As a kid, I had very low self esteem. I grew up in a culture where a family’s way of showing love is to fill you up with food. I don’t remember being hugged much. And I don’t remember being told “I love you’ much either. But I was fed, clothed, cared for and given an education too, but ultimately food equaled love.
I had 3 aunts who lived a five minute walk from each other, so when mom dropped me and my brother off to play with our cousins for a few hours there was an abundance of food at each house. I’ve always had a healthy appetite so needless to say, I was a chubby kid!
Luckily I grew out of my chubby state by the time I became a teenager but by then I had already developed an unhealthy self-esteem and getting in shape wasn’t because I wanted to be healthy but because I wanted to have cool friends and perhaps have a boyfriend too. I wanted to be liked — I wanted to be loved!
My parents mostly criticized and almost never gave praise. My brother and I were expected to be successful but there were very few positive words of encouragement to help boost our endeavors. Instead we were ‘scared straight’ 24/7 as though in boot camp. Here is an example of my mom encouraging me and my brother to do well at school:
You better study your lessons and do well in school or else you’ll become a vagrant! (vagrant = homeless person)
Mom, why do you always have to preach ‘doom and gloom’? Why can’t you say something nice for once?
Because you better not grow up to embarrass me! You better grow up to be somebody!
Me thinking to myself:
I’m gonna become a vagrant just to spite her. Hmm, yeah, that won’t do any good as she’ll just disown me and I’ll still be a vagrant. Terrible plan…
(I was a book worm and my brother hated to read anything, let alone study)
Why can’t you be more like your sister. She ‘might’ amount to something, at least she’s trying, but you, what the hell is wrong with you?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll study mom, relax already…
Yes, all you know how to do is relax. You’re a smart kid but why are you so lazy. You’re just like your father!
By this time everyone in the house has had a dose of mom’s “encouragement”. The dogs are the only ones home free but that’s just because they’re outside in the yard and not in her immediate path. But they’ll get there’s come dinner time as one of them is bound to get in some kind of trouble either with her flower beds or vegetable garden or would have rolled around in something disgusting requiring a bath. Oh the horror!!!
I don’t know how my brother processed mom’s words but I internalized them, deeply. They hurt. They cut deep. Sometimes I believed them. And sometimes, just sometimes, I hated them so much that it lit a fire in me to prove her wrong.
Those ‘sometimes’ moments eventually grew. I learned to ignore her ‘doom and gloom’ talk and began to speak my own words of encouragement to myself. If she said I couldn’t, I’d say, “yes I can” and I did! I became stubborn. I became bold. I started taking control of my own destiny and soon there was a power struggle brewing in my childhood home. Dad was present but not involved (unless mom instructed him to “DO something!”) so there were no words positive or negative from him. He was the comedian, he made us laugh. I guess we all needed to laugh amid all the negative but I needed dad’s voice but he was mostly silent. My brother seemed unaffected so it was up to me to fight for the positive atmosphere I needed. I had to break free.
By 16 I started pushing boundaries and mom pushed back, hard, but she was losing control and she knew it. By 18 I had ‘one foot out the door’ but in my hometown you’re not considered ‘of age’ until 21 but I couldn’t wait that long!!!! And by 19 I was gone. How? One of my aunts rewarded me with a vacation trip to celebrate my successful completion of high school and for scoring well in all my exams and that was my ticket out. I didn’t know it at the time, but yes, that’s the day I left home and have not been back since.
In a new country, in a new culture, in a new atmosphere, I slowly began to feel free. Free to be myself; free to surround myself with positive people and free to nurture my inner spirit — to finally begin to heal the emotional scars inflicted upon me for as long as I could remember. For every good I accomplished I learned to praise myself. I never felt entitled to anything (and still don’t), for everything I had then (and do now) I’ve had to work hard to get it. There’s nothing wrong with hard work for it certainly builds character, and such character pays for itself ten times over when others appreciate you for who you are and see your inner strength and beauty. The important thing however, is knowing ones own worth. What good is it to have others see value in you if you don’t recognize your own value? Perhaps you do see your own value but there’s someone, a special someone, who thinks the world of you and you just can’t see why. How do you wrap your brain around this new phenomenon? It’s foreign! It’s never happened before and you don’t know how to process it. How can this person be telling the truth when all your life no one else had seen/validated such value in you? The only way to know for sure is to test it. How? With time.
Will that person still see your value six months from now? A year from now? Do their actions match their words? Does that person’s character and the people with whom they keep company speak of good quality? Is that person always true to their word? Ultimately, only with time can all these questions be answered. The real question is, do you want to find out? Or will you simply dismiss this person as crazy for seeing something of value in you that you don’t think is there? To dismiss them may mean passing up an opportunity for a great friendship or perhaps something more. But in the end the choice is yours.
‘Self talk’ can be a useful tool when positive but can be detrimental when negative. I’ve done both and it is so easy to beat myself up when I’ve done less than I thought I could/should have. A simple bad day can become so much worse if I allow unhealthy thoughts to attack me from the inside. Focusing on the positive yields better results but it takes practice. And it helps when I can take the focus off myself to help or be there for someone else instead of wallowing in a pit of self-pity or self-defeat.
But sometimes I just want to be alone, after all I’m an introvert. My strength comes from within and it is in those quite moments alone that I can focus on the voice of God speaking. It is in those moments that I can look up to the one who is greater than I — God. He carries me when I’m weak and makes me strong. He sees my value, He cherishes me, He provides for my needs before I can even speak them and all He asks is that I keep Him close. I don’t feel I deserve His love as my inherent need to ‘earn’ the love and respect of others gets in the way of accepting His love at times. But I need not ‘earn’ His love because He Loves Me unconditionally. He loves me in spite of the things I cannot do and delights in the knowledge that there are things I can do and that I use the gifts with which He’s blessed me for good. And though I feel unworthy (still) I’m humbled that He loves me so.
This unconditional love allows me to speak positively to myself. It boosts my inner strength. It makes me know that even on the bad days — the days when I’m not at my best, I’m still okay; I’m not a ‘write off’; I still have value; I’m still worth it. It’s sad when others don’t see your value but it’s even more sad when you don’t see your own value. But if God thinks I’m worth it, if He thinks you’re worth it, if He thinks we’re ALL worth it, then who are we to question His omniscience?
I choose to believe that God has a plan for me. Sometimes my faith is weak and I grow impatient as I try to figure out what that plan is, forgetting completely that all will be revealed when the time is right. And so I also choose to believe that if God sees value in me then His plan for me must be awesome!
I try to extend this same consideration to everyone as I try in earnest to see the good in others. However, given the crazy world in which we live, that trust is often abused/taken for granted. It certainly can leave one feeling jaded and over time can even discourage trusting in others period. But it’s hard to silence a trusting heart. It’s hard to silence a heart that loves deeply. It’s hard to silence the heart of one who loves unconditionally. It’s just sad that sometimes the one who is loved so deeply does not feel worthy and so refuses to accept unconditional love when given.
There is one such person out there who has my unconditional love regardless of where life takes us. I see his value. I see his strengths. I see his weaknesses. I see his heart. I see his humor. I see his intelligence. I see his gentle nature. I see his smile. I see his warmth. I see his faith. I see His willingness to be led by God. I see his love of God’s word. I see his willingness to be a good person — a better person. I see his ability to love. But it’s sad that he doesn’t think he’s ‘worth it’. I see his worth though, and to me he is worthy of my love and always will be.
Contents written: October 24 2015 | Originally published: October 24 2015 | Copyright 2015 – 2016 Moylom Enterprises