Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self Unsteem

I have a wish, a wish that I am very passionate about!  It's a big factor in why I'm writing this blog and why I am attempting to be so completely vulnerable.  I wish that women would see how amazing, valuable, inspiring and beautiful they are!  I wish they could see themselves the way their husband and kids saw them!  I wish there was a camera filter (NOT PHOTOSHOP) that allowed us to truly see ourselves the way others see us.  That filter would exemplify all our positive characteristics, erase the little lumps and line (that only we see anyway) and inform everyone of our talents, skills and fantastic personalities.  It would show how giving we are, that we would jump into a den of ravenous lions to save someone we love and above all, how gigantic our hearts are.  Wouldn't it be great if we could walk down the street and hear someone catcalling us, "Ooooooh weeee, look at the size of the heart on that chick!"

Unfortunately, instead of seeing ourselves in a positive light we are instead bombarded with the idea that we are not good enough.  We can never be thin enough, pretty enough or sexy enough.  Not only that, but there is conflicting messages about what those things look like.  Sometimes we are told to dress revealing, other times we should be refined.  Sometime we are supposed to be super skinny, others we should have muscular definition.  One thing is for sure though, we are supposed to be at the end of our journey of self betterment.  We are already supposed to be flawless. 

I know, we have heard all the same things over and over before about how no one is perfect.  Even the ideal woman we strive to be had been worked over by and entire team of professionals and then airbrushed on top of that.  That doesn't make us any more accepting of our own flaws.

Even when our self esteem is abominable many of us never really bother to work on it.  We assume that there really isn't anything that can be seriously done to fix it and we don't know how to change the way we think.  Even if you have someone complimenting you constantly, that still won't necessarily change your perception of yourself.  We also tend to believe that it doesn't really matter if we have bad self esteem.  We don't think it affects anyone but us and so we see no reason to do the hard work of actually fixing it.  It's also possible that we COULD think that having slightly poor self esteem is a good thing.  I mean, we aren't supposed to be proud and we are supposed to be constantly trying to improve ourselves, so couldn't a bit of bad self esteem keep us from getting too proud and give us a project to work on?  It's really amazing the justifications we can come up with for avoiding a problem.   

The problem is, our bad self esteem DOES effect others.  I'm sure you're first going to jump to the conclusion that I am speaking here to mothers of young daughters.  Though that is definitely one relationship where our self esteem matters, it is not the only one.  Our self esteem also can be a detrimental factor in our relationship with our sons, family, friends and husbands, too. 

When we think negatively about ourselves, even when we attempt to hide it, the changes in our attitude towards ourselves can have an impact on how we interact with people.  In friendships, we might shy away from developing a closer friendship because we might not feel like we are as "good" as that other person.  We might also not participate in certain activities or do things we enjoy with these people, out of fear of how we look.  For example, we may never go swimming out of fear of being seen in a bathing suit. 

If you have ever opted out of an activity because you were nervous about wearing the specialized clothing for it, or out of fear of being photographed during, your self esteem does affect your quality of life.  If something is preventing you from living your happiest life, then it is definitely time to work on it!

As far as our relationship with our children goes, we know that our relationship with them will be one of the most influential in forming who they are.  If we don't think that much of ourselves they will see that and it will become a part of how they think about themselves.  Our daughter sees us putting tinny portions on our own plate and saying, "I just want to loose a few pounds", and they hear, "it doesn't matter if I'm hungry or healthy, what matters is my size."  Little girls hear everything we say and it becomes part of who they are.  A sigh when we look in the mirror might not seem like a big deal to us but for our formative daughters that might encourage them to start looking for the faults in their own face.  We need to remember that our kids understand that half of who they are comes from us.  If we aren't happy with ourselves, that gives them the impression that we aren't happy with half of who they are either.  If you also are having troubles with their father and show some type of dislike for him, your kids will be less confident in who they are.  We would NEVER want our kids to feel that way, so it's time to start treating ourselves (and our husbands) with respect so our kids see they are worthy of respect too!

Have you ever thought about what having bad self esteem tells your husband?  It shows him we don't trust his judgment.  After all, if we think so negatively about ourselves, what does that say about the intelligence of someone who would choose to be with us?  Every time we complain about something that is "wrong" with us we are subtly telling him that there is a better choice out there.  Too much complaining might just be open his eyes to the other options available.  I'm sure that's not what I want!

A few years ago I went through a really low period of poor self esteem.  I was being exceptionally hard on myself and I complained about it a lot.  Weight has always been a delicate subject for me and at that point in time I was at the high end of my spectrum.  My husband eventually got sick of it said something to me that really made me think twice.  He told me that when I complain about something all the time, eventually it's all that he can see.  That really freaked me out!  It might not have been the nicest thing to say and it did make me think that he agreed with me about how I was fat and unattractive, but I have since seen the caution in what he said (plus we have resolved a lot of our issues since then and I have learned that he wasn't trying to be hurtful). 

