Posts Tagged ‘Self-esteem’

 Over a period of many years, I have seen a substantial number of people who have had dreadful life experiences.  I have met those who, even from very early childhood, have been beaten (sometimes savagely and with objects,) sexually abused, neglected, emotionally abused.  Many have witnessed violence, been forced to fight and have been raised in families where violence and drug abuse were the norm.  Others have been kidnapped, raped abandoned, or otherwise traumatized.  Often, abusiveness has been perpetrated by the very people who were supposed to have been caregivers.

The outcomes for these individuals have been a variety of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, suicidal feelings, self-harm, drug abuse and addiction, feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, self-loathing, sexual dysfunction and self-esteem that is virtually non-existent.  Many feel totally alienated from ‘normal’ people.

It would be fair to say that most people I see who fall into this category have very poor concepts of self and seriously distorted views of life’s meaning and purpose.

Often, after I have completed an assessment, I invite the person I am talking with, to consider the following, in the context of their life experiences:

First, I draw pictures of two babies:






(Actually, I can’t draw anywhere near that well and can only manage stick figures, but no-one has laughed at me so far and I’m trying to be a little professional here!)

Then I say: Here we have two babies, born at the same time.  You could say that these babies have been created by God and are thus entirely equal. Or, if you are not into God, here are two babies, born of the substance of creation, however that happened and, in terms of value, worthiness, etc., are entirely equal.

Let’s look at the first baby, who grows to have the following life experiences:








I point out that when people have messages of this sort put upon them, eventually they come to believe that they are true and they become the messages.  They become sad, unhappy people with lousy self-esteem, who often view themselves as deserving of all the dreadful things that have happened to them and deserving of all the disadvantages that have been heaped on them. 

Next, consider baby #2, who grows up with the following life experiences:








This child also grows up to “become the message,” to reflect the life experiences that he/she received.  Unlike child #1, however the outcome is much more likely to be someone with sound self-esteem, who is confident, can relate positively to others, who believes that they are worthwhile and who is psychologically robust and resilient. 

This, roughly speaking, as a big part of the process by which we grow up to become the person we are and how we develop the self-identity which we wear through our lives.  For baby #1 the outcomes have been dire. 

I then return to the image we constructed of baby #1:








I point out that these dreadful messages are not the real you.  These are only the messages and life experiences that others have put upon you and which, by and large, you have come to identify as you.  In fact they are the twisted and disturbed projections of other people’s problems, which they had no right to dump onto you.

Where, then, is the real you?






Remember at the beginning, I drew images of two identical babies.  Here is an indication of the real you – a creation of God, (or a part of however creation was created,) and thus equal in worth or value to anyone else. 

Once you are able to recognise that the identity that others have put upon you is just that – something false and toxic that other have dumped you with, then you can set about changing it.

(OK, the development of the identity of baby #2 has largely been influenced by others too, but this has been loving, caring and nurturing – who would seek to change that?)

Sometimes, what I have outlined above, is all that people need.  Wow, they say, – I’ve never thought of it that way before – and off they go with a copy of the drawings and begin the process of turning their life around.  Usually, though, it takes a bit more than that.

I usually suggest that people spend some time looking at the images of themselves that they have, over time, come to believe are true, then decide which parts of these they want to keep and which they want to discard.  (Not everyone’s life experience is uniformly bad, or uniformly good for that matter.)  Then, I assist them in the process of discovering and acknowledging those qualities of self that are valuable, worthy, stable and meaningful.  This can be hard work for someone who has been conditioned over many years to believe the worst about themselves and to discount any worthwhile qualities they have. 

One young man, who had had a dreadfully abusive early life, was struggling to believe anything good about himself.  Eventually, knowing that he was the father of a young boy, I asked him if he would treat his son the way he had been treated at that age.  He sat bolt upright – “NO!” he almost shouted, “NEVER!”  In that instant, he realized that he was a strong and loving parent, who cared deeply for his child and had broken a destructive and crippling cycle of abuse.

I suggest to my clients that they spend time at home, constructing a list of their good and worthwhile qualities.  Perhaps they are kind, care about others, are good parents, have an artistic talent, are keen to better themselves, care for a pet, assist at a community agency, etc. etc.  Each time they become aware of a quality, they are to write it down on their list and put it on a home notice board, or stick it to their fridge and look at it frequently, to remind themselves of who they really are and who they are steadily becoming. 

Once this process is started, it continues.  Plant a garden, (weed out the unhelpful thoughts occasionally) and soon it will flower and flourish.


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