Most nights I arrive home from work around five o’clock, and heat up whatever left overs I have in my fridge. I can cook, I just choose not to.
I sit on my bed with my giant, fury body pillow tucked behind me (I don’t have a pet, so this is the closest I get to snuggling a live creature), and I turn on some mindless TV show that I can half listen to while I constantly refresh Instagram and Snapchat.
I usually turn my lights out around eight o’clock and, if I’m lucky, pass out by nine or ten. I’ve got my alarm set, my PJs on, and my makeup off (if I even bothered to put makeup on that day).
This has become my life, and had you asked me a year and a half ago if a lifestyle like that would make me happy, I probably would’ve said no, because it sounds super lame and depressing.
A year ago and a half ago my life was consumed with going out, boys, laying on the beach, constantly being around people, getting dressed up, and a lot of shopping that I couldn’t afford.
I didn’t have a nine-to-five job, so I was barely scrapping by. I spent a majority of my time trying to find people to hang out with, boys to cuddle with (I couldn’t just settle for the body pillow, which would’ve saved me a lot of aggravation), and places to go to.
Most of the time if I wasn’t fixated on one thing, it was something else. But you know what I was never really fixated on?
A friend of mine told me recently, “If you’re not finding a guy to constantly take care of, you’re finding a friend.” She always knows what to say; you got to love friends that give you that swift, hard kick in the butt.
The problem is, she’s right. When I thought back to trying times in my life, it’s like I intentionally held myself back for other people, and I couldn’t figure out why.
My whole life was nothing like I imagined it would be, and I was getting buried under a pile of other people’s bullshit, completely ignoring the fact that it was spilling into my life. But instead of digging myself out, I just went along with it. I surrounded myself with other people’s drama, and other people’s negativity, so I would never have to work hard on myself.
Why did I always try to take care of people? Why did I take on other people’s responsibilities when I lacked control over my own life?
I figured I had the strength to put all my time and energy into other people, and one day someone would do the same for me, so I could put myself on the back burner for a while. I also had a sense of guilt and selfishness if other people’s problems were a lot worse than mine, and I was helping myself over them.
But I was wrong. So, so wrong.
It was that moment that I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror and realized that the real reason I was so fixated on other people was because I had low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is that feeling of knowing we can conduct ourselves well out there in the world and don’t need any help.
I didn’t have much to look at in my life and be proud of. I was sleeping on a mattress, living at my parents, and broke as a joke. I said I didn’t want a job, to cover up the fact that I didn’t feel like I was good enough to get one. I went out and got drunk, to cover up the fact that I didn’t have enough money to pay my bills. I had this “strength” to help other people, but it was all fabricated. So instead of the respect being reciprocated, I got the exact same thing I was putting out: false intent.
While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going through a little struggle, I think the fact that I didn’t even respect myself enough to reach for more is pathetic. I believe that when we are not treating ourselves well, on some level deep down, we know it, and I definitely knew, I just ignored it.
Now here is where self-respect plays a role in our self-esteem. While self-esteem is easily defined by society, self-respect is defined by our self.
I may not have all the things that I want in a given moment and, as a result, have low self-esteem due to how society defines success, but I have more trust in myself to achieve those things than I did over a year ago.
So let me explain the difference between the two ideas…
Let’s say I was released into the wild. According to self-esteem, I would wonder if I could I conduct myself in the world based off of what I currently have. A year and a half ago, I might think that I would never survive: no job, no money, and unhealthy relationships. But since then, I have placed myself in a better position to purchase that survival kit, therefore increasing my chances, and increasing my self-esteem.
Self respect, however, can’t be bought at your local convenience store. There is no one that is going to hand self-respect to you on a silver platter, regardless of if you land that job or have more positive relationships in your life.
You can have all the possessions in the world to survive in the wild, but until you respect yourself, you’re going to lack the conviction to walk out the door.
Now let’s talk about love and relationships, instead of talking metaphors. If you are someone like me and you are taking care of other people, but not getting the love and attention that you deserve, ask yourself this: if someone came along to love you, who was willing to give you that respect, do you respect yourself enough to let that positive attention in?
If you lack self-respect the answer is no. Because until YOU actually believe that you deserve to be treated that way, you will not accept that treatment.
So the next time you say yes to someone when you really want to say no, be aware that you may be teaching that person that it’s ok to take you for granted and treat you poorly. The next time you are spoken to in a disrespectful manner and you choose to accept that by staying silent rather than standing up for yourself and speaking your truth, see if you can remind yourself that you can make another choice and teach that person to treat you differently.
Now that I am in a more stable place mentally and financially, my self-esteem has been increasing. However, I still allow myself to adopt these unhealthy relationships instead of take on the ones that will benefit me.
It was hard for me to realize that the reason I was surrounded by such negativity was because I lacked self-respect. I thought that I knew what I was getting myself in to when I took care of others, so I gave away my survival kit, not realizing I was placing myself among the wolves.
Now, instead of letting myself get eaten alive, I decided to strap my backpack on and take the high road. I need to gain the tools to take care of myself, pick up some unexplored confidence, and stop feeling resentful or badly towards myself for losing the map a few times.
Achieving self-respect is difficult but if you repeat this mantra it will start to turn your life around:
“What do I need to do, and what do I need to NOT do, to be able to really look honestly at myself and be okay with who I see?”
Do I need to give up my lonely nights of perusing social media and going to bed at 9 pm because they are “super lame?” No. Because they don’t change the way I look at myself anymore.
I used to think that people would judge the fact that I sat at home doing nothing, so I instead went out and did the OPPOSITE of what I needed to be doing, which is being mindful of my wants and needs.
The only way to have self-respect is to earn it—by continuing to do what WE believe is right, and what best serves our OWN opinions of our self. Self-respect is perhaps the most important thing we either have or don’t have, because it affects how we treat ourselves and how we allow others to treat us.
Instead of thinking that I am the “victim” and the reason my life is filled with stress and guilt is because of the decisions and attitudes of other people, I am going to think of how my behavior has led me to feel that way. Instead of giving people permission to make me feel bad, I am going to respect myself SO MUCH that nobody could ever make me feel like less than I am.
There are always failures and struggles to contend with; there are always people who seem to be better off than we are; but our attitudes towards our self and our life in general are determined by us and us alone.