“You are your own worst enemy” is totally true, but there’s more to the story, ladies.

editorial self sabotage is real

I can’t even count the number of times I have held myself back from doing something because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it perfectly. Why bother if I’m just going to do okay? Putting myself out there and then only fumbling through would simply be too embarrassing. These are at least some of the things I would tell myself before I would consider any risk, no matter how small. And the word “risk” came to be an all-encompassing term that defined anything outside of my daily routine.

Self-sabotage is all too common among women. Whether it’s holding yourself back from talking to a cutie at the bar or asking for a raise, self-sabotage has a lot to do with lack of confidence and a general feeling of not being good enough. It’s understandable why women would experience these feelings, too. Just look around at how media tells women how to be better, look better, act better, to just be different than who they are right now. Body image and a general appreciation of one’s looks are deeply troubled by this bombardment of perfectionist imagery to the point where considering yourself to be beautiful seems more egotistical and unrealistic than it does healthy and normal.

Media is easy to blame for assaulting women’s self-esteem, but it is just a part of the larger, systemic issue. Looking to the workplace has been the focus of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and a recent article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman for the Atlantic called “The Confidence Gap.” Both projects try to address self-deprecating behaviors and help women to achieve more. Even though women have been graduating in record numbers and breaking into male dominated industries, men still are holding onto the most powerful positions and income inequality isn’t going away.

According to Sandberg, Kay, and Shipman, the heart of the issue is that women too often feel incompetent when they are just as capable, if not more so, than men. And sure, as I mentioned before, a lack of confidence seems pretty endemic and understandable. Yet, telling women that the solution to this problem is being more confident misses the overarching impact of sexism on the psyche. Women live in a culture that doesn’t value their contribution to society. Women live in a culture that places tremendous importance on their bodies with a very rigid idea of “beauty.” So, telling women to value themselves more is obviously a critically important ingredient here, but realizing that this lack of confidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum is just as crucial.

As Tracy Moore of Jezebel put it, “So when the authors call it a ‘confidence gap,’ I have to wonder why they didn’t call it an ‘overconfidence gap’? Is the problem women not thinking they are good enough, or men thinking they are better than they are? In other words, they totally wrote the article like the women they describe: too willing to point the finger at themselves.” This hits at a major point. If we continue to tell women that the problem lies with their inability to see past their own insecurities, then we are again deferring responsibility from being placed on those who benefit from gender inequality.

So where does this leave us? There are plenty of interesting self-help to-do lists out there for women to learn how to be confident. And, yay! Go out there and build your self-esteem! I guarantee you’re a fabulous person, so give it a whirl! Not living in the past and being more optimistic can help in the immediate situation, but addressing why women hold themselves back so often requires a deeper cultural discussion on sexism and what causes women to feel so unworthy. I’d like to see a movement of equal caliber to Lean In that checks the over-rewarding of men’s excessive egos and lets women know then don’t always need to accommodate others’ desires and needs.


x For more on the confidence gap, read our other article here x