I had a habit that might seem very strange but it's possible I'm not the only one that has used this type of reasoning.  I used to use my little snide remarks about my looks to fish for compliments.  I thought that, by saying bad things about myself, I was giving my husband an opportunity to disagree with me and tell me how great I actually was.  Something tells me that I'm not the only one that does this, otherwise the phrase "does this make my butt look big" wouldn't be a standing joke.  Even if that technique were to work, it's a dangerous game.  Each negative word we say about our looks is like holding a magnifying glass in front of a flaw and saying, "Hey, do you see this?".  Eventually that's all they will see.

If you do have poor self esteem there is most likely another portion of your life that is hindered by it, your sex life.  It's really, really difficult to be comfortable and confident in the bedroom if you are not comfortable and confident in your own skin.  It's possible you are attempting to spend a little time as possible being intimate with your husband just to avoid him seeing your "flaws".  You might not allow him to have the lights on so that he can never REALLY see you naked.  I also bet that you think about your appearance while you are making love and that keeps you from enjoying the act as much as you could. 

This is not your best life!  You could be having so much more fun and being so much more positive!  I know you didn't just wake up one morning and think, I don't like the way I look anymore, I think I'll have bad self esteem now.  I totally get that a negative outlook is something that has been instilled in you over years and years of negative input.  I also understand that there are events that have happened in your life or people that you have trusted that have torn you down and caused you to feel worthless and unappreciated.  You can't change that those things happened to you, but you can stop them from ruining your happiness now. 

We all have had hurts and rejections.  We have all had people in our lives that attempt to tear us down (maybe in an attempt to use us to boost them up).  We all have things we don't like about ourselves.  Some of us have been abused, either physically or emotionally.  Allowing our negative self esteem to run rampant only allows those people to win.  They go on hurting us even after they might have even forgotten all about us.  It gives them power to rule our emotions.  Enough is enough, we need to make it stop! 

So how do we do that?  How do we let go of things that have cut us so deeply we feel we were formed around them?  I have found the answer to be forgiveness but during the time when I was suffering with self loathing and crying out for attention, forgiveness sounded like a cruel joke.  It seemed like a slap in the face to expect me to just let those people that hurt me "off the hook" so easily.  I felt I could never give up on seeking retribution from those who weren't even sorry for what they had done to me.  It just didn't seem fair! 

The truth is, it isn't fair, but it's also not fair to yourself to hold onto that pain and allow them to continue to hurt you.  The best retribution you could have is to live your best life IN SPITE of the hurt you have suffered.  To show that person that they no longer have power over you by not dwelling on the damage they caused.  Sadly, they may not even care if they have hurt you in the past and they quite possibly are NOT sorry for what they did but, staying angry at them is like hitting yourself over and over and over again, and expecting it to hurt them.  You're giving them the power to rule your emotions. 

Forgiveness is hard though!  Saying it is one thing, but actually letting go of our hurt and moving on is quite another.  It seems impossible to just, force your mind to think differently about yourself.  I found this to be the most difficult part of my recovery (though I'm still on that journey).  I had to ACTIVELY work at forgiveness.  If you're wondering how on earth you forgive actively, you aren't alone.  I wondered about this a lot too. 

I came up with a few steps and I will walk through a small event from my past, so you can understand the process better.  I guess it's sort of like my 5 step program for forgiveness. 

1.  Think back to an event or something that was said that hurt you. 
One instance for me was, a girl from school mocked me and called me fat.
2.  Figure out what it was about that event that was so hurtful. 
What hurt me about this was that it made me feel like I wasn't accepted for who I was and it caused me to feel unattractive and excluded from that group of friends. 
3.  Try to think of a reason why that person would have acted in the way they did. 
I believe this girl struggled with her own self esteem issues and was hoping to make herself look better by bringing me down. 
4.  Actually say the words, I forgive you.
The reason I think about this instance as an example was because it was also one that sort of showcases my bravery.  A day or two after the incident I actually called this girl and confronted her about what she said.  Though she denied that what she said was an insult (there really wasn't any other way to take it) I still believe it might have made a difference in how she might have reacted in the future.  My hope is that it might have helped her change her mean ways.  That being said, even though I confronted her it still didn't change the fact that it was hurtful and it became a small part of how I saw myself.  Years later, when I had finally forgiven her, I didn't contact her again to let her know.  I just said it to myself, and that was good enough to give me closure.  
5.  When you think about that event again in the future remind yourself that you have forgiven the person and that continuing to be angry doesn't help in any way.
For this instance, when I think back to the event I actually feel sort of sorry for this girl.  I can see that she was trying so hard to fit in and be the center of attention she alienated so many people that would have been her friends.  I also have seen her in more recent years and I can't say she seems very happy with herself or about her life.  

