some will only see clouds. others will see sky and possibilities ahead. it's all about perspective

I talk to a lot of people who feel daunted by the prospect of building their self-esteem or breaking habits. They think they’ve had “too many problems” or that, because they’ve had a certain type of childhood, it’s going to be too difficult or even impossible. Many assume it’s only people who haven’t had “proper” problems or who had “good” childhoods that can do these things with “ease”. But aside from these beliefs being untrue, this mentality hobbles progress by sapping their confidence.

During the Time Before Baggage Reclaim, a number of people summed up my behaviour and various experiences with “It’s because your father wasn’t around”. Now, I’m not saying this isn’t true (it played a big part). Still, that doesn’t explain something I’ve observed time and again since I started writing Baggage Reclaim in 2005:

People who don’t regard themselves as having experienced trauma and insecure relationships earlier in life can experience unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships too.

There are people who had idyllic, great, good, okay childhoods and have great relationships with both parents who also partake in unavailable and shady relationships. Some even have both parents still together and even siblings who are in relationships and happy. Despite this, though, they themselves have low self-esteem and a series of painful, romantic relationships.

Equally, I know lots of people who had difficult upbringings, addicted/absent parent(s), and have experienced tragedy and trauma, who have decent self-esteem and aren’t battering themselves in unhealthy relationships.

What this tells you is self-esteem isn’t all about the childhood or the parents.

These can tell some of the story but not all of it. This is not least because we might have been adults for a significant period of time while making unhealthy choices.

I know from personal experience and observation that our childhood experiences, especially when unhealthy and they contribute to shaping our view of ourselves and the world, do inform our habits in adulthood when we’re not conscious of the impact and are unconsciously repeating thinking and behaviour that doesn’t work for us. We can also be aware but feel powerless to evoke big change.

Our experiences can end up changing us because of how we interpret them.

We can experience disappointment and rejection and it can change how we feel about ourselves, even if right up until that point we actually felt good about us. 

We can also have the Best Upbringing In The World. Still, if we chop at ourselves by engaging in comparison, never feeling “good enough” and doing stuff like seeking validation and people pleasing, these will compound our insecurities.

Self-esteem is very much about how you feel about you.

With what can seem like the pressure to…

  • Pursue happiness,
  • Couple up on Noah’s relationship ark,
  • Essentially get our sh*t together,
  • Meet impossible standards put forward by society and the media…

…it can feel like we’re working to reach a destination. You might be under the mistaken impression that until you’re ‘there’, you can’t go for what you want.

There is no destination; you’re ever-evolving and on a journey.

Technically, based on my parents, family background, ancestry, childhood and the experiences before I began reclaiming myself, I’m effed up. By that token, what am I supposed to do? Not get on with my life? Live on the fringes of my life in unavailable relationships until I’ve worked out all of my issues? Purlease. I’m human. I still have issues!

The difference is [what I used to judge myself for] doesn’t dominate my life, drive me, or inform my opinion of myself and my beliefs. I gradually confront any issues that surface by recognising the baggage behind them.

Due to conflict over our wedding, my age-old father issues got taken out of the attic again last year. Why? Because things that I’d previously ‘folded up’ neatly and dealt with became unsettled by some incredibly painful revelations and realisations. It realigned my perspective and scratched certain things that I’d believed since I was a child off the record. When life began to calm down in September, the feelings (and the silence on both sides) became difficult to ignore, as did the physical symptoms showing in my health. I had to face it all and grieve.

Does my having some pretty big issues to deal with last autumn mean that I should have questioned my worth as a person or the quality of my life, my kids, or my husband Em? Was I not supposed to feel this pain because I “have a man” (he’s just a human being, not my salvation and remedy for every issue), am married with kids, have grown my self-esteem and write here at BR? Er, no. I can be happy, enjoying my life and have problems.

Self-esteem is the sum of how you think about and treat yourself. It’s about:

  • Perspective and whether you’re inclined to have any or the likes of blame, negative beliefs, and assumptions imbalance it.
  • Habits.
  • Whether you’re a problem solver and willing to make decisions, admit when you’ve erred, and are willing to change course.
  • Your tolerance for disappointment.
  • The level of bullshit in your life.
  • Whether you’re a ‘facer’ or ‘avoider’ of your feelings and conflict.
  • Whether you’re living your life as yourself or wearing a people pleasing mask.
  • If you have boundaries and treat yourself with love, care, trust, and respect.
  • Whether you internalise your experiences and make judgments about your worth and see rejection at every corner.
  • Where you put your energies, your bandwidth. Are you trying to forge healthy relationships with people with whom you share genuine core values, love, care trust, respect and the landmarks? Or are you attempting to squeeze a relationship out of people that don’t want one?

[Low] self-esteem isn’t about how much problems you’ve had.

I know lots of people personally and through BR who’ve had major problems and experienced some pretty horrific stuff, but they’re still standing. They’ve found their way to self-love and loving relationships. I also know many people who found their way into relationships that they thought would be a fix-all. Instead, it was like stuffing all their bills under the carpet. They’re married with kids and buried under the same problems. I also know lots of folks who haven’t necessarily experienced major traumas but they, for whatever reason, just don’t like themselves. It affects their confidence and their perception of their capabilities, so they spend a lot of time in ‘safe’ relationships, like fantasy ones.

We are very hard on ourselves, judging aspects of our lives and perceiving ourselves as ‘handicapped’. We assume our experiences are a hindrance or even that we’ve been ‘marked down’ or ‘soiled’. It’s as if we can only have a shot at love if we have a clean relationship bill of health or we have to be with an assclown. On that reasoning, I shouldn’t be in a loving relationship and married!

We’re so busy thinking we’re not enough and comparing, that we decide that everybody’s lives are ‘better’ or that they have it ‘easier’.

We assume that single equals desperate and problematic. We also assume that someone is problem-free if they have a ring on their finger or kids or a partner. You only have to read about mental health, cheating and divorce to realise, that doesn’t make sense!

Stop judging yourself as unworkable. Stop thinking that you’ve got to be perfect. Get on with living your life well in alignment with your values, instead of trying to cultivate a you that will be perfect enough to be given an exit out of your own life into coupledom with someone else.

Perspective has a lot to do with your self-esteem. If you don’t like the view and you don’t like how you feel about yourself, it’s time to change yours.

Your thoughts?

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