What does feeling confident in your own worth have to do with your ability to take care of your health? Why is self-esteem so important to disease management?
For starters, let’s not take self-love for granted. I know some may cringe at the therapeutic concept of “self love” but really, why would you take care of something you don’t even like? Self-worth is one of the fundamental concepts I often address with the people who walk into my office because taking care of a disease like diabetes is a lot of time and energy to spend on something you don’t even believe has value. So many people, especially those in the thick of adolescence who are developing their own identity within the context of consumer culture are constantly and actively disliking themselves for not being enough (pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, etc) or being too much (too loud, too different, etc). So really, why would you take on the rigors of this 24/7 demanding condition if you didn’t believe you were worth all that work? Even if your disease does not require that degree of self-management, taking care of yourself can be a lot of work--from finding a good provider you connect with to diligently working your way down a list of medications until you find the one that doesn't give you belligerent diarrhea, you must believe something has worth in order to hang in there and care for it.
The second piece of this is that having a chronic condition means feeling and being different—not necessarily in a good or bad way, but there are things that diseases like diabetes require the folks who have it to do that are not a “normal” part of other people’s days.
Clinical research (not to mention the experiences of anyone who knows or has been a teenager) has shown time and time again that a normal part of adolescent development is the desire to fit in and connect with peers. So unless you live in some magical/horrific place where T1D runs rampant and everyone you know has it, doing things like bleeding in public or stopping in the middle of an avid game of Frisbee-golf to drink a juice can make you feel really different and alone. Many people (not just kids) will do just about anything to avoid standing out, especially when they fear they may be judged (and let’s face it, there’s a lot of stigma out there around chronic diseases, particularly diabetes). The need to appear “normal” and fit in often means skipping blood sugar checks and insulin doses—not exactly ideal diabetes management.
Those who have developed self-esteem in a healthy way and are able to own their diabetes are far more likely to see themselves as okay and take care of business, even when they are at risk of feeling singled out because they are not as susceptible to what other people think. So how do you promote positive self-regard and up your confidence?
- Notice what you do well. We're so good at fixating on where we fail and ignoring or minimizing when we succeed. Whether it’s diabetes-related or not, build on what you're already good at to create momentum. Noticing is a muscle, and many of us could use some targeted strength training.
- Take a frigging break from social media. Studies (and again, experience) show us that being inundated with the unrealistic (yet utterly convincing and wildly compelling) perfection of other people’s lives can lead to feelings of depression. Social media is a great place to compare yourself to others and feel like you’re coming up short. FOMO, anyone?
- Invest in a relationship where you can be yourself. Many of us have things about us that we swear, if anyone knew what they were, they’d run away screaming. One of the quickest and most powerful ways to develop self-esteem is to be vulnerable with another person you trust. We’re often our own worst critic, and you’d be surprised—what is a dealbreaker for us often isn’t a dealbreaker for someone else.