There will be many instances where the damage done was far more profound than my mean girl story.  If you have been physically abused the forgiveness will be more involved and difficult.  There were two people in particular in my past that made substantial scars in my self esteem.  When it came to forgiving them I moved through the same steps but it took a lot longer to work on step number 4.  For those two people I actually wrote out a letter to them.  I told them what they did that hurt me and why I felt the way I did.  I went over a number of specific incidents and why they were the wrong things to say or do.  I also let them know I was trying to understand why they would have done what they did.  This might seem like making excuses for their bad behavior to you, but I have found that all it does is make it easier for me to understand them as a person and why they might have acted the way they did.  The reasoning doesn't make what they have done more acceptable but it did help me to be able to let go of it more easily and move on more freely. 

One of the people I wrote to no longer has a place in my life.  I don't have any contact with anymore and I haven't seen him in years.  In that case I felt that the act of writing the letter for my eyes only, was enough.  I also thought that if I contacted that man after such a long time and letting him know that he had made such a profound impact on my life would not have been any more helpful.  I believe that, in that case, it would have only served to cause him to feel more powerful for his profound effect on me and could have opened up an opportunity for him to say more hurtful things in his defense. 

The second letter I wrote was to a family member that I do interact with on a regular basis.  My husband had noted my defensiveness whenever I was around this person.  I was "called out" on the anger and aggression I would surround myself with whenever I was around this person.  My husband eventually told me that enough was enough.  I had to deal with what was going on or he was no longer going to come with me to functions where I would be around this person.  At first I felt very betrayed by my husband's "ultimatum", like he wasn't supporting me when I was in need.  But, eventually I realized that I had needed the push to confront my feelings and resolve my anger.  I was only hurting myself by harbouring this resentment and I was holding back from trusting the people that truly did want the best for me.  I needed to deliver this second letter.  Since this relationship was still a factor in my current life I needed to takes steps to resolve the issues more directly.  I was incredibly scared when I handed this person the letter that I had written him.  It seemed like I was handing them power over me.  Like I was allowing them to see into my heart so they would know how they could hurt me even more.  The next time I saw him I was so unsure of what was going to happen.  I was worried about what he might say about the letter and terrified that he would deny all the instances that I spoke about.  He actually surprised me.  He didn't have much to say at all.  In fact at first I thought he wasn't going to acknowledge it at all.  Eventually he did tell me that he had read it and shockingly, he said that I was right.  He admitted that if he were in my shoes he would have actually been more angry than I was.  That's all he said, about two sentences to answer for my 3 pages of writing.  It also wasn't even exactly an apology (that would have been the best outcome) but it was as close as I was going to get....and it was enough.  Sure, it would have been fantastic if he would have fallen on his knees, admitted to all of his wrong and sworn to spend the rest of his days making it up to me, but that would have been a fairy tail.  That sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, or at least not very often.  Things also could have gone the other way.  It was very possible that he would have been angry and defensive in response to my accusations.  That is a possibility that you need to prepare for.  If that is the result you get try to keep in mind that it doesn't change the damage that has already been done.  They know the truth and they are unable to handle the strength and courage you have shown by confronting them, so they take the cowardly way out by denying it.   

It's been about a year since I gave the letter to my family member and guess what, I feel so much better!  Not only am I less angry and on edge, I feel more confident about who I am.  I have been able to let go of the negative words he said about me, see them as a lie and rediscover the truth about who I really am.  Even though his response to my letter was minimal, that didn't matter.  It's MY choices that matter.  It's MY forgiveness that made the difference.  I had the power to change how I felt and I took back my self esteem.  I can now see myself as valuable, even though that one influential person in my life didn't value me. 

I will state here that this person never sexually abused me.  If that is something that you have experienced and you have never reported it or told anyone then I would encourage you to speak up.  If someone physically abused you they might also have done it to someone else or could still be hurting more people today.  Your courage to stand up to them might be the thing that someone else needs to speak up as well and you might even prevent some future victims.  What they did is not okay and they need to face the consequences for it.  Please speak to someone you trust that can help. 

I also want to tell everyone that forgiveness does not mean that you must remain in relationship with the person that has hurt you.  Forgiving them doesn't mean you should allow them to abuse you, over and over again.  It is perfectly acceptable, maybe even necessary, to cut that person out of your life or drastically limit the time you spend with them.   

I'm sure that you have heard it before but, forgiveness is not something you do for the person that wronged you.  It really is something you do to give yourself freedom.  I didn't realize that I was letting these people hold me back so much until I was able to cut the cords that I had been dragging around behind me for years.

I now know I am worth forgiveness. 

You are worth forgiveness too.


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