Redefining the Rules: The Power of Self-Esteem

Can you remember the moment you felt the most powerful in your life? I remember being a child riding my bike faster than I ever imagined it would go. Or maybe as a bartender in college, when I refused to serve the group of drunken men who were acting like assholes. Or that time, in a tech company, I challenged the all-male leadership team to reverse a sexist policy. Feeling powerful is potent; it is euphoric. It can change you mentally and physically. Why aren't we juicing that all the time?  

Woman mixing drinks in a bar

The key to feeling powerful is feeling confident, believing in yourself even if no one else does. When we feel confident, we shine from the inside out. According to one study, as we age, our confidence increases, but women typically do not exhibit the same level of assertiveness as men until midlife (Zenger Folkman, 2021). Societal norms, cultural expectations, and the relentless undermining of the patriarchy can batter our self-esteem and drain us of our confidence. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. By understanding how low self-esteem affects your life, you can implement practical strategies to boost positive self-perceptions and reclaim your power. 

Understanding Self-Esteem and Its Importance

To understand the power of confident women, it is essential first to explore the concept of self-esteem and its significance. Self-esteem refers to your overall sense of self-worth and encompasses beliefs about yourself, both positive and negative. It is intricately linked to mental health and plays a vital role in enabling you to reach your full potential. Women who recognize their inherent value are more likely to handle social situations gracefully, confront new challenges, and face life events head-on. The path to confidence begins with understanding, nurturing, and harnessing your self-esteem.

The Definition of Self-Esteem

At its core, self-esteem is the foundation upon which confidence is built. It revolves around valuing yourself and believing in your abilities, strengths, and worth. Sigmund Freud described self-esteem as the "nuclear factor" of mental health, signifying its fundamental importance in our well-being (Mourning and Melancholia, Freud, S., 1917. A person with high self-esteem possesses a positive overall assessment of themselves, embracing their strengths and accepting their weaknesses. This positive perception enables them to face challenges, embrace new opportunities, and maintain healthy relationships. In contrast, low self-esteem engenders a negative self-image, leading to self-doubt, insecurities, and isolation.

Dictionary page with the word "confidence" highlighted in green

Central to self-esteem is the belief in your capacities, both in personal and professional realms. When you recognize your talents, skills, and accomplishments, you approach new situations with the assurance that you can succeed. Self-esteem is not an unwavering state but a dynamic, fluid attribute that can be nurtured, developed, and strengthened over time.

Role of Self-Esteem in Confidence Building

Self-esteem plays a vital role in confidence building, empowering you to live your life to the fullest. It acts as a catalyst for personal growth, enabling you to overcome insecurities, negative thoughts, and self-limiting beliefs. When self-esteem is robust, confidence naturally follows, allowing you to navigate life events, social situations, and new challenges easily.

High levels of self-esteem make you more resilient. You recognize that setbacks and failures are part of the journey, but they do not define your self-worth. Women with strong self-esteem bounce back from difficult situations, using them as opportunities for growth and self-improvement.

Group of strong women standing together

Confidence, rooted in self-esteem, reaches beyond individual accomplishments. It influences how you engage with others, fostering assertiveness, effective communication, and the ability to set boundaries. Confident women portray themselves with conviction, leading to enhanced personal and professional relationships. Moreover, self-reliance fuels ambition, encouraging you to pursue your dreams and assert your worth in various spheres of life.

Causes and Consequences of Low Self-esteem

While high self-esteem empowers you, low self-esteem can have detrimental effects on your life. Identifying the causes and consequences of low self-esteem is crucial in understanding the barriers you face in your journey toward confidence and strength.

How the Patriarchy has Defined the Rules for Women

The societal, cultural, and historical norms that perpetuate low confidence levels in women can be attributed, in part, to the patriarchal influence. For centuries, women have been subjected to gender-specific expectations, limiting their potential and undermining their self-worth. The patriarchy, a social system dominated by men, has played a significant role in defining the rules by which women should abide. These rules often prioritize youth, beauty, and conformity, leaving little room for individuality, independence, and self-expression.

