Building my own sense of self-esteem is still a process. I don’t remember when I really started paying attention to my sense of self and how I felt about me, but I remember events as a teenager and even younger than that, when kids made fun of me and I thought that I was a pile of crap.
My family was poor growing up. Once we found ourselves in small-town Montana, it was just me, my mom and my sister. We didn’t have a lot money, food was donated to us and most glaring was that I wore hand-me-down clothes. I would go to school and older kids would say “that used to be my shirt.” It was a small enough town that people knew. That made me feel bad.
And that feeling of “am I worthy?” has stayed with me. If I messed up at work, if I saw another mother who had a baby at the same time as me who was skinnier, my mind would jump to the comparison and I would think to myself “I am not as good as her.” I also am a firm believer that women are so much harder on each other than is reasonable and as a result, we are so much more critical of ourselves. Sometimes I look at a gorgeous woman, who is probably about the same age as me, whose hair is long and done up, who is taller than I am and thinner, wearing beautiful boots, who has a really great purse and I think that her life must be perfect. She has it all together and here I am slogging along, with a saggier neck, my worn tennis shoes on and my hair in a clip, because I haven’t even showered yet.
Maybe she glanced at me and thought to herself, “I wish I didn’t have to dress up. I want to just laze about with my hair in a clip and put on my tennis shoes and work in my garden.” Seriously, who knows. All I know is that I’ve talked to women who tell me they think I have it all together, when on the inside I’m an emotional volcano barely keeping the tears from my eyes. Why do they think I have it all together? I am looking at them thinking the exact same thing!
This is the thing with self-esteem. It comes from within. I try and look at myself in the mirror every single day and think, “I’ve got today. This minute. This second. And right now, I am doing my best and I love myself for it.” I am a person of worth and even if no one ever tells me that or sees that or thinks that, I know that! Even on my very worst day when my emotions pour out of me and I feel like I am failing at everything, I know that just by virtue of being a human being, completely unique in the world that I am competent and I am worth it.
The ebb and flow of that esteem is part of living. But under it all is the firm foundation of the love I have for myself.
Our significance comes from our feeling of being loved and cared about. As a child, we probably get this from our parents and siblings. In our teenage years and into adulthood, our sense of significance falters. Let’s face it, high school is hard. Moving in and out of relationships as a young adult is equally hard. If we don’t feel love and we feel like no one cares (even if, deep down, we know our mom and/or dad still love us), our young adult minds feel like because we’re alone, we are not significant to anyone.
When I was younger and wearing hand-me-downs I didn’t have a lot of power over being who I was. I was wearing someone else’s clothes, clothes they gave away, and it made me feel “less than.” When we are really working on our self-esteem, we have to feel like we have some sense of power over being ourselves. My ex-husband told me before I married him that my laugh was too loud and that when I laughed that loud in public, I embarrassed him. That should have been my first clue. But regardless, I tried to change who I was to please someone else. It has taken me years to allow myself to laugh, as loud as I want to.
Our sense of virtue comes from a feeling we have inside that we are a “good” person. I was so focused on always being a good person that when I made a mistake (and I did) I got very down on myself. I am a firm believer that we are all people who do good things and bad things. I cannot be a good person all the time, because I am a human being and by my very nature as a human I will make mistakes. I will let the people I love down. I can never do everything good. Never. I do bad things. I swear, I drive too fast, I get irritated at the grocery store when I’m in line and in a hurry and the guy working there talks too much to the person in front of me. I am just a person who does good and bad things. Being more gentle with my own internal judgements helps build my sense of virtue.