Self-Esteem, the Bitch Who Rides Me.

Self-esteem’s a bitch. A whore who sleeps with everyone– seduces and charms, but chooses favorites. If she loves you, you bathe in the luxury of her love; you sleep well and wake feeling strong and beautiful.  Those who she shines favorably on don’t necessarily notice their good fortune. Like a well-loved child takes approval and love for granted, those who bask in the warmth, take social ease and confidence for granted. If you’ve got good self-esteem, you probably don’t really understand those of us who don’t.  If you are not wrapped in her love, self-esteem is a bitch who laughs as you chase her, as you beg to be noticed, as you work at fixing it, while sending anxious prayers up to a seemingly empty sky.

Armed with strong self-esteem, a person does not constantly fear that they have angered someone, said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing… that it, whatever the it may be, must be their fault. They don’t worry about rejection or second-guess intentions. They don’t worry about how to fix, fix, fix it.

Ironically, is it strong self-esteem to think that it must always be your actions that make things happen, that you can actually fix everything? Or narcissism? And there it is again: even the act of blaming myself for things that aren’t warranted, become another judgment: labeling my fears as narcissism, for questioning whether I’m being self-centered, or just a failure.

How can I explain the struggle to not judge myself? For each positive word or compliment sent my way, my own demons whisper a counter-attack, constantly hissing in my ear. I wear Teflon as armor– a sarcastic sense of humor is always in my pocket, as I allow the good to slide off, but the sticky, nasty bits cling and must be scrubbed off, wearing away the finish. Bits and parts that were broken or damaged early in the game, don’t heal completely, never exposed to the air– but hidden beneath the Band Aid of fear and defensiveness, self-doubt and self-recriminations.

Words, careless actions, slights… they burrow deep and cause further internal damage. I lie awake replaying conversations, scenes from a dispute– what did I do wrong? What should I have done or said differently? Even when the healthy part of me can see that it is someone else who owes an apology this time, or has blurred the lines, I struggle to make it right, and absolve with little regard for my own injury. “No, it’s ok… don’t worry about it.”

Figuring out all of those blurred lines is like swimming in honey: despite the sweetness it will still suck you down and drown you. Your body will tire as it fights the thick, gooey depths.

And yet… as I work on me, as I work on moving through it all, as I woo that bitch, I embrace the fact that she smiles in my direction more often than she once did. She winks; she smile; she throws me a crumb. She flirts and I notice her glow. That brief bit of light, that sweet glow, allows me to lick the honey from my skin, as I continue to swim.

Are you a confident person, or do you struggle with self-esteem. Do you cringe at compliments? Deflect them and move on? Or do you accept them graciously and say thank you? Share your thoughts in the comments. I welcome constructive or positive feedback.

I wrote this piece at the writer’s retreat last weekend. Since then, I came across this wonderful post on body image, and ultimately: self-esteem. I love Katrina Anne Willis’ writing. We have joked that we must be sisters… this is a particularly powerful piece of writing; check it out.

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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48 Responses to Self-Esteem, the Bitch Who Rides Me.

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve had to learn how to accept compliments, and I often rehash spoken conversations after a social event, but this stems more from being an introvert than having low self-esteem (introverts do these things). My self-esteem is okay. If I feel insecurity creeping in, I just remind myself of my favorite quote: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”―Eleanor Roosevelt (and Dr. Phil) 🙂


  2. Great post, and so cool you went to a writers’ retreat. Did you hear that Amtrack is offering one on between NY & Chicago? Would be fun to do. Self-esteem– a concept that didn’t exist when we were kids and seems to be the main tenet of child rearing now— I know I could have used some as a kid and now too.


  3. Oh self-esteem. That elusive little vixen. Here and gone. Mostly gone. Must be a writer thing, right?


  4. El Guapo says:

    Self-esteem isn’t a big issue for me.
    Taking compliments is. Ah well…

    Hope your self esteem gets a boost from your writing, because it really is a pleasure to read.


  5. Psychobabble says:

    I LOVE that honey metaphor. Sooo rich.
    I think there are a lot of gray areas with self-esteem. Meaning, I think it’s more complicated than you have it or you don’t. Cuz I have it (and when I say that, I mean it was cultivated for me as a kid, and I have been cultivating it for myself as an adult), but I certainly have my bad days….or weeks…when she seems to disappear. But she really never goes anywhere, I just bury her under crap called self-doubt.


    • These are excellent points Melissa… and no doubt, it isn’t really have or have not. I agree, I’ve over-simplified here. I was in the moment, writing… and thrilled when I kept it to under 500 words!! Probably a first. 😉 Thanks for your thoughts.


  6. This…! This! This! This!

    “Armed with strong self-esteem, a person does not constantly fear that they have angered someone, said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing… that it, whatever the it may be, must be their fault. They don’t worry about rejection or second-guess intentions. They don’t worry about how to fix, fix, fix it.”

