This weekend Dear Abby has a terrific letter from a teacher who wrote about the importance of bolstering self-esteem in kids. She said that she identifies kids in her class who suffer from low self-esteem and makes it a goal to find ways to show and tell them that they are worthy. In her letter she talked to parents about finding ways to encourage their children, help them to feel good about themselves and so on.
I suffered from lousy self-esteem for so many years, and it all began long before I ever realized that was the problem. I don’t know why it started and, honestly, I don’t know how resolved the issues. I suspect that the answer in both cases lies with family. I think there are also elements of self-actualization, or lack thereof, mixed in as well.
When I was younger, I measured myself in comparison to others and always felt that I came up far short. I would never be as great, accomplished and revered as my father. I wasn’t as smart or as good a student as my brother. I wouldn’t be as universally loved or loving as my mother. I created these opinions and they were my “truths”. Once established in my psyche, it didn’t matter that Mom, Dad and J didn’t set out to make me feel these things. This was my story and I stuck with it and every experience reinforced the negative feelings. The feelings fed my eating disorder, the eating disorder packed on pounds and reinforced the feelings. Damned vicious cycle.
I also counted on my father to be my safety net as well as my yardstick. When I graduated college and got a job that I not only liked but was good at, my confidence grew, but I still viewed my achievements through the Dad filter. This was not a period of great self-actualization by any means.
Small wonder that when Dad died, somewhat unexpectedly, my confidence fell apart. In addition to tremendous grief, I was completely stressed out and had an incredibly difficult time dealing with it. I hadn’t build enough foundation within to support myself in this difficult times. It was awful. This kicked off an almost ten year period of really crappy, stressful times with successes, failures, situations that were emotionally damaging and devastating to my self-esteem.
Eventually I got into therapy and then OA. Even if I didn’t achieve long-term weight loss, the work began to knit up the shredded self-esteem, shore up the crumbled confidence and allowed me to build a better foundation for the future. I think in this period began the greater awareness of my own abilities, talents and strength. The self-actualization. I became my own measuring stick instead of relying on myself.
I brought a stronger, more confident and balanced person to my relationships with my family and friends — including the two youngest bundles of awesome — my nephews. I felt closer to my brother and sister-in-law. Mom and I had always been close, but there was a different maturity to our mother-daughter bond. I no longer felt second best to the people I loved. I was secure with the people that mattered most. It was great enough to feel that from my adult family members. Added to it was the fact that A and J thought Aunt Mary was the coolest. Yes, that was an incredible self-esteem bolster.
When Mom was diagnosed with cancer, then suffered strokes and the seizure problems, I became her primary caregiver. It was hard mentally, emotionally, and physically. Caring for her, working with my brother and sister-in-law and Mom’s doctors to determine best treatment plans and everything when she couldn’t do it on her own, doing what she needed — My friends, I know that nothing I had ever done before, nor would again, would be that important. Ultimately, we could not save her life, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that we could have done better than we did.
As devastated as I was when Mom died, and as long as I mourned her after (still miss her today), I didn’t fall apart like I did when Dad died. Sure I was older and more mature, but even more, was the self-actualization, the confidence, the improved self-esteem. These carried me through. The experience also set me up for the transition to what has been the last, great 12 years of my life. In my job today, I have the most responsibility on the largest scale that I ever did and am part of a mission far greater than I had ever before experienced. I am more confident in my ability to do this job today and with whatever challenges might crop up in the future.
I could not have done this job 20 or 25 years ago. Today I have no doubts. The confidence, the self-esteem are real. When I think of this in terms of my weight and obesity issues, I have to wonder. Maybe it really did take me getting to my strongest place emotionally with solid self-esteem before I could succeed with the weight loss surgery. I don’t know. I’m only glad that I’m in that place today.