* This is part 7 of a series of posts that explore my struggles with self-esteem, weight, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the very difficult task of trying to be my fullest self in a world that constantly demands more than what I am. Because this subject is so vast and most of my life has been spent swimming in its waters in some form or another I thought it best to break it up . . . also so as to not bore you to death!
Some of you may not be able to relate, but I hope that you will find it interesting anyway. And perhaps you will be better able to understand someone in your life. Some of you may be able to relate and I hope that you will know that you are not the only one -- that the journey may be long, but progress is progress. Remember that no matter how small it may feel, you still are not the same person that you were yesterday. And that is something to celebrate!
For Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 please scroll below . . .
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So far in this blog series I have written chronologically about different time periods of my life and what was happening with regard to my self-esteem. Today, however, I am breaking the format. Like rules, formats are also meant to be broken now and then.
It is a gorgeous spring day, and what am I doing? I'm self-reflecting. Well, I might as well just put it like this:
"It is a ________ day, and what am I doing? I'm self-reflecting." I assure you that no amount of adjectives will change my answer. Even in my best moods I am still performing some level of self-reflection, no matter how minute. I have been wondering whether I have an unhealthy compulsion to self-reflect. Perhaps I think that if a day is missed I will wither away into The Neverending Story "nothing." Maybe I would feel so detached from myself that my identity would cease to exist. Whatever the reason, I spend a lot of time in my own head, thinking about being in my own head. Yeah, it gets that ridiculous.
During my drive home this afternoon I was thinking about all of the negative self-talk I express on a daily basis. I have been doing this for many years, probably since I was about 11, which was when the self-esteem issues began. It's amazing how quickly you can learn that you are not good enough, and how quickly you learn to reinforce that belief through the different interactions or activities you experience throughout the day. And on some days, worst of all, you learn how to do this with no outside influences whatsoever. Once you have had enough external forces propose that view, you eventually don't need any outside help at all. It solidifies. And it grows as you store up every moment you can, like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. Only, the winter never comes, and you just keep storing . . . storing . . . storing.
During this car ride I concluded something . . . I'm a real bitch to myself. That's not a word I take lightly. And it's not a word with which I have ever aspired to be described. I don't find it empowering to take the word and make it a thing of Women's Strength and Decisiveness, the way I see some ladies do. Seriously, this is a real thing. Some women are actually turning it into a compliment! Who knows, maybe they have the right idea. But I still can't stomach the idea of using that word to describe my female relatives or friends. So why I am I willing to use that word toward myself . . . and on a blog post, no less? Because it's the truth. If I thought or talked about other women they way I do myself I would be a real Queen B****. If I witnessed the same behavior in another person, talking terribly about someone else, I would pretty much think they're a big, fat jerk. So the funny part is, I keep doing it.
Well, maybe not so much "ha-ha" funny, as ironic. Or stupid. Or just plain mean. I know I'm not the only woman who does this. I don't mean to leave out men. I know enough men who are incredibly hard on themselves too. But I do think there is a sad epidemic with women to constantly self-brutalize. You wouldn't know that if your only experience with women was by watching reality television. They have pretty much perfected the act of blatant narcissism. But regular and real women (most of us) are walking the tightrope of self-hate and self-acceptance. We know that we should accept and be kind to ourselves, but somehow that is a very difficult thing to do. When you're in the heat of the moment it is easier, in a way, to self-criticize. It doesn't feel better, but it's easier. Sadly, the hard thing to do is to forgive yourself, accept your humanness and believe that you are worthy of good things.
The ultimate goal is not only self-acceptance, but self-love. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs -- a pyramid of universal human needs, beginning with the foundational need of survival, all the way to the peak, which is self-actualization. This is sort of like nirvana. Once a person has reached self-actualization they have achieved complete self-acceptance AND self-love. A person achieving this believes that they have intrinsic value, not for what they do, but simply for who they are. They strive to grow in character and goodness, while allowing for mistakes. They acknowledge their humanity, their flaws. And they see the beauty in the imperfections. We all have them, no matter how hard we try to forget or prevent others from seeing them. It doesn't mean that we should relinquish striving to be better, but we should not do so with a punishment waiting for us with a clenched fist when we fail.
I am ridiculously hard on myself. Maybe you are too. If you are, I'm sorry. I know how you feel. I know how exhausting it is every day trying to live up to impossible standards that you would never place upon someone else. I always feel as though I need to be improving myself, every second. And if I'm not improving, I'm failing. This actually makes me sound like I'm Type A, which is very far from the truth. Perhaps just my mind is Type A.
Even though I have been on a healing journey for over half my life, I have been paying even more attention lately to the aspect of self-talk. I'll admit, I'm better than I used to be with that; I have made improvements. I'm a bit more gentle with myself than I was a few years ago. But it's not enough. I need to be gentle with myself every day, because it's a good possibility that the rest of the world won't really care about this. I have had many unkind things said to me over the years, been left out and ignored and felt judgment that has at times been debilitating. But I have also had much kindness and concern and love. Unfortunately I have given more power to the negative and have mimicked the behavior toward myself. Jerk, right?
So enough is enough! As Susan Powter once said, "Stop the insanity!" Hmm, that was pretty perceptive, Susan. In the last couple years I have worked much harder at stopping myself from thinking or saying negative things. And in the last few months I have posted positive mantras in a couple places at home that I read every morning. I don't know how much of an effect it has had on my self-esteem so far, but it can't hurt, right? And my hope is that the more I practice all of this the better I will get at it, and the more I will begin to believe it. It will take practice, and time and a lot of grit. Some days I will succeed. Some days I will fail. And on those days I will try to not punish myself for being human. I will instead try to laugh at the silliness of it all, let it go and be kind. I have to remind myself that God would never want me to treat myself with so much hatred or abhorrence. He loves all his creations. And honestly, who can argue with that?