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    How To Increase Your Self Worth And Keep Your Standards High

    Anna Myers

    It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s time to watch The Holiday and fantasise about living in Kate Winslet’s cosy, dreamy Surrey cottage. An annual watch-party of this holiday gem (pun absolutely intended) is always a cathartic and heartwarming experience capable of turning even the Grinch-iest moods into pure eggnog-flavoured, saccharine joy, but the 2006 Nancy Meyers classic is also much more than meets the eye. 

    For obvious reasons (read: Jude Law’s deadly curls + glasses + turtleneck combo) the Cameron-Diaz-moves-to-Surrey has always been a big hit, as well as my own personal favourite, but on my latest rewatch, what stood out to me the most was actually Kate Winslet’s crying-mess-to-powerhouse-woman narrative arc. Winslet’s Iris is a heartbroken woman on a mission to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend and colleague, Jasper, who recently got engaged to the woman he cheated on her with. Ouch. 

    In the past, I might have felt too frustrated by Iris’ inability to kick Jasper to the curb -–he’s a prime example of a deeply unlikeable character, and I never really understood what Iris saw in him or why she kept answering his weird emails and calls–– to sympathise with her. But her storyline is one of transformative power and long-waited actualization, and once you get over wanting to yell “Get away from her!” at Jasper anytime he’s on screen, Kate Winslet’s performance is a joy to watch. 

    She goes from someone with low self worth and a pinch of self-loathing to an enthusiastic and life-loving go-getter dancing around the Christmas tree surrounded by loved ones. You can pinpoint the exact moment things start to turn around for Iris, and that’s when she decides to --you guessed it-- raise her standards. 

    Let’s take a look at why that matters, and how you, too, can have your Nancy-Meyers-approved upgrade by following a few simple steps. 



    Why is self-worth important


    From the very first minutes of the film, Iris displays shockingly low self-esteem. "You know, I never realised how pathetic you are," her colleague tells her upon hearing about her love for Jasper, to which she replies: "Really? Oh God, I'm so aware of it.”

    It might sound like a funny, self-deprecating line, but it’s actually a sign of something much deeper at play. Without a healthy sense of self-worth, you’re more likely to experience depression and anxiety, be at higher risk of alcohol and substance abuse, learning disorders, and even eating disorders. There’s nothing funny about feeling pathetic and letting life pass you by.  



    Where does low self-esteem come from?


    Let’s get this out of the way: if you struggle to see yourself in a positive light, or increase your sense of self-worth in any way, it’s not your fault. More likely than not, how you feel about yourself is a reflection of how you were treated in early childhood, as your relationship with your primary caregivers and the people you were around as a child undoubtedly helped shape your opinion of yourself. Trauma, conflicts, and other types of challenges may have played a role, too, but without needing to diagnose things that we have no business diagnosing, we can also look at how “minor” clashes with a busy parent, a disapproving teacher, or mean kids on the playground can lead to an unhealthy sense of self later in life. Oh, and let’s not forget how society and the media play a role in this, too: especially for young women, who are hounded by ads telling them they’re not enough every day of their lives. 

    Understanding how your history and circumstances may have contributed to the negative feelings you may be experiencing can help you make peace with your situation, put your emotions into context, and begin processing them in order to repair your wounded self-esteem. 

    Plus, it’ll help you feel less alone, as you’ll realise that no childhood is perfect and we all have some baggage we need to work through to the best of our ability. Here’s a few psychology-approved ways to start doing that. 



    How to build and increase your self-worth


    When talking about how to combat low self-worth, UCLA’s Dr. Dan Siegel describes what he calls a “COAL” attitude: the acronym stands for Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving, and it details how you should approach your view of your own self and your experiences. The main thing to remember is that at every chance you get, you should aim to substitute being self-critical with being compassionate towards yourself, as this will help reshape the pathways in your brain that determine how to think and feel about yourself. 

    There’s a reason why most cultures, through centuries and millennia, all ascribe to generosity the power to change the world. Offering to help others, both in your close circle by showing kindness to friends and family, or volunteering for causes close to your heart, can boost your sense of self-worth and make you feel like you are playing to your purpose and life’s mission. In The Holiday, Iris’ shift begins when she starts helping out her elderly neighbour and finding meaning outside of herself, which is exactly what psychology experts recommend. 



    How to keep your standards high


    My favourite moment in the Iris/Jasper storyline comes at the end of the movie, when our rom-com heroine finally kicks her ex-boyfriend to the curb. “You have never treated me right, ever,” she tells him. “You acted like somehow it was my fault, and I was too in love with you to ever be mad at you, so I punished myself. But telling me that you don't want to lose me while you're still about to get married somehow newly entitles me to say: It's over.” It’s a real cheer-at-the-tv moment, and for good reason!

    It’s soul-crushing to see the smart, kind, gorgeous, sensitive Iris be put through the wringer by a narcissist like Jasper, but their toxic relationship is actually a very realistic sight. Having low self-esteem will often lead to letting others walk all over you, and it’s incredibly hard to raise your standards when you don’t feel like you deserve better than that in the first place. It’s a cliché, but nonetheless, a truth of life, that you need to realise your own worth before others can.

    Affirmations, positive self-talk, and of course, therapy, can all help get rid of the negative feelings that are holding you back in life. The kinder you are to yourself, the more you’ll expect the same from others ––and in time, you’ll realise why you shouldn’t accept anything less than the sky-high standards you deserve. 



    Some parting words of encouragement


    Our relationships ––with our romantic partners, but also friends, family, work colleagues, and total strangers we interact with–– are a direct reflection of our standards, and the expectations we have for the way we move through life. 

    If our beliefs shape our world, it’s crucially important that we learn how to create different sets of hopes and expectations for ourselves, so we can break through our limiting beliefs and stop denying ourselves the life that awaits us on the other side of self-loathing. 

    As Arthur tells Iris in our favourite holiday classic, “You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!” So let’s start acting like it, shall we?

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