PCOS and Low Self-Esteem: Part I
Posted by Allie on 30th March 2017
The year prior to being diagnosed with PCOS, I felt like a shell of the person I used to be. The weight gain, bad skin and lack of periods had made me feel, frankly, like I had nothing really to be confident about. It was when I was carrying out my Masters research study years later that I realised I wasn’t the only one. I interviewed six women with PCOS on their experiences of living with the condition. Not all of the women, but certainly the majority, spoke about how much PCOS had eaten away at their self-esteem and confidence, and threatened their sense of identity as a woman.
In the first of this two-part blog, we look at what self-esteem is, the causes of low self-esteem and why women with PCOS experience it. In the second part of the blog, we explore ways to build up your self-esteem and live more confidently with PCOS.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is fundamental to how you experience life and the beliefs you hold about yourself. It’s concerned with the value you place on yourself and the kind of person you think you are – your abilities and attributes. If you have healthy self-esteem, you’ll view yourself positively and generally deal with challenges that arise in life. Conversely, if your self-esteem is low, your beliefs about yourself will tend to be negative and critical, concentrating on your weaknesses or mistakes you’ve made.
What causes low self-esteem?
Different factors can lead to low self-esteem, which are individual for each person. Some factors that can contribute to self-esteem are:
- Negative childhood experiences
- Difficult life events such as bereavement, illness and unemployment
- Social isolation
- Personality such as a tendency to think negatively or developing negative thinking patterns, such as constantly comparing yourself to others
- Mental health issues
- Feeling ‘different’ to others
- Relationships with others people such as those who make you feel negative
- Discrimination and stigma
- Abuse - emotional, physical or sexual
Low self-esteem can manifest itself in behaviours such as avoiding people or certain situations, being passive, trying to please others all the time, neglecting yourself and getting defensive when you feel others are criticising you.
Why can women with PCOS have low self-esteem?
The physical changes that happen as a result of PCOS can be distressing and have a real impact on a woman’s self-esteem and sense of self. Some women with PCOS experience fertility issues, which can understandably lead to feelings of isolation and disappointment. Symptoms, such as acne, excess hair growth and weight gain, can be stressful to manage and may make some women feel like they’re different to others or stigmatised.
If your self-esteem is low, your beliefs about yourself will tend to be negative and critical, concentrating on your weaknesses or mistakes you’ve made.
An increasing body of research has looked at the psychological and emotional implications of having PCOS. Twelve women were interviewed in one study about their experience of living with the condition. Some of the participants referred to themselves as “outcasts” and felt their symptoms threatened their femininity (1). In another study (2) women said they felt “freakish” and that their excess hair growth was “embarrassing”, “distressing” and socially unacceptable. Women described feeling self-conscious about their excess hair growth in another study (3) and subsequently some of them avoided certain activities, such as swimming, sunbathing and meeting new people.
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: B.S. Snyder (2006) The lived experience of women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. 35 (3): 385–92
2: C. Kitzinger & J. Willmott (2002) 'The thief of womanhood': women's experience of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Social Science & Medicine. 54 (3): 349-361
3: M.G. Lipton et al (2006) Women living with facial hair: the psychological and behavioral burden. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 61: 161–168