashionable, but still follow what suits you best and makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. Beauty is an inside job so we must look at who we are on the inside in order to bring out the good and highlight it on the outside. We need to identify and accept our body scale and recognize that there are colors and patterns that play up our strengths and downplay or camouflage the things we don’t like,” she said.
Accept compliments with grace and gratitude. Low self esteem tends to make us magnify failures and minimize or discount successes. Be fair to yourself and give credit where credit is due. If other people say you are attractive, clever, kind, fun or whatever, respect them enough to consider what they say is true.
“Know, first who you are and then adorn yourself accordingly.” Epictetus (Greek Philosopher)
Be your own champion by reminding yourself everyday how unique you are. Dwell on being grateful for the positive instead of focusing on the negative. Make an effort to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. A small shift in attitude about whether you are “enough” (as in pretty enough, tall enough, smart enough) can make a big difference.
Youakim’s advice is to give yourself a goal that comprises you trying to be the best version of you that you can be. To do that, you need to learn who you are first. “The simple truth is that when you feel beautiful, you will be beautiful inside and out. Your self-confidence is the path to your own individual beauty. Being happy with what you have, who you are and what you can offer is the real secret to happiness and beauty.”
Building a stronger self-image will help your entire image flourish and set the stage for creating your own unique style. According to Youakim, style is a way of expressing your personality while fashion is about following trends.
“One of my all time favorite quotes is from John Fairchild. He says, ‘Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.’ So he’s basically saying that style is an expression of self-knowledge. You need to understand who you are or who you want to be in order to develop a style you can feel confident wearing.”
Youakim advises you to spend time taking a look at yourself, your lifestyle and your aspirations. What makes you unique? What aspects of yourself do you want to share with the world? Is it your romanticism, your quick wit, or your rebellious streak? Once you know how you want to present yourself to the world, it is easy to create a wardrobe that reflects that image.
Low self-esteem can be a vicious cycle. We feel bad about ourselves, so we end up not dressing well or resist keeping active or avoid getting decent haircuts. But neglecting our appearance, in turn causes us to feel even worse about ourselves. The lesson here is not to be confused with caring about your personal appearance as a means to an end, but also recognizing that improving your outward appearance and highlighting your positives can lead to changes and improvements. This will help in how you feel about yourself on the inside too.
Self-esteem or self-confidence exists along a continuum ranging from very high belief in our value and abilities to very low. Taking positive action to address and overcome self-esteem issues is a process that begins with awareness and continues for a lifetime.
Let us assure you if Youakim can do it, so can YOU! She has been able to transform her feelings of low self-worth into a thriving business focused on helping others improve their personal self-appraisal from the inside out. What she once believed to be her greatest weakness ended up being her greatest strength. This belief has been a powerful asset and source of joy and fulfillment.
To learn more about Ferial’s journey and how to discover your true inner worth, Discover the book