The Importance of Self-Esteem in Older Women

Low self-esteem and self-doubt about appearance or place in life may seem like a problem that women of a younger age probably experience. It’s like a classic trope - the insecure teenage girl or the lost, wayward 20-something looking for her place. Rarely are older women portrayed as insecure or self-doubting, perhaps because wisdom does actually come with age, or because women start to care less about the opinion of others as time and experience shape them. While age may factor into a woman’s confidence in one way or another, it would be unfair to assume that self-esteem may not be a serious problem for women of any age to face. The impact of lacking self-esteem can actually be pretty extensive, both physically and mentally.

Why Self-Esteem Declines as We Age

Change in Appearance Like we mentioned before, feelings of self-doubt or low self-esteem can impact anyone at any age, however, the set of challenges and complications presented to a 16-year-old girl that may be causing these feelings are likely to look quite different than the set of complications facing a 61-year-old woman. There can be so many reasons for the decline in confidence, as everybody is different and everyone’s experiences that shape them are different. However, there are some common factors that may be contributing to declining self-esteem in women of the age of 50. Change in Appearance - It is common knowledge that as we age, our bodies begin to change. Hair turns gray, skin begins to sag, wrinkles form, and we gain a little weight. While all of these changes are completely natural, our society is geared to cater and advertise towards younger people that oftentimes do not reflect what older women actually look like. Perceived Negative Milestones - As we age, we hit a lot of “milestones” in our lives. Most are positive like becoming a grandparent or retiring, but some are negative like the loss of a loved one or spouse or having to downsize living space. These are tangible reminders of one’s age. Health Complications - Developing health problems becomes more likely as we age, but these can also have a huge impact on self-esteem and the feeling of independence. While some complications may not present themselves as serious or debilitating, they can still be embarrassing or inconvenient, like light bladder leaks or arthritis. Money - With retirement comes a loss of income, and while plenty of Americans have set up retirement funds and receive financial assistance through government services like Social Security, plenty of older people are finding themselves in financial dire straits. In addition, our society has long projected the message “money = power and status”, so for older people to not have either may take a blow to self-image. Feeling Ignored - A 2014 study of 2,000 women over the age of 45 revealed that they often times felt “invisible”. Here were the results:
  • 75 percent felt ignored by men when they walked into a crowded room.
  • 50 percent felt as if they’d been “left on a shelf” and were judged negatively because of their age.
  • 60 percent felt that society was geared toward younger women.
  • 50 percent wished there was more focus on the plight of older women.
  • Only 15 percent of the women surveyed reported feeling confident in any area of their life.

The Impact of Low Self-Esteem

Isolation Obviously, no woman wants to have low self-esteem, but there can actually be some serious impacts on both mental and physical health, and this can be devastating for older people. Mental Health - Constant negative thoughts and lowered self-esteem can lead to developing mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, which both have their own set of physical side-effects. Isolation - Lowered self-esteem may also lead individuals to cancel plans and avoid friends and loved ones because they don’t feel worthy enough to reach out and communicate. This becomes especially common in older adults, that have smaller social circles, to begin with. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. Increased Cortisol - Cortisol, is the chemical in the brain that is naturally released whenever humans are stressed. In normal situations, “it is to help the body use up stored energy reserves by increasing metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. This process primes the body and mind for survival via the fight or flight response.” When cortisol is released too long in the system over too long a period of time, it can raise blood sugar levels, inhibit bone growth, and decrease immune function and impact memory. Recent studies have found that lower self-esteem led to increased cortisol levels in older men and women, leading to the conclusion that higher self-esteem has the potential to lower the risk of developing these problems in older age.

What to Do

Reach Out Low self-esteem can lead to some serious problems in people of all ages, but it can have a serious, long-lasting impact both physically and mentally for older women. Of course, there are a few tools and resources that women and loved ones can use to help with self-esteem and confidence. Take Care of Physical Health - Taking care of the outside can make a serious difference on the inside (and vice versa!) Make sure to bathe and take any necessary medications. Take care of any health problems that may pop up in a timely manner - use lotion if you have dry skin, try drinking more water, try different bladder support devices like Revive® to help reduce leaks. There are plenty of ways to make sure that the outside is clean and healthy so that your inside can feel the same. Reach Out - As hard as it may seem, reaching out and talking to loved ones is important to get help before lowered self-esteem develops into something more serious. Friends, family, coworkers - anyone you’re close to can be a resource. Talk to Your Doctor - If you feel helpless, are having suicidal thoughts, or are struggling to find help, talk to a doctor. They have the tools and resources to help you appropriately.