Women are bombarded with societal standards and perceptions of beauty from an early age, reinforcing that physical appearance holds immense value. This emphasis on external validation is reinforced so strongly in our culture that many of us never question it.

Power Structures and Conformity

Inequality arises when people with power limit the actions of others, leading to social and economic disparity. In societies where there is inequality, conformity is necessary for the powerful to remain in power. Pressure to conform to norms is designed to stifle individuality, suppress diverse perspectives, and limit our lifestyle choices. Even in "free societies," these expectations can show up in surprising ways:  

  • Gender norms: Often women and girls are confined to fulfilling roles as mothers, wives and caretakers. There is nothing inherently wrong with these critically important roles. However, when a woman's choice is removed it can lead to a cycle of inequality. 
  • Family expectations: Obligations or pressure to comply with someone else's expectations can lead to anxiety and erode self-esteem, preventing us from embracing our full potential.
  • Cultural expectations: Societal norms and cultural biases can limit our perspective, signaling that some roles and positions are not meant to be filled by women. These limiting beliefs can reinforce negative perceptions of our potential.
  • Comparison and social media: Constant comparison to others, particularly through social media, fuels feelings of inadequacy, leading to low confidence levels.
  • Negative thinking patterns: Persistent negative thoughts, self-criticism, and self-sabotaging behaviors contribute to low self-esteem, impeding confidence and personal growth.

Effects of Low Self-Esteem on Life and Relationships

Low self-esteem can have far-reaching effects on every aspect of a person's life, from personal relationships to professional endeavors. The consequences of low self-esteem include:

  • Hampered personal and professional relationships: Low self-esteem can lead to difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Women with low confidence may struggle to assert boundaries, communicate effectively, or believe they deserve respect and love.
  • Impaired confidence in social situations: Social events, public speaking, and interpersonal interactions can be daunting for individuals with low self-esteem. Overcoming social anxiety requires a solid foundation of self-confidence and positive self-perception.
  • Negative mindset and mental health impact: Low self-esteem is closely tied to negative thinking patterns, self-doubt, and an overall negative mindset. These factors contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low motivation, hindering personal growth and fulfillment.
  • Limited life choices and missed opportunities: Women with low self-esteem often settle for less than they deserve, hesitate to pursue opportunities, and fear taking risks. This self-imposed limitation can prevent them from experiencing life's many possibilities.

Exploring the Idea of Beauty and Age

The concept of beauty, as shaped by societal standards, greatly influences confidence levels, particularly for women. Challenging and reevaluating these perceptions, especially concerning age, is essential to foster a more inclusive, empowering definition of beauty and enhance confidence levels.

Societal Standards and Perceptions of Beauty

Society's perception of beauty has long been associated with youth, flawless physical features, and societal ideals that often exclude individuals who do not conform. Such standards can significantly impact confidence levels, particularly regarding women and their perceived value. Ageism perpetuates the notion that youth equates to beauty and worth, and as women age, they may feel marginalized, ignored, or "invisible." 

However, it is essential to recognize and challenge these societal standards, as they limit our understanding of true beauty. Beauty extends beyond the boundaries of age, encompassing wisdom, experiences, and the unique qualities that make each person remarkable. By expanding our definition of beauty, we create space for confidence to flourish, regardless of age or external appearance.

Challenging Stereotypes: Beauty Beyond Youth

Beauty is not exclusive to youth, nor should it be constrained by societal stereotypes. Embracing beauty beyond youth is an empowering mindset that can significantly boost confidence levels for women. By challenging age-related insecurities, confident women can rewrite the rules and redefine what it means to be beautiful.

When society embraces the beauty of women in midlife and beyond, it acknowledges our life experiences, resilience, and the confidence that comes with age. Confident women, regardless of their chronological age, exude a radiance and self-assurance that defy societal expectations, inspiring others to embrace their own journey of self-acceptance and confidence.

