A client of mine, who is a recovering addict/alcoholic and incest survivor recently asked me what “self-esteem” is. Rather than defining it, I gave her the following answer:I now have self-esteem, but I didn’t use to. This is the difference it has made in my life:
In the past, I would barely talk to people because I didn’t believe I had the right to, and I believed they would ignore me or laugh at me. I didn’t dare share my thoughts or opinions for the same reason. I now believe that when I talk, people will probably be interested and will stop and listen. So I now share my thoughts, feelings, and opinions with other people, without fear. I can stand up and talk in front of people and only want to run and hide a few minutes before the presentation! This also allows me to reach out to shy, awkward people and engage them in conversation because I know how painful it is to hide in the corner and be ignored.
I was focused on my failures and inadequacies, and didn’t believe that I was capable of supporting myself, much less a family. I now know that in partnership with the Lord, that I am capable and competent, and can successfully take on the challenges that life presents to me.
I was terrified that the Lord would ask me to take a moral stand about something, because I knew that I would be too scared to speak the truth or take a stand against other opinions. I now regularly defend controversial ideas that I passionately believe in and would be able to hold a moral stance against others if called upon to do so. This is also because I now know that the Lord would be with me, and I wouldn’t be standing alone.
I had a hard time with confession because I was so afraid of rejection that I couldn’t expose my sins and failings to the priest in an open and honest manner. I now can.
I thought so poorly of myself, that I believed no-one would want to spend time with me or talk to me, so I kept withdrawn from people and put up a wall, that I didn’t even know was there. As my self-esteem has grown, my wall has slowly disintegrated, and I can now make friends, and be open and friendly to others, rather than stiff and shy.
Likewise, I used to wall myself off from God, for similar reasons. I can now open myself to him and don’t need to hide as much.
I didn’t used to be able to ask for help, and believed I had to do everything on my own, and by myself. This was doubly difficult, because I didn’t think I was capable of doing things either. I now both can ask for help when needed, and delegate responsibilities, and I am more confident about doing the things I can do.
So how did this change? A lot of my low self-esteem came from being severely bullied as a child, having trouble talking, walking and playing with other kids because of low-level cerebral palsy and other physical difficulties, coming from a family where I often came last and often wasn’t listened to, and many other traumatic things. So, I had a lot of healing work to do. As my trauma slowly healed through prayer, confession and psychotherapy, all these other things did as well. The Church with its emphasis on the fact that God loves us and wants to help us, in spite of our sinfulness and failings, was profoundly reassuring and helpful. Experiencing God’s strength and faithfulness through times of trouble helped me be less afraid of life, and more confident that with God’s support and the encouragement of others, I could indeed overcome difficult challenges, and grow emotional and spiritually through them. Through all of this healing, I learned to love myself rather than hate myself, and could then receive God’s love, and truly know that other people love me as well – that I am actually lovable! This, of course, is still a work in progress, but I now know that salvation is possible, and I can align myself with God’s purpose towards it. Glory be to God!