    Thank you for this. And for the mention. And for the kind words, soul sister. XO


  7. Cathy Ulrich says:

    While I didn’t use to have self esteem, I think I do better at it these days. Interestingly, I’m also much less judgemental of others. While I’m not always successful, I try to go with the belief that were all doing the best we can given the circumstances – including myself and I try to give myself a break! Great post, Dawn


    • Thanks so much Cathy. I’m working on improving my own… again, two steps forward, and a few back from time to time. I do believe that we are all doing our best, but it’s hard to put that in actions sometimes. Thanks for the kind feedback!


  8. susanissima says:

    Thoughtful piece, Dawn. I love the way you tackle universal issues in your posts. Humans are wabi sabi, eh? We have our ups and downs and chipped parts. The problem seems to be what to do when you’re feeling down which, for me, is when I’m in a non-creative or blocked phase, or completely exhausted from doing other’s people’s work instead of my own. Then it’s time to take a break, to simplify one’s agenda, to go off by yourself or, as my wise mama used to say to, “be good to you.” What definitely seems to be true is that busy-ness does not increase one’s self-esteem…just the opposite. But maybe that’s just me.


  9. Pingback: Self-Esteem, the Bitch Who Rides Me. | ugiridharaprasad

  10. You had me with the title. I love how you describe self-esteem because she really is a whore. 🙂 I have the worst self-esteem and although it sometimes appears outwardly that I don’t, it’s just that I’ve learned to mask it. I do my best to accept compliments well in an attempt to make others more comfortable. I’ve learned to just say thank you even when I cringe on the inside. And it’s true, whenever I try to be confident, I feel conceited. I felt every word of this as of you wrote it about me. Love, love loved it!


    • Thanks so much Deanna! I have worked hard at learning to say thank you to compliments and not gag. It’s so true, I work at it so the other person doesn’t feel badly, but it’s always a challenge. Thanks for this thoughtful comment; it means a lot! 😀


  11. Dawn, I’ve faced discrimination from school mates from a young age for things that weren’t my fault so I developed a shell. I went to a school for a while where many of the kids didn’t like me because of my religion. I was also chubby and was called “fat”. Kids can be mean if you’re different. I told my kids when they were younger that not everyone was going to like them. Some people’s dislike of you is often for something that has more to do with their problems than anything about you. If you have a loving family, friends and your health, don’t worry about it. It’s their problem.

    I’m a religious person so God is the only one I worry about pleasing. I remember reading somewhere that a famous actor, I’m not sure who anymore, (I think it was the old actor Edward Everett Horton) said that he’d outlived his enemies so he didn’t care anymore. If someone doesn’t like me for who I am, the heck with them. I try to leave them alone and stay away from them. I have a loving family and enough good friends. I try to get along with people but I don’t worry about it if they don’t like me. That’s the least of my worries. I just put everything in God’s hands and do my best. It’s been said that God helps those who help themselves. I think He gave us common sense and expects us to use it.

    I hope you overcome your problems and get your book published. I know how hard you work at your writing and how well you do. You’ve also said you have a loving family, so you’re blessed. Take care of yourself and I wish all the best for you. I’m sure you’ll be fine.


    • Patricia, you are so kind and thoughtful. I really appreciate that you always leave such considerate and encouraging comments. You are so right, children can be so mean when you’re different… they can be mean when you’re the same! It seems you shared some very solid advice with your kids, and hopefully it carries them along in life. Thanks again for your wonderful words. 😀


  12. Katalina4 says:

    Dawn, I really love the rich voice in this piece, the deep reach inside, the tendrils struggling forth.
    Plus, well, I do relate very much to the subject matter… 🙂
    xx Kat


  13. Robin says:

    Self esteem, such a tough subject. I don’t think too many people have an all or nothing relationship with good or bad self-esteem. It’s there sometimes, it’s gone the next. There are certain truths I know about myself. I’m strong. I’m smart. I’m a good writer. I’m a good businesswoman. I’m a good mother. I’m attractive. But then the next minute I’ll look in the mirror and can’t believe how awful I look. I’ll have a bad week where I can’t write a thing and think I’m a failure at writing. I’ll let my kid play on the computer too long so I can do my own personal stuff in peace, and question myself as a parent. But thankfully, I don’t hold grudges and get over it quickly, starting with a relatively high self-esteem the next time I do something right. And gladly taking compliments from others because as Deanna above said, you really need to do that as it makes others uncomfortable if you argue with them on whether you actually deserve it. I’m glad you are seeing sparks of light on coming to grips with this too…thanks for your post!


    • Really wise words Robin. I do agree with the idea that self-esteem is transient for many, and certainly is very personal. I think I’ve struggled with it all my life but I try and keep digging out. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts; it’s much appreciated!