Building Confidence: A Powerful Tool for Women

Confidence is a powerful tool that enables women to navigate various aspects of life with strength, grace, and determination. By building confidence, you can overcome self-doubt, tackle new challenges, and cultivate fulfilling relationships. Here are some practical strategies to help you harness your inner strengths, develop self-assured mindsets, and embrace your full potential.

Harnessing Inner Strengths and Talents

Recognizing and harnessing inner strengths and talents is foundational to building confidence. You gain greater self-assurance and belief in your capabilities when you identify your unique abilities, such as creativity, leadership, or problem-solving skills. This self-awareness forms the bedrock upon which confidence and personal growth flourish.

Nurturing innate talents involves allowing yourself to explore new skills, hobbies, or interests. It requires stepping out of comfort zones, trying new things, and acknowledging that mistakes and setbacks are part of the journey. As a confident woman embracing the growth mindset, you will approach challenges with resilience, viewing them as opportunities for learning and self-improvement.

Cultivating Positive Relationships and Networks

Building and nurturing positive relationships is vital to cultivating confidence. Surrounding yourself with supportive networks allows you to receive validation, encouragement, and constructive feedback, fostering a sense of belonging and worthiness. The power of a robust support system cannot be underestimated, as it bolsters confidence during times of self-doubt and provides a safe space to explore personal growth.

Group of friends on vacation in front of the Queen Mary

Cultivating healthy relationships also includes setting boundaries, asserting needs, and prioritizing self-care. As a confident woman, you will understand the importance of maintaining your emotional well-being, realizing that caring for yourself enables you to show up fully in your relationships and pursue your passions with vigor.

Embracing Assertiveness: The Power of 'No'

Assertiveness is vital for confident women like you, enabling you to express your thoughts, assert boundaries, and make decisions that align with your values. The power of saying 'no' when necessary allows you to prioritize your needs, avoid unnecessary stress, and cultivate self-respect. Embracing assertiveness diminishes negative thoughts about yourself, reinforces confidence, and empowers you to navigate social situations easily.

You can cultivate assertiveness through effective communication, active listening, and recognizing your self-worth. It involves clearly expressing thoughts and opinions, advocating for yourself, and seeking compromise when necessary. Through assertiveness, you can create space for your voice to be heard, your ideas to be valued, and your confidence to flourish.

Empowering Women: Breaking the Status Quo

Empowering women goes beyond personal growth; it involves challenging societal norms and advocating for gender equality. By understanding and overcoming gender bias, we can rewrite the rules, inspire confidence, and shape a future where the potential of all individuals is recognized and valued.

Understanding and Overcoming Gender Bias

Recognizing gender bias and addressing its influence is crucial. Gender bias perpetuates societal expectations, shaping negative thoughts, limiting opportunities, and undermining confidence. By challenging these biases, you can reclaim your power, break free from self-limiting beliefs, and pave the way for confident people everywhere.

Overcoming gender bias involves dismantling stereotypes, advocating for equal representation, and supporting initiatives that foster equality. This could be as simple as interrupting someone when they are perpetuating a stereotype or supporting leaders who have a record of advocating for women and against biased and unfair systems. When confident women rise above societal expectations, we inspire others to challenge gender biases, paving the way for future generations of confident, empowered individuals.

Women as Leaders: Shaping the Future

The presence of confident women in leadership positions is instrumental in challenging the status quo, redefining norms, and inspiring confidence in others. As we take on leadership roles, we embody the characteristics of confident women, asserting our worth and shattering the glass ceiling. By becoming leaders, we shape the future, creating environments that value diverse perspectives, foster collaboration, and allow individuals to reach their full potential.

Leadership roles provide platforms for confident women to drive change, champion gender equality, and ensure that other women have access to opportunities, mentorship, and support. Through our influence, women leaders instill confidence in others, encouraging them to pursue their goals, overcome insecurities, and embrace their full potential.

