The Impact of Low Self-Esteem on Seniors
As people age, they often times allow their diminished physical capabilities, shrinking social circles, and inability to be financially as productive as they once were to erode their self-esteem level in many areas of their lives.
Perhaps they have severed many of their relationships over the years, feel socially challenged, or they have difficulty establishing new close or meaningful relationships to replace those they have lost. Perhaps they may experience low self-esteem with regard to their physical appearance or their health. As a society, we put such an emphasis on physical fitness and appearance that many get wrapped up in tying their worth to their outward appearance. Perhaps they are not having any fun in their lives, maybe devoting too much attention to what’s not working in their lives, instead of focusing on their strengths and blessings. Many seniors were once very successful at their occupations or businesses, perhaps even driven to succeed. Now in retirement, many still locate their self-worth in their careers. As a result, they now mistakenly hold themselves as less valuable members of society simply because they have moved on to another stage in their lives. While working, they may have compensated for feeling deficient in other areas of their lives by working harder and thus finding a place they could excel through their work. This provided them with a focus where they could win but it didn’t fulfill their neglected needs in other areas like relationships, recreation, personal and spiritual development, health and appearance and their ability to lead balanced, fun, and fulfilling lives. Now that they are no longer distracted by their work, these neglected areas become much more pronounced and demand their attention.
It’s not that there is something wrong with finding an occupational niche where one can be successful and feel good about oneself. However, many of those lacking self-esteem in other areas find themselves driven to accomplish, driven to prove their worth. Since business is an area where they could shine, they may have neglected other areas to focus excessively on business. When this business focus is no longer an option in retirement, they mistakenly conclude that they are no longer valuable members of society, and their self-esteem diminishes.
Other seniors berate themselves for lacking the skills they think they need to be of contribution to society or find meaningful ways to occupy their time. Too often, many settle for what they consider to be demeaning jobs just to pass the time and provide a few extra dollars to help with a retirement that requires they live on a fraction of what was not enough during their earlier, working years. By holding themselves in low regard, they minimize their value to others and settle for less than they would have if their self-image were higher.
Because their actions during their working years were too often built upon the erroneous belief that they were somehow not good enough, somehow defective or unworthy of being fully loved and accepted, there was little lasting satisfaction even in the arenas where they can excelled. It’s as though they were forever climbing a ladder with the top of the ladder in the clouds. They thought that if they could just climb high enough, they would be worthy and good enough to earn their own respect and the respect of others. They would have proven their worth. They would find satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment. However, as they climbed higher and higher, they never seemed to arrive. There were always new goals and objectives challenging them to prove their worth. The more they achieved, the more they had yet to go. Try as they would, they never seemed to fully measure up. Or, if they did, it was short-lived and fleeting at best. There was no arriving to the point where they could find what they longed for so badly — the peace of mind that comes from self-love and self-acceptance. In their later post-work years, they found themselves free of the distraction of pursuing that elusive achievement prize or busying themselves with a job that put food on the table. However, with this change in focus, so many end up feeling as though they lost their purpose and direction – many even losing the will to live.
From their perspective, they never were quite able to reach the perfection they sought so badly or at least measure up to others they admired – but at least they could continue to try. Although they always were likely to find evidence to highlight their flaws and reinforce their fears of being unworthy, unlovable, defective in some way, there was always the hope of proving their worthiness with the next project. In retirement, that hope faded away.
The message that The Self-Esteem System is predicated upon is simple. No one needs to settle for a dimmed existence due to a lacking sense of self-worth. Most people either make up or buy into thoughts that there is something wrong with them, that they are somehow inadequate, not good enough and not worthy of being loved and accessing all the good things that life has to offer. If they are willing to examine their past to get to the source of their resignation and diminished self-esteem, they can reinterpret what happened to them in such a way that they can heal and complete the past and eliminate negative self-talk while making a conscious decision to live their lives from a decision to strive for excellence and contribute to others. By developing a firm belief that they can impact people and the world around them and that they are, in fact, very worthy of receiving life’s blessings, they can manifest happiness and fulfillment. For a senior, this might mean volunteering his or her services as a mentor to those who would welcome the insights that come from experience. It might mean pursuing a new hobby or passion that they never had time to pursue in their younger years. It might mean traveling to see new and interesting places, visiting old friends or making new friendships with others who too are looking to expand their social circles. It also might mean contributing their time and love to serve those less fortunate than them.
In addition to the cost of never finding true happiness, long-term fulfillment, or peace, lacking self-esteem impacts seniors in many other ways. For example, by not getting to the source of their self-esteem issues, they sacrifice their ability to spend their later years in pursuit of those things they might otherwise love to do if only they felt more confident in meeting new people or trying new things. Without the burden of having to spend their week at work, they now may find themselves with enough free time to take up a new hobby, make new friends, or otherwise manifest their gifts in the world.
If our energy is spent by being preoccupied with our weaknesses or being incomplete with our past, we can never be fully present to today and so we sacrifice our true potential to live life to the fullest. Our relationships suffer as we will misinterpret the words and actions of others in a way that invalidates us and has us feel badly about who we are. We may be so driven to prove we are good enough that we sacrifice our personal effectiveness and charisma by focusing on ourselves and our deficiencies rather than on the wants and needs of others. We may play small and hide out in social situations or whenever the possibility of looking bad or “being found out” comes up for us. This is true for people at any age but often times more apparent to seniors who find themselves with too much time on their hands and a lacking belief in their ability to spend it in a productive or fulfilling way.
The answer to escaping the vicious cycle of lacking self-esteem, diminished confidence, and the never-ending, frustrating quest for fulfillment lies in the 3 step process I lay out in detail in The Self-Esteem Book. The process starts with healing one’s past so that it no longer robs us of energy and consumes our attention. Once the pull of past ghosts is complete, we can then turn our attention to properly analyzing our present state of affairs. We can identify what’s working in our lives and what’s missing to support living an upset-free life in choice, a life that honors our most important values and inspires us to live passionately.
And finally, we can take that magic wand that is our birth-right, wave it over our lives and design our future deliberately. We can choose to do so in a way that excites us, as we cast off that gloomy state of low self-esteem, unhealthy resignation and self-pity that no longer supports us. Advancing in age does not mean that we are any less capable of envisioning our dreams and mustering the courage to do whatever it takes to honor our values and create a rewarding and fun life for ourselves and those we love. We can declare our commitment to making our remaining years be the most fun, fulfilling, and meaningful years of our lives, simply out of a commitment to make this be so. We can live with the intention to honor our God-given magnificence and lead happy, fulfilled lives that fully contribute to others as we share our gifts with the world.
Dr. Joe Rubino is an acclaimed speaker and course leader, he is known for his work in supporting people to increase their self-esteem, team building, leadership development, listening and communication skills, life and business coaching and optimal life planning.
Dr. Joe offers powerful personal coaching to support life fulfillment. He is the CEO of The Center for Personal Reinvention an organization committed to the personal excellence and empowerment of all people. He has impacted the lives of more than 1 million people through self-esteem work, personal and group coaching, and personal and leadership development. He is a certified success coach in life planning technology and the co-developer of the life-changing course, Conversations for Success, a program that provides participants with the tools to maximize their self-esteem, productivity and personal effectiveness with others. His vision is to personally impact the lives of twenty million people to be their best and to shift the paradigm around resignation – that is, that anyone can affect positive change in their own lives and in the lives of others – if they believe they can.