Weighty Matters

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On Self Esteem

on December 8, 2013

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.

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7 responses to “On Self Esteem

  1. Hope says:

    Mary, you know I think you’re awesome. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Being a (former) teacher, I tripped over your beginning paragraph. My first year teaching, a student earned a C on an assignment and the mother called me and ripped me up over how I was going to destroy her self-esteem by giving her a low grade. There is nothing wrong with bolstering up self-esteem, except when it isn’t real. Kids know when they didn’t do well or work hard or whatever and they know when they don’t deserve accolades. Accolades should only come for hard work and accomplishment. Now that hard work and accomplishment needs to be with the individual child in mind – one kid’s C is another kid’s A – but empty praise doesn’t really do much for a kid and can, in fact, make them not believe real praise.

    *climbing back down off one of my pet soapboxes*

    I’m not sure how that translates for adults after we’ve already mentally established our feelings of self-worth (or not), but there ya go.

    • Mary Stella says:

      I completely agree that there is a difference in when it’s a self-esteem matter and when it isn’t. I think the tricky area is when someone honestly puts forth their best effort and still gets ripped.

      I had friends who were competitive swimmers in high school so I went to a lot of meets. One day a kid gave his race every bit of effort he could muster and still lost. His father sneered, derided him, and pushed him in the pool. Totally unacceptable behavior, I think.

      On the other hand, I’m not a fan of not declaring winners in kids’ sports. I think we should recognize effort in everyone but still appropriately teach the message that everyone doesn’t always win and it doesn’t make them less worthy.

    • Mary Stella says:

      P.S.
      Karen, did you hear that Bruce’s new album will be out January 14th? Psyched!

  3. Skye says:

    Mary, this is beautiful! It can be so hard to work thru that crap, and if we don’t somehow self-actualize (or as my previous therapist called it, self-differentiate), then a crisis or trauma can knock our fragile foundations right out from under us.

    It’s wonderful that you were able to get the help you needed and develop that internal strength and self-reliance. It totally makes sense that your nephews think that Aunt Mary is cool: you are! I mean, damn, you swim with dolphins! Repeatedly!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I know how hard all of this is, because I’m still struggling with it. I think that just knowing that self-actualization/self-differentiation is possible and reachable helps so much. It makes a lot of sense that perhaps you needed to reach this point before you could achieve this weight loss successfully and for the long term, before you could have this mental and emotional strength and confidence.

    You continue to awe and inspire me. Your self-awareness and honesty are amazing. You are doing this. You. And you will continue.

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