The Importance of Positive Role Models in Improving Self-Esteem

Having positive role models can significantly impact your self-esteem, confidence levels, and overall sense of empowerment. I celebrate the evolving representation of older women in media and society. They inspire me on my journey to self-acceptance.

How representation of older women in media and society is changing

Have you noticed more and more celebrities are embracing their natural hair color, even if that color is grey? They are challenging previously held stereotypes and celebrating the beauty and confidence that comes with age. Women of all ages are beginning to see themselves reflected in media, breaking free from societal expectations that equate aging with irrelevance or diminished worth. Did you see Jodie Foster in True Detective? She is stunning. And she has those lines around her mouth, just like me! 

Jodie Foster as Police Chief Liz Danvers in True Detective
Photo courtesy of HBO Max 


We are starting to be portrayed as confident, accomplished, and vibrant individuals, defying ageism and fostering positive perceptions of life after 40. This shift is essential for mental health, as confident portrayals of women of all ages inspire a sense of pride, self-acceptance, and confidence among us. 

How confident women can inspire others

Confident women are powerful role models, inspiring others to embrace their confidence, celebrate their unique qualities, and break free from societal constraints. By sharing your stories, you can create connections, nurture empathy, and encourage others to address mental health problems, insecurities, and negative thinking.

As a confident woman, you embody the strength, resilience, and determination to overcome obstacles, pursue dreams, and make a positive impact. Your actions demonstrate that confidence is not an innate quality but a mindset that can be cultivated, nourished, and shared with others.

Practical Strategies to Boost Self-Esteem and Confidence

Building self-esteem and confidence is an ongoing journey that requires intentional effort and self-reflection. Here are some practical strategies that can help you boost your self-esteem, develop confidence, and rewrite the narrative of your life.

Adopting Self-Compassion and Kindness

Adopting self-compassion and kindness is a powerful strategy to strengthen self-esteem and confidence. Treating yourself with understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness creates a supportive inner dialogue, allowing you to embrace your imperfections, learn from failures, and cultivate a positive mindset. Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion can build resilience, foster self-worth, and help you overcome insecurities.

Practicing kindness towards yourself involves engaging in activities that promote mental well-being, such as self-care, mindfulness, and gratitude. By prioritizing mental health, you can create a strong foundation for confidence, cultivating a mindset that nurtures positivity, self-assurance, and personal growth.

Encouraging Personal Growth with Challenges

Embracing challenges is essential for personal growth and confidence-building. Confident women understand that stepping outside their comfort zones, taking risks, and confronting new things are pathways to self-improvement. Through embracing challenges, you stretch your potential, discover hidden strengths, and cultivate resilience.

Encouraging personal growth involves seeking out new experiences, inviting change, and embracing discomfort as an opportunity for growth. From trying a new hobby to taking on professional challenges, you invite opportunities that push your boundaries, expand your horizons, and foster confidence in your abilities.

Renee, co-founder of Here I Am, in her workshop

Using Meditation as a Tool for Self-Improvement

Meditation is a powerful tool that can improve mental health, confidence, and self-esteem. Regular meditation allows you to develop self-awareness, manage stress, and cultivate a positive mindset. By calming the mind and focusing inward, you gain clarity, reduce negative thinking patterns, and embrace a more compassionate view of yourself.

Meditation encourages you to let go of negative thoughts, limiting beliefs, and self-judgment. It fosters a sense of presence, grounding you in the present moment and nurturing your mental well-being. Through meditation, you can silence your inner critic, improve self-awareness, and tap into your full potential.

How can improving your self-esteem improve your relationships with others?

Improving your self-esteem can have a significant impact on your relationships with others. You are more likely to set boundaries and communicate effectively by boosting your confidence and assertiveness. This can lead to healthier and more fulfilling relationships where you no longer tolerate mistreatment or settle for less than you deserve.

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