How can I be less intimidated by other women?
June 22, 2010 7:09 AM   Subscribe

How can I be less intimidated by other women?

Cutting to the chase, I have very little self-esteem. In fact, every ounce of self-esteem comes from what others, specifically men, think of me. I am in a long term relationship with a guy who is kind, caring, and everything anyone could ever want, but whenever he mentions, even in passing, another female, my insides squirm. This is extremely painful for me. I distrust almost every female (except my friends) and I feel I am in constant competition with them. I imagine that my boyfriend is mesmerized by every other female on the planet. Of course I can see when other men are kind or smart or funny, but they are not him, and they don't have all the love in my heart, and I don't think my boyfriend should ever try to be anyone else but himself. I change myself to impress whoever is around because I feel that no one really appreciates me. I apologize for being all "woe is me" but I'm at my wits end and am looking for some moral support.

Thank you
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You already know the problem- your self-esteem is centered in what men think of you.

Change that--- get a hobby or job that gives you fulfillment independent of your attractiveness in a man's eyes. It doesn't matter if it's artistic or literary or physically active or intellectual or heck even if you simply know everything there is to know about Lady Gaga-- find something you enjoy doing that you can shine at. Remember this might not come fast-- it takes time to get good at something.

If you already have several such somethings you're good at, I'm not sure how to change your mental interpretation of this success, but that's the real issue.

If, after you work on your self esteem issues, you still find yourself worried about your boyfriend's attention towards you, talk about ways he can express his emotion towards you that you might trust better. (Be it gifts, words, casual touch, whatever works for you).
posted by nat at 7:25 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a really good reason to go to therapy.

You know what you'd like to change, and you know that you need some skills to make those changes.

Mindfulness would be a good place to start. That is, being aware of what is actually happening in your environment vs what your brain/anxiety/insecurity is inserting into or overlaying onto events.
posted by bilabial at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You need to find successes in other areas of your life that will build your confidence. I don't know enough about you to make specific suggestions, but things like completing a hike that you didn't think you could or raising a certain amount of money for charity, completing a marathon, etc. Find personal challenges that you can reach for and obtain and start to build confidence.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2010

Well, it sounds like the core problem isn't the other women, but your self-esteem. If you thought you were awesome, you wouldn't care about the other women so much!

Maybe you could start by spending time thinking about
- what you like about yourself
- what you don't like
- what you admire in other people

Imagine that in ten years time, somehow you have magically become exactly the person that you would most like to be - someone you would respect and admire. What is she like? Never mind what other people think of her... what would YOU respect and admire about her?

Once you've worked out who that person is, maybe you can start working on being that person, and soon enough you won't care quite so much what other people think.
posted by emilyw at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

You already know the problem- your self-esteem is centered in what men think of you.

Oh, I wouldn't assume that. The crux of the problem is your attitudes toward women, not men. I think some of the above comments are being too dismissive of the idea of female-female competition. It's a very common and real phenomenon. It might be considered impolitic to admit this, but that has absolutely nothing to do with how true it is. You have a deeply ingrained set of thought patterns that probably can't be alleviated by just resolving to not care so much about "what men think of you."

You've already diagnosed your problem so clearly and articulately and with such brutal honesty that I don't know how much we'll be able to help. It's easier when someone posts a question with obvious holes in their reasoning so we can point them out, but you're already thinking clearly about the issue -- it's just that you're having trouble applying these thoughts in practice. If someone else can give some specifically practical tips for dealing with this, then great. But I'm thinking that the solution is going to have to be therapy or maybe some talks with a very close friend; it's beyond what we're able to do for you.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:38 AM on June 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

Do you have any female friends? If not, maybe that would help you view women as multidimensional human beings and potential allies, rather than just objects of sexual competition.

If you DON'T have a lot of female friends, it's because that kind of naked jealousy is quite offputting. There is nothing quite like a girlfriend coming at you with her claws out, over a boyfriend you don't even think is much of a prize.
posted by availablelight at 7:42 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you have any female friends? If not, maybe that would help you view women as multidimensional human beings and potential allies, rather than just objects of sexual competition.

Well, she says:

I distrust almost every female (except my friends)

So, presumably her female friends are separate from her issues with women in general.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:47 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tight rope walkers do not develop poise and self confidence only through success--they develop it through a willingness to fail. While it is very important to develop areas of your life where you experience mastery and competence it is equally important to know that if you"lose you man" to another woman you will go on to a fulfilling life. There are a variety of techniques to work on this--a skilled therapist can be helpful. However, only you can prepare your self to fall off the rope and walk it again. It is in accepting your own willingness to fail, not counting your successes, that will get you to be where you wish to be. There will always always be prettier, younger, sexier, brighter women around you-yep.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:49 AM on June 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

You already know that your self-esteem is causing you this trouble. I just wanted to chime in and say that you're not alone in struggling with this issue of deriving your self-esteem from what others think of you. I've found myself torn up over and jealous of other women for the stupidest reasons: She is such a great artist! She hangs out with a really interesting crowd! She has pretty hair! It's so easy to play this game and allow yourself to feel threatened and defeated by other women because of some perceived danger to your self-esteem. When I find myself freaking out about how much better I think these women are, I try to remember the good things about ME. I am a good cook, my skin is soft, I can sing along to the radio, I can make my friends and strangers laugh, I read a ton. These aren't necessarily the things that men or anyone else might compliment me on, but these are things that I like about myself. When my self-worth is feeling really low, I like to get busy doing something I love. I can really immerse myself in horseback riding or a yoga class for an hour or two and not once think about my flaws or traits that I lack--instead my brain has had time to reset and I leave feeling accomplished and at ease.
posted by gumtree at 7:55 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I change myself to impress whoever is around because I feel that no one really appreciates me.