  14. Dylan Dailey says:

    Just read your story “Into the Blue” on Tipsy Lit and I thought it was fantastic. So you’ve got a new follower. Looking forward to checking out more of your work. Take care…


    • Thank you so much, Dylan and welcome to Tales From the Motherland! I’m glad you liked both posts. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts, and I look forward to hearing more from you. 🙂


  15. I feel you. I was raised in a home where I had no chance in hell of developing personal boundaries or a sense of self esteem. I was wallflower shy, was a doormat, and it took years for me to even realize that I had no self esteem. I’ve been working on myself over the past several years and have found that my biggest progress is when I use hypnotherapy. I can go back in time and basically rewrite beliefs and feelings. Been back at it lately and making wonderful progress. These days I can graciously accept a compliment.

    Beautifully written. Raw. Hopeful.


    • Susan, thanks for sharing such personal thoughts on a very complex topic. It’s so great that you have made progress on being a healthier person… for yourself, your son, and your life. Thanks so much for sharing!


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  17. I’ve been slowly coming back to reading all my bloggy peeps, and man, this was a good one for me to read today, My Lady. I especially love the title of this post. Self-esteem is a massive tease, she comes around for a little while, long enough for me to get a taste, and then WHAM! She’s gone. And then I wonder what happened, what’s wrong with me, etc etc etc. I read somewhere that it takes five positive comments to counter every one negative comment you receive. That’s not fair. And yet, it’s easy for me to remember all the negative comments, the digs, the slights, the mean things people have said. They all whirl around and make it impossible for me to remember the good things people have said. My therapist actually suggested that I literally create a catalog of the good things so that I can refer to them when the fog of negativity envelops me. Maybe that will help that self-esteem bitch come around more often.


  18. Nan Falkner says:

    Dawn, you are so talented! I love reading your material. It’s thought provoking, interesting, and most of all – fun! Thanks! Nan


  19. Jennie Saia says:

    I never would have guessed. It’s amazing what we deal with inside our own heads, and others might never suspect. This reminds me that everyone is struggling with something, and reinforces my admiration of you for not letting self-doubt stand in your way.


    • Thanks so much Jennie! I really appreciate your kind and supportive words. Try as I might, some days self-doubt does indeed stand in my way. I find myself very frustrated by that fact… It seems I should be able to get around it at this point in my life. However, I do believe that we all owe it to ourselves to keep working at it. So I just keep working at what makes me tick, and hope for progress. Again, thanks for the supportive words; they are much appreciated.

      Sent from Dawn’s iPhone



  20. Mike Lince says:

    I think my self-esteem fluctuates like barometric pressure depending on circumstances. I learned to be self-reliant at a fairly young age. I learned to graciously accept compliments while being just a bit wary that flattery sometimes came with the ulterior motive of manipulation.

    I think helping others is a great way to help oneself. I see people who are vulnerable as those most able to empathize and support others, like you do with your hospice volunteer work. I think the struggle to achieve self-esteem is offset by building self-esteem in others via a commitment to their well-being. Just knowing someone out there cares is often enough to build one’s sense of self-worth. If it helps, remember I am out there, and I care. – Mike


    • You’re the best, Mike! Thanks. In another comment, Jennie, pointed out that we can’t always know what shoes others walk in… I think of you as very confident and centered. Your presence is always comforting, in my world. I’m always grateful for your supportive words… and they always land so perfectly. This comment in particular, really touches me; thanks for that!

      Interestingly, what you note here is true for me… I find that much of my volunteer efforts, whether they be Hospice, working at a local agency that assists sexually abused kids, or tutoring seniors for their college essays… I feel empowered to help each of those individuals feel better about themselves. I am so much better at letting others know they are are valued, than telling myself that. However, I certainly get something from those efforts… I come home from Hospice each week feeling SO good. To comfort others is definitely a deposit in my own tank as well. Thanks for these wise and supportive words!


  21. Dawn, I love the end beat. Makes me wonder . . . Thanks.


  22. Hi, I am Sarah,
    I got here via Friday Fictioneers.
    I REALLY enjoyed this piece. Sorry to shout. 🙂
    Life right from birth tried to remove my self esteem but I am happy to report it wasn’t successful and my self esteem grows stronger with every year. Compassion,love and forgiveness grew alongside it so I have ended up reasonably OK. You have me pondering now on how interesting it is that some can survive such vicious assaults on self esteem from birth. I think it was my love of reading and seeing word pictures that things could be different and that I could be different.
    God bless the writers.


    • Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post; your effort is much appreciated! I hope you’ll check out some other posts, and share your thoughts.

      I think it’s really hard to know why some folks do well, and others (myself included) struggle with self-esteem. Many believe it starts with our family of origin, but that isn’t always true. I’m not sure I have a solid answer, but you’re right: it’s an interesting question.

      Thanks again for sharing your personal perspective. And welcome, again, to TFTM! 😀


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