As strikingly beautiful and successful as actress Marilyn Monroe was on the outside, she was just as insecure and anxious on the inside.
Monroe’s insecurities stemmed from childhood: the then Norma Jeane Mortenson moved in and out of towns, cities, and homes as a child. She also had multiple foster parents as both her parents were said to have problems with mental illness.
It’s no wonder that Monroe fought demons of depression, anxiety, and low self esteem in adulthood. If that wasn’t enough, even as a successful actress, she was judged by the media at every turn.
Most women may not have had a life similar to Monroe’s—many have had it better but many have had it even worse—but there are certain common behaviors common that can point to a lack of self esteem.
Here’s some insight into five of them.
1) She’s a people-pleaser personified
Society places very different expectations on men and women. We’re so used to hearing the terms “gender roles” and “gender norms”.
Sure, these roles worked during the “caveman” age. Men went out to hunt while women cooked and looked after the, well, cave. Way back then it was a matter of survival.
But in this day and age, society has reinforced normalized gender roles even as they have become less relevant, says London-based therapist Teyhou Smyth.
“All people are vulnerable to the impacts of unhealthy or toxic relationships, but women are raised from childhood to adapt to social norms that make them particularly susceptible to the dangers of people-pleasing,” she says.
This can look like taking care of everyone else’s needs around her but not recognizing her own, or dismissing them as not as important.
It can mean always giving a husband the upper hand in household matters instead of being in an equal partnership where plans and decisions are made together.
Women can break free from these roles, but it requires a substantial investment in the work necessary to build a more secure attachment style and intrinsic sense of self-worth, says Smyth.
“But they can’t do it alone; if we are going to succeed at breaking the mold, our society must also stop putting expectations on women to be people pleasers.”
2) She doesn’t set boundaries because she’s afraid of burning bridges
If a woman is allowing people into her life that should be long gone, then she most likely has a problem with setting boundaries.
This could be seeing an ex who you know isn’t good for you. It can also mean letting people control you: this could be the parent who guilt-trips you into doing things, the boss who yells at you for every perceived mistake, and the significant other who throws a tantrum because you had the “audacity” to say no to something you didn’t want to do.
If you’re afraid of setting boundaries because you’re afraid of the fallout, then you aren’t putting your own needs first. If these people don’t respect your boundaries, then they don’t respect you. These are not the people you want to have in your life.
Actress Tamara Mowrey-Howsley says the hardest part about setting boundaries with people, no matter who they are, is not feeling confident in our authority to do so.
“As long as you realize that setting boundaries is necessary for healthy relationships, you will feel better defining and keeping them.”
Adds actress Traci Ellis Ross: “To me self-care does not mean going to the spa. It’s learning to say no. It’s knowing yourself so you can make choices that are an expression of you.”
3) Accepting compliments makes her feel uncomfortable
I have to admit that I used to be one of these women. Maybe I still am to a certain extent. I think it has a lot to do with how I was raised. You weren’t supposed to get swayed by flattery, for example.
The truth is that compliments kind of embarrass me. I’m better about accepting them, however. Especially the ones I feel I’ve earned such a job well done on a journalism assignment.
But why can’t women take compliments? asks Jennifer Banks of Medium.
“A lot of it has to do with our own self-image,” she says. “We might feel insecure about our looks or education such that when we receive a compliment about those areas our first instinct is to be guarded.”
Banks also says that women may feel anxious that if someone extols our performance that they will expect it again. Indeed, women are well aware of the concept that compliments can come with strings attached so this understandably makes them wary.
4) She constantly compares herself to other women
As women, we can’t get away from conventional notions of beauty, body-types, what we should look like and how we should dress “for our age” and the like.
Before it used to be from television, film, billboards, and fashion magazines. Today, add to that the internet along with social media—especially Instagram.
Research shows that women often compare their appearance to other women, say the staff at MacQuarie University in Sydney, Australia.
“Comparisons to women judged to be more attractive than oneself can make women unhappy with their own appearance and put them in a low or bad mood.”
We have to remember that social media is full of filters if not downright fake images. Celebs also have on-call makeup artists to buff away any blemishes and wrinkles.
Secondly, every woman is beautiful and every woman is unique. Who wants to be a carbon copy of someone else? Certainly not me. My looks are a reflection of both my parents and I’m very proud of that.
I lost my father six years ago who I loved very dearly. Whenever someone tells me that I look like him, it makes me happy because he lives on in me. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
Sure, I can be the tiniest bit vain in that I want my skin to naturally look its best so I try to eat well and drink lots of water (I also have a good skincare regime: retinol is my friend).
I also don’t drink alcohol other than the odd glass of red wine once in a blue moon because it is so dehydrating. But I think that’s a healthy vanity to have and it doesn’t rule my life. I have too many other important things to do.
5) She is almost always anxious
Women have a lot to be anxious about.
Societal standards, the pressure to be on top of their game at home and work, juggling family, extended family, and in-laws, and the burden of everything in between tends to fall heavily on women.
When the stress becomes overwhelming, anxiety can develop. We can become hyper-focused on a myriad of things including being overly self-critical, negative self-talk, blaming oneself for perceived failures, feeling inferior, and a poor outlook on life, says the team at Spero Recovery Center.
People who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often find themselves struggling with low self-esteem, adds Will Meek, PhD from Very Well Mind.
“They may have poor confidence in themselves or think they are worthless,” he says. “This can be a harmful symptom of GAD with long-lasting implications.”
It can be helpful to talk to a licensed therapist to get to the root of your lack of a healthy self-esteem so that you can gain insight and tools on how to turn your self-concept around.
Takeaway: It’s vital to know that a woman’s low self-esteem is not her fault
Women who suffer from low self-esteem tend to blame themselves for their situation, says Amarchi Moses from CreateWriteNow.
“They are always thinking ‘if only I was thinner/smarter/prettier, then I would be happy.’”
A woman’s worth is not based around her looks, her accomplishments, and how others see her.
Moses recommends challenging any negative thoughts that come up. For example, if the thought “I’m so overweight,” rears its ugly head, simply redirect and tell yourself that you’re beautiful the way you are.
Your body is working 24 hours a day keeping you alive. Remind yourself of when someone called you pretty or told you that you looked nice.
The point is to recall evidence of the opposite that refutes the thought. If you keep doing this every time, then any opposing thoughts will pop up less and less.
Also, do things that make you feel pretty. This could be buying a beautiful outfit for yourself once in a while or getting your hair done.
If the thought comes up that you’re not as accomplished as another woman, remind yourself of what you have accomplished, and that you’re working to improve yourself everyday.
Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings.
“Sometimes, just knowing that someone understands and cares can make a big difference.”
I think it’s more intriguing to be attractive rather than conventionally beautiful. Attractiveness can apply to anyone. Confidence is attractive. Being the best version of yourself is attractive.
Work on that.