I used to have this behavior too. In my case it came from the insecurity of growing up in a house with two mentally ill people. I had to adjust my moods, expectations, behaviors, and desires to what I perceived they needed me to be. (Where need = avoiding a meltdown, etc) It was safer to pretend to be this or that (even if all I was pretending was that I liked "Fantasy Island") than to be myself and risk exposing my real emotions and reactions to volatile reactions.

So why do you try to fit yourself into an existing puzzle of other people's needs and emotions? You have just as much right as they do to be smart, or a braggart, or talk during tv shows, or tell jokes, or be charming, or to sing along to the music in the restaurant. You are the only, wonderful you with your personality. It's time to own up to all of your personality, and to be the same person in every situation with every group of people. When you give yourself permission to be perceived by others in any way that they might think of--and to know that if they don't like it, others will!--you will be an integrated, happier person.

It's hard, and it involves a lot of self talk to do it, but it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: When you act more integrated, you will discover who truly appreciates (aka knows) you. And knowing that there are in fact people who know the real you and like you for it, whether women or men, will be the positive reinforcement you need to keep doing it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:59 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have a song for you.
posted by MsMolly at 8:20 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you talked about your anxieties with any of your women friends?
posted by Carol Anne at 8:22 AM on June 22, 2010

If you can find an arena to interact primarily with other women -- women's volunteer group, women's recreational sports team, women's church group, women's professional networking group, whatever -- where the women's interactions in that group are primarily positive and supportive, that might help a lot. It's a myth that "women are always undermining/competing with other women" but it's certainly true that there are groups of women wherein undermining and competition are normal. It's unhealthy and it tends to feed on itself. But it's also true that there are many, many women who form mutually supportive relationships and groups, and it can be very healing, if you are a woman who has troubled relationships with other women, to find such a group and learn how to be a woman-with-women in a supportive, healthy fashion.

I don't as a generally thing think there's a lot of difference between "men," "women," and "people in general," but because you do have a particular anxiety about interactions with other women, I think this kind of healthy interaction with groups of women could be a good thing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I only glossed over it, but this take on competition between women is a passable primer on a well-documented phenomenon that may be factoring into your mood here.

Of course I can see when other men are kind or smart or funny, but they are not him, and they don't have all the love in my heart

It's your low self-esteem telling you that your boyfriend cannot be thinking this exact same thing himself about you. He's with you. I know that's easy to say, but your brain is lying to you if he's given you no reason to doubt his fidelity. Fidelity in the overarching sense of "behaving as if he likes you," not just cheating.

Also, did you ever get cheated on? There can be a lingering "relationship PTSD" when it comes to that.
posted by rhizome at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2010

Some perspective from art: one, two, three. (Read the comments, too.)
posted by coffeefilter at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2010

I think you have to take a long, hard look at what messages you received about you as a person/girl/woman/female, and what you learned about other girls/women, particularly this stuff about female competition and that no one appreciates you.

You distrust women - so what is it about your woman friends that you trust? What are you afraid of in terms of other women and your bf - are you afraid that he is interested in them? Wants to have sex with them? Will have sex with them? Will leave you for one of them? That they are better than you? Keep in mind that he is with you. He chose you. He wants to be with you. Can you accept this as it is, and not question, "Why? There are so many other women out there better than me..." That's just perception. Again, he chose you.

every ounce of self-esteem comes from what others, specifically men, think of me
I think you're misleading yourself by thinking this. You may temporarily feel better when men approve of you, but self-esteem really comes from within. Start thinking about what makes YOU a great person, and what you like about yourself (cf. gumtree's comment). Start with one thing. Work to improve it. Or focus on it and remind yourself of it throughout the day. Start thinking about other things that you like about yourself, and keep working/focusing on those.

You don't think your bf should ever try to be anyone else but himself. Apply this loving and accepting attitude to yourself. You say no one appreciates you - but do you appreciate you?
posted by foxjacket at 10:42 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Patterns of Codependency matches much of what you describe. More info, meeting information.
posted by artlung at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2010

I recommend that you consider a hobby that puts you in competition with other women (say, an athletic endeavor, such as softball or swimming) that takes the whole man/dating thing out of the equation. Competing with others builds rapport, and you will, for certain periods of time, be thinking of other women as fellow-competitors.

My own hobby is bike racing, and the women's bike racing community is a very close-knit one. It's helped me (one who has never had many close female friends) enormously in building relationships with other women, relationships that are independent of men or dating or whatever you're fixated on at the moment.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2010

Getting older helps out a lot with this (not necessarily the problem, but the symptoms).
posted by Kloryne at 6:17 PM on June 22, 2010

I really think you should try not competing, for a bit, and see how you feel. Not even competing in your own mind. Not even allowing yourself to think about competing with others or them competing with you.

Have you ever know people who, with age, just cease to care what other people think of them and walk around with total freedom to say and do whatever? I was walking my dog in the park recently, and came upon a guy and his German Shepherd - the German Shepherd got into a kind of aggressive stance. The guy said, "don't worry, she won't attack, she just wants to be the Alpha." As we approached them I was nervous since I saw the other dog stiffen. But my dog (who is 14) reached her and just walked right by her aggressive posture without a glance, almost as if he was oblivious. The guys said "my dog is Alpha but your dog is beyond Alpha." That is the goal.

I think many people get to that point of not giving a crap when they reach a certain age, but I think it would be really freeing to get there before then. I do not think it will be easy to prevent your mind for thinking about competitions and sizing others up, and them sizing you up, and how to react/defend/etc. But I think it's worth trying.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:13 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

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