Having healthy self-esteem means that you have confidence. You feel sure about what you can do. You like who you are as a person and you respect yourself. It means that you can see the value of being you. And, it definitely makes being a decent speaker a whole lot easier. Fortunately, your self-esteem is within your power to manage and improve.
Since February is International Boost Self-Esteem Month, I thought it would be a good idea to give you some pointers on how to avoid the kinds of people that can drain you of your self-esteem. I talked a little about this topic in my weekly Facebook Live on January 25: “Setting Boundaries with Frenemies.”
Self-esteem is important because how you view yourself guides what you believe and how you feel. It also impacts how others feel about you. I hope you see how this can affect your effectiveness as a speaker, as well.
Unfortunately, there are leeches that can latch onto your self-esteem and drain it dry. You want to protect yourself against these kinds of people, and sometimes, that means making the difficult decision to distance yourself from people who are close to you.
1. The Negative Leech
This is a leech drains your self-esteem through conversations. You can recognize this leech when they will try to make you feel bad about yourself. Their words sound okay but are said in such a way that they erode how you feel about yourself.
Here’s an example: “Your dress is beautiful. It would look better on you if you’d lose a few pounds.”
The first part of the comment is kind, so you become relaxed and open. The blow comes next, catching many people off guard.
This kind of commentary affects our self-esteem because we internalize it, making what was said more about us than about the person who said it.
How To Deal with the Negative Leech
Negative leeches can only walk away with your self-esteem if you allow them to. So you need to disarm them as quickly as possible.
For example, respond to a comment like in the example above with, “That’s kind of personal. Why would you say something like that?”
People who tell you that you’re ugly, or fat or stupid or worthless are self-esteem leeches. Don’t give them another second of your time. Don’t put up with these types of comments.
Keep in mind that you are not what they believe of you. Their statements are a reflection of them and their own self-worth, not you.
Don’t Become a Negative Leech Yourself!
Sometimes the Negative Leech in your life can be found in the mirror. We tell ourselves that we’re ugly or fat or stupid or worthless. We erode our self-esteem ourselves.
The sad thing is, you were not born with this kind of self-talk. You learned it from a Negative Leech, probably when you were young and vulnerable.
When you catch yourself being the Negative Leech, stop and turn the statement around. For example, “You’re fat!” can become, “I’m working on becoming more healthy” or, if that feels wrong, perhaps “I’m a work in progress.”
2. The Social Media Leech
Although all sorts of wonderful things have been made possible by social media, it has also opened the door for so many people to become leeches.
They bully and they tear down others, they drain away at the self-esteem of others in order to build themselves up. They say snarky comments to people that can sting way down deep.
Most people take the comments of perfect strangers to heart and don’t take the time to recognize the comments for what they are: the attitude and actions from someone who doesn’t have the capacity for online maturity.
How To Deal with the Social Media Leech
You have to ignore comments that try to tear you down on your social media sites. There are many people who consider themselves expert trolls, whose sole purpose is to cause friction online. It’s their form of entertainment.
Social media can be a self-esteem leach if it causes you to look at someone else’s life and wish that were your life. What you need to remember is that social media presents a false balance of life to the world.
You only get a peek at it. The perfect house, the perfect family, the smiles and laughter and heavily edited photos don’t show the true picture. Don’t let these false representations tear down your self-esteem.
A lot of social media is embellished because people find it easier to present a better version of their lives, and it often greatly differs from reality. Keep in mind that many people are too self-conscious to speak up about the sad side of their lives.
3. The Mistake Leech
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t make mistakes. Some people make a lot of little mistakes, while others make mistakes that are pretty big. But you must realize that the mistakes that you’ve made do not define who you are.
For example, I have both ADD and Dyslexia. Therefore I’ve been making mistakes all my life – spelling mistakes, distraction mistakes, etc. But I no longer let these annoyances get me down. They don’t define me, they are mere inconveniences and I’ve learned many techniques for reducing their chaotic influence on my life.
Mistakes are not a picture of your future. They are simply something that happened that can offer you the opportunity to learn from the situation. The Mistake Leech presents itself in this area by not allowing you to move on.
When we make mistakes, it’s often those closest to us who won’t let it go. (Remember the Negative Leech?) They remind you of your mistake and it can feel like they’re rubbing your nose in it. They remind you how you tried to start a business and failed, how you ruined your finances, how they warned you that the guy or girl you were crazy about was bad news. Or, in my case, they remind you about that one Christmas when you were little and got up in the middle of the night and ate all the Christmas cookies. (My grandpa called me “Bottomless Stomach” for years!)
These Mistake Leeches can be hard to take, but even more so when you’re the one putting the Mistake Leech on yourself. You remind yourself about how you failed. (Been there, done that, not good.)
How To Deal with the Mistake Leech
Get rid of this self-esteem leech once and for all by telling yourself that it’s over and you’re moving on in the right direction. Learn from your mistakes so that you will do better next time. Fail forward!
Tell others the same thing if they keep bringing it up. Don’t drag your mistakes around with you and don’t let others pile them on you, either. Take a firm stance against having the past thrown in your face to knock you down as you try to better your life.
4. The Approval Seeker Leech
Some people have a laid-back personality. Others have a more forceful personality. Both have strengths to offer. But the problem arises when someone with a stronger personality decides what your life should or should not be.
They try to make it so that you have to seek their approval in every aspect of your life. When you try to do something on your own, they’re quick to tell you why that won’t work and how it’s not smart for you to attempt it.
What this does is erode your self-esteem until you’re driven to come to them for advice and help with whatever you want to do in life. These kinds of leeches keep you dependent on them for your happiness (and theirs) and you surrender control of your life to them in return.
How To Deal with the Approval Seeker Leech
You don’t need approval to be who you are and to live the kind of life you want. Your actions are your own and you are smart enough to reach for your dreams without having to seek approval.
If you don’t know the way that you should go, take a deep breath and relax. You will learn. You are capable. You don’t need anyone else’s stamp of approval for your path.
5. The Comparison Leech
This nasty leech is one that we put on ourselves. It is a very common leech and it can erode self-esteem pretty quickly, leaving you feeling unhappy with your life – even when you have a pretty good one.
This leech makes you feel like you’re not doing a good enough job with handling your life because it fails to measure up to someone else’s. Even a multi-millionaire can suffer from this as he compares himself to a multi-billionaire. This leech is often described as “Imposter Syndrome.”
The Comparison Leech piles on us when we feel jealous of someone else. Perhaps we think they have a better life partner, a nicer house, a newer car, more expensive clothes, a better job, are a better speaker – the list can go on.
This kind of comparison robs you of living your own life your own way. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life and looking at it from the outside can often give you a distorted view. You know the saying, “the grass is always greener…”
It could be that you have more freedom than they do. That you’re not in debt like they are, that you’re not dealing with the emotional situations they’re hiding from the world. You never know what’s truly going on with someone else.
How To Deal with the Comparison Leech
Get rid of this leech by recognizing and being grateful for the good that you have in your own life. Refuse to allow negative feelings to tower over someone else’s seemingly good fortune. Besides, you don’t know what is actually going on behind the curtain – the Wizard of Oz may just be an aging street magician from Kansas!
6. The What-Others-Think-of-You Leech
We assume that people are thinking thoughts about us that are less than kind. We believe that they’re having conversations and our names are cropping up. In these conversations, nothing good is being said. They’re surely discussing the way that we look, how poor our products are, or rumors they’ve heard about us.
Believing this makes us feel self-conscious and awkward. It robs us of what could be beautiful friendships and new opportunities because we shy away from these people or we keep them at arm’s length – afraid to say or do something that will give them more fuel to think about us or talk about us negatively.
How To Deal with the What-Others-Think-of-You Leech
You can get rid of this leech by realizing that other people really aren’t dwelling on you or your life. We are all tuned into station WAM (what about me?). Everyone is far too busy thinking about their own lives to keep up with someone else’s.
So don’t let yourself dwell on what you think others are saying. Worst-case scenario, you’re right – they are ridiculing you. So what? Other peoples’ opinions have no place in your life. As the wise man Dr. Seuss once said, “The people that mind don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t mind.”
7. The Perfectionism Leech
This is the leech that will not allow you room to truly live. When you allow this leech to attach to your life, you don’t leave room for much good because what happens is this leech brings with it the waiting game: You have to wait until everything is perfect for you to make that move personally or professionally.
When the Perfectionism Leech get ahold of you, you don’t take chances with new ideas or ventures because perfectionism doesn’t welcome mistakes. (This leech often works hand in hand with the Mistake Leech.)
You can begin to develop an all or nothing mentality. Perfectionism is a terrible leech because it can leave you feeling bruised inwardly. You’ll beat yourself up every time you make a mistake.
And since you will make mistakes as long as you’re breathing, you’ll go through life thinking that you’ll never be able to do anything right. The Perfectionism Leech will convince you that you will never be good enough.
You’ll walk around believing that you’re a failure before you even attempt to do anything. This leech keeps many people stuck in a life of wanting more but never having it because you would have to risk failure.
How To Deal with the Perfectionism Leech
Let yourself be less than perfect. Strive for excellence, not perfection in what you do. Do the best you can at any given moment and work at becoming better, knowing that mistakes happen, and you can learn from them.
Set reasonable goals, ones you know you can reach. You can always strive for a bit more once you know you can do one thing well. For example, give yourself enough time to complete a task so that you aren’t always missing your own deadlines.
8. The Drama Leech
A Drama Leech behaves as if whatever is going on their life is absolutely the most important thing – and you must help them deal with it immediately.
You have to put your personal or professional life on hold in order to bolster them up and keep them from going under. If you do, they will come back for more aid every time they need help.
This destroys your self-esteem when it reaches the point where you can’t be there for them. Their needs have begun to impact your life negatively. Your significant other, your children, sometimes even your pet become unhappy about the amount of time the Drama Leech takes you away from them.
You miss work or you can’t concentrate on work because the Drama Leech is taking up your time or dominating your thoughts. Your boss tells you that you’re just not cutting it at work anymore, or a business partner feels let down by your lack of focus and commitment.
This drama usually comes from toxic friends or family – but it can also be people in your professional life – and if you don’t rush in to rescue them, they turn on you.
They’ll say that you’re not doing enough to help them. You’re not loaning them money, holding their hand, rushing over every time they call. They’ll slap ugly labels on you or tear you down. I’ve even had Drama Leeches try to turn other against me through social media or word-of-mouth. Thankfully, my true friends know me better.
In an effort to guilt you into helping them, they’ll say you don’t have enough empathy, you’re mean, or you don’t love them enough. They might even ask how you can be so selfish.
When they say negative things about you, you can begin to believe the problem is you. Especially if you’re dealing with several family members or professional acquaintances in a group who are Drama Leeches, it can be a big drain on you emotionally and physically.
How To Deal with the Drama Leech
To deal with this leech, you have to understand that for some people, drama is a lifestyle. While it may be true that they have problems, even a lot of problems, if you’re always the one that rescues them, you’ve entered into a co-dependent relationship.
When you’re always putting out fires for others and you realize someone is leaning on you too much, put your foot down and become unavailable so that they’re forced to handle things themselves – or find someone else to turn to instead of you.
Yes, they’ll be frustrated with you. They may even lash out. But that’s because they’re not comfortable handling their own life obstacles. You don’t want to enable them anymore. This is tough love, but it could be the best thing you’ve ever done for them.
9. The Disempowerment Leech
When your self-esteem is strong, you can speak boldly and with confidence about who you are and what you do or want from life. Disempowerment happens when others don’t value what you do or what you want, and you let that get to you.
For example, let’s say you want to go to an Ivy League college. A Disempowerment Leech might say, “Oh, they let anyone in there now.” This devalues your hard work and effort. It steals your sense of accomplishment and pride.
But you can also put this leech on yourself. For example, if you’ve always wanted to run an online crafts business and someone asks you want you do, if you downplay it, that can begin to deplete your self-esteem.
How To Deal with the Disempowerment Leech
First, don’t let what others say discourage you. Take what they have to say with a grain of salt. That said, if the discouraging comment is said with love and compassion, it might be worth giving some thought – not to put yourself down, but perhaps to re-evaluate what you told them. Perhaps they see something you might have missed.
For example, let’s say you want to quit your job and start a business. A Disempowerment Leech would say something like, “You don’t know how to run business! How do you think you’ll make a living?” However, a loving friend might say something like, “That’s great. Have you created a transition plan for leaving your job so that you know your financial needs are covered?”
Do you see the difference? The first is tearing you down, the other is adding information that you might not have thought up and doesn’t assume that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Second, if you’re the Drama Leech, work on respecting your accomplishments. Don’t downplay them or make light of your hard work.
You can recognize if you’re disempowering yourself by how you speak about yourself or your life. If you say, “I wish I could start my own business,” this is a disempowering way of thinking. Instead, change that to “I am starting my own business” or “I’m working my plan to leave my job and run my own business.”
10. The Conforming Leech
This is the leech that looks at how things have been done and doesn’t see a way to do it any differently. Its strength is found in tradition, in the way that things have always been done instead of the way that things can be done better.
This leech erodes your self-esteem by insinuating that your ideas are foolish — that there’s no way they’ll work because no one else has ever been able to accomplish them.
You can talk yourself out of trying anything if you allow the Conforming Leech to dictate what you do or don’t do in your life. You might hear this referred to as the “road not traveled.”
The reason the road isn’t taken, and new ventures sometimes don’t get off the ground, is because people are afraid to stand out, afraid to run with an idea that others say can’t be done or is different from the norm. This is related to Tall Poppy Syndrome, a cultural belief “where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers.”
When you have an idea and you tell yourself that it’s foolish or you allow others to convince you that it’s foolish, your self-esteem takes a hit because you can start to believe that you’re not as smart as others who’ve found success.
How To Deal with the Conforming Leech
Start believing in innovation again. That’s how life changes for the better. Stop putting limitations on yourself and free yourself from all of the chains that bind you. And, as you move forward, remember to stay humble so that you don’t start putting others down on your way up. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be inspired to follow in